Emilio Kourí

Professor of History and the College
Harper 681
PhD, Harvard University, 1996


Modern Mexico; social and economic history of Latin America; agrarian studies; rural ecology; political economy; the history of ideas; Cuba and the Spanish Caribbean; US Latino/a history


Emilio Kourí's main scholarly interest is in the social and economic history of rural Mexico since Independence. He is the author of A Pueblo Divided: Business, Property, and Community in Papantla, Mexico. It tells the story of the strife-ridden transformation of rural social relations in the Totonac region of Papantla during the course of the nineteenth century, paying particular attention to how the progressive development of a campesino-based international vanilla economy changed and ultimately undermined local forms of communal landholding. A Pueblo Divided received the 2005 Bolton-Johnson Prize from the Conference on Latin American History (CLAH) and the 2005 Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Prize (Honorable Mention) from the American Society for Ethnohistory.

He is currently completing a book on the legal, political, and ideological origins of the land-grant community (ejido) created by the Mexican Revolution between 1915 and 1934. By 1992, when a constitutional amendment ended the redistribution program, more than two thirds of Mexico’s arable lands and forests were at least nominally in the hands of these land-grant communities—the most extensive state-managed land tenure transformation in the history of modern Latin America. By and large, historians have regarded the communal character given to ejido property as a return to forms of social organization rooted in Mexico’s indigenous past, and have considered it to be the fulfillment, at least in principle, of what villagers like Emiliano Zapata had long demanded and fought for. It is a narrative that has long defined the most basic contours of Mexico's modern history. Against prevailing interpretations, this book argues that the new ejido of the Revolution was not what country people (and especially the Zapatistas) had battled for. Rather, it was the piecemeal product of idealized notions of indigenous communal organization and historical practice hastily contrived by the "progressive" elites who won the Revolution and who were then compelled in fits and starts to make expedient agrarian reforms in order to build sorely needed popular political allegiances.

The book explores how unsubstantiated turn-of–the century ideas about communal land tenure and social organization shaped the agrarian reform of the Mexican Revolution, helping to create an institution (a new legal body) that was in many places socially dysfunctional, economically deficient, and politically dependent. The new ejido sought to recreate, or at least emulate, a communal landholding arrangement established for Indian villages during Spanish colonial rule, also called "the ejido." Reviving this old form of land tenure was both natural and logical, or so it was argued, because it was a return to cultural and legal practices that had worked well in the past. Moreover, the ejido was said to be essentially what the Zapatista rebels were insistently demanding. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that there was nothing natural or even traditional about this reprise, and also that it had little in common with the reforms planned (and, for a time, carried out) by Zapatismo.

He teaches seminars on land reforms, rural social movements, and the history of agrarian thought, as well as courses on Latin American and Latino/a history, and is director of the Katz Center for Mexican Studies.


"On the Mexican Ejido." Humanity (forthcoming).

"La caja de hojalata." Revista NEXOS (June 2019, forthcoming).

"El ejido de Anenecuilco." Revista NEXOS (May 2019).

"La historia al revés." Revista NEXOS (Apr. 2019).

"Sobre la propiedad comunal de los pueblos: De la Reforma a la Revolución." Historia Mexicana (264) 66, no. 4 (Apr.–June 2017): 1,923–60.

"La promesa agraria del artículo 27.” Revista NEXOS (Feb. 2017).

"La invención del ejido." Revista NEXOS (Jan. 2015).

"Claroscuros de la reforma agraria mexicana." Revista NEXOS (Dec. 2010).

Revolución y exilio en la historia de México: Homenaje a Friedrich Katz. Coedited with Javier Garciadiego. Mexico: Ediciones Era, coedition with the Colegio de México and the Katz Center for Mexican Studies, 2010.

Editor. En busca de Molina Enríquez: cien años de Los Grandes Problemas Nacionales. Mexico: coedition with the Colegio de México and the Katz Center for Mexican Studies, 2009.

"Manuel Gamio y el Indigenismo de la Revolución Mexicana." In Historia de los intelectuales en América Latina, vol 2, edited by Carlos Altamirano. Buenos Aires: Katz Editores, 2010

"John Womack: sobre historia e historiadores." Revista Temas (2008). Interview.

"Aspectos económicos de la desamortización de las tierras de los pueblos." In España y México, ¿Historias económicas paralelas?, edited by Rafael Dobado, Aurora Gómez Galvarriato, and Graciela Márquez. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007.

A Pueblo Divided: Business, Property, and Community in Papantla, Mexico. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.

"Interpreting the Expropriation of Indian Pueblo Lands in Porfirian Mexico: The Unexamined Legacies of Andrés Molina Enríquez." The Hispanic American Historical Review 82, no. 1 (Feb. 2002).

"El comercio de exportación en Tuxpan, 1870–1900." In El siglo XIX en las Huastecas, México, edited by Antonio Escobar Ohmstede and Luz Carregha Lamadrid. Mexico City: Centro de Investigaciones y Esudios Superiores en Antropología Social, 2002.

"Economía y comunidad en Papantla: reflexiones sobre 'la cuestión de la tierra' en el siglo XIX." In Estructuras y formas agrarias en México: del pasado al presente, edited by Antonio Escobar Ohmstede and Teresa Rojas Rabiela, 197–214. Mexico City: Centro de Investigaciones y Esudios Superiores en Antropología Social, 2001.

"La vainilla de Papantla: Agricultura, comercio y sociedad rural en el siglo XIX." Signos Históricos 3 (2000).

"Lo agrario y lo agrícola: reflexiones sobre el estudio de la historia rural posrevolucionaria." Boletín del Archivo General Agrario 3 (July 1998).


—Joins panel discuss on Mexico's presidential election, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Jan. 28, 2019
—Delivers a talk on "Friedrich Katz Agraian Mexico," Freie Universität Berlin
—Discusses Article 27 of the Constitution of MexicoRevista NEXOS, Feb. 2017
—Discusses agrarian reforms, "La invención del ejido," iRevista NEXOS, Jan. 2015
—Hosts the XIV Reunión Internacional de Historiadores de México as director of the Katz Center for Mexican Studies, University of Chicago
—Advised curators on the exhibit, "Researching Mexico: University of Chicago Field Explorations in Mexico, 1896–2014," Special Collections. Seonaid Valiant, PhD '14, cocurated the show.

Affiliated Departments and Centers: Center for Latin American Studies, Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, Department of History, Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture, Katz Center for Mexican Studies