Final Public Oral Exam: Jessica R. Mack

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
January 21, 2019 - 2:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

A Campus for Mexico: Knowledge and Power in UNAM's University City


Jeremy Adelman, adviser
Vera Candiani
Robert Karl
Pablo Piccato, Columbia University


In June of 1950, the first stone was ceremoniously placed on a construction site several kilometers south of Mexico City’s center. Building had officially begun on a long-imagined campus for the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM): the utopian Ciudad Universitaria, or University City. By tracing its spatial reconfiguration on a new modernist campus, this dissertation explains the national university’s shifting role in Mexico’s developing revolutionary state and examines the ways in which new national priorities were inscribed upon intellectual and cultural life. The largest university in Latin America, with over 330,000 students today and a sprawling 2,500-acre urban campus, UNAM has trained Mexico’s most powerful decision makers, set the terms of public debates and posed questions that have shaped decades of policy. It is also an important channel through which citizens have participated—with both consent and contestation—in Mexico’s twentieth-century public life. Although it is an icon of modern Mexico, we know surprisingly little about UNAM’s historical role in shaping the social landscape and the reproduction of power. From the earliest imaginings of a utopian lettered city immediately after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), this project traces the long twentieth-century arc of Ciudad Universitaria’s creation alongside the national university’s turbulent relationship with the revolutionary state. As the prominent modernist architects of Ciudad Universitaria solidified the ruling party’s interpretation of the revolution in stone, social justice and agrarian reform were replaced by a new set of priorities. In conversation with a growing body of scholarship on Mexico’s midcentury, the dissertation explores how this monumental state building project spatially manifested the ruling party’s vision for Mexico’s future and was made possible by its new priorities of urbanization, industrialization and developmentalism. From imagining and planning the campus in the late 1940s to its rapid construction from 1950-1954, the dissertation uses the archives of planners, architects, local residents and bureaucrats to reveal new modes of operating. Once students and faculty arrived, the project traces intellectual and social reconfiguration at Ciudad Universitaria, changes that would reshape Mexico City’s urban landscape and realign contestation in national politics into the late twentieth century.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Area of Interest: 
Intellectual History
Public History
Race & Ethnicity
Social History
Urban History
Latin America and the Caribbean
North America
20th Century
21st Century