Final Public Oral Exam: Sarah Copenhaver Matherly

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
August 23, 2019 - 1:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

"The Age of Associated Effort": Communitarian Reform at Topolobampo, Mexico, 1872-1896


Robert Sean Wilentz, adviser
Daniel Rodgers
Peter Wirzbicki
Jonathan Levy, University of Chicago


In the nineteenth-century United States hundreds of experimental communities formed and dissolved, characterized by a combination of chiliastic zeal and a faith in the rational and progressive basis of society. The communitarians behind these endeavors were motivated by the discrepancies in American life between freedom and bondage, affluence and want, capital and labor. They sought not revolution but reorganization: they viewed their communities as laboratories, where social scientists searched for the fairest and most efficient ways for people to live and work. My dissertation tells the story of one of these communities, Topolobampo, founded on the northwestern coast of Mexico in 1881 by a civil engineer named Albert Kimsey Owen. Topolobampo was to serve as the terminus for a transcontinental railroad he designed. It was to be a marvel of technological innovation, commercial vigor, and global trade, but it was also to be a worker-owned cooperative and a model of how capitalism and community might reinforce each other rather than competing. With its combination of rigorous social examination and the business of railroads, shipping, and agriculture, Topolobampo illustrates vividly the ways in which communitarians, far from withdrawing from mainstream society, were in fact deeply engaged in the project of national and global development. Communitarianism was neither a utopian dream nor a passing moment in American antebellum reform, but rather a malleable and enduring international movement that evolved in order to address the increasing imbalance of wealth and power in the late nineteenth 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.