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Teaching History in the Kitchen

Last Thursday I took my Preindependence Latin America to The Teaching Kitchen, an annex to the main cafeteria in which a chef, incoordination with a faculty member, instructs how to cook a certain dish. I used food in classes before but it was the first time I tried using cooking as a teaching tool. We prepared tortillas from masa harina, baked them (don’t grill me for this) and then ate them with beans and salsa, with chocolate made with almond milk (no atole available, unfortunately).

Students in the teaching kitchen
Students in the teaching kitchen

By preparing tortillas, students gained at least some understanding of the time involved. Although we baked them,

I demonstrated a comal, helping understand the fuel efficiency of mesoamericana cooking. We tried to froth the chocolate with a molinillo without much success 🤷‍♂️. We discussed the cooking of tortillas in connection to population and abundance of certain resources (labor, water, fuel).

Talking over tortillas and beans
Talking over tortillas and beans

It’s a learning curve with much to learn in how to make it more effective but I’m pleased with it. We learned some things by doing and i hope that the established some affective connection that is also part of learning.

Froggie went a’courtin as ecological knowledge

Illustration of the song, in a book at the Smithsonian library.

In my #envhist class we have music breaks to chill, have fun, and dig into the themes of the class. Next week it’s my turn to bring a song and I chose Froggy Went A’Courtin.

Froggy is a terrific example of how (traditional?) ecological knowledge sneaks up in folklore and more broadly our culture. In Froggy I hear the echoes of nature observation and ecological knowledge that imho help understand the playfulness surrounding the song, its resilience and adaptability to convey different meanings depending on the context.

My favorite version is the Boss’s recording in The Seeger Sessions. But this is one of the oldest folksongs published in English (1st versions dating from 16th century). Most versions, Springsteen’s among them (check lyrics here), share a structure and major characters. Based on the described habitats, we can identify froggy with the common frog, present all over the British Isles and Europe and the subject of multiple European folk traditions1. Most interpretations dwell on the undertones of political commentary and critique of the song. And there is a strong tradition of folklore studies highlighting the lineage of the song and the mutual borrowings with other traditions.2


Wages and prices in Mexico, 1730-1930

Click here to open the dataset that was published as an appendix to the article “Mexico’s Real Wages in the Age of the Great Divergence,” published in Revista de Historia Económica by Aurora Gómez-Galvarriato and me. Many users report problems downloading the appendix, so we hope this helps make the data more accessible.

Please cite the article as the source for these data:

Challú, Amílcar E., and Aurora Gómez-Galvarriato. “Mexico’s Real Wages in the Age of the Great Divergence, 1730-1930.” RHE / JILAEH 33, no. 01 (2015): 83–122.

Stay tuned for more updates on this research!

Cosmic Kite, What Planet Did You Come From?

“Cosmic Kite,” the broadcast of Maradona’s famous goal, a shared cultural reference to all
By Amílcar E. Challú, 
Associate Professor of History,
and proud dual citizen of Argentina and the United States

Diego Armando Maradona passed earlier today. One of the best players of all times. The best, actually 😀. A fascinating character. A flesh and blood figure with greatness and flaws. Never polished like Pelé (or Messi), humble in origins and also in acknowledging his limitations.

His career is intertwined with Argentine history (a good timeline of his life and career up to 2004 is here). His first world cup was just a few months after the end of the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands war. His most glorious moment, in 1986, a moment of difficulties but also great hope in his country, the return of democracy. Folks outside of Argentina may not know, but the second-place in the Italy World Cup of 1990 was even more celebrated than the 1986 world cup. Maradona united a whole country as it was just going through a hyperinflationary crisis in which prices were increasing by more than 10,000% (ten thousand!) per month. As Maradona’s personal life and career tumbled in the 1990s, so did Argentina, eventually hitting what’s called the Argentine great depression of 1998-2002 (yes, soccer world cups also bookended this crisis, this time without Maradona’s participation).

The video I’m linking here is Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, Maradona’s greatest moment. It’s worth for the goal (the greatest, imho) but also for the broadcast. I vividly recall that moment. The family was watching glued to the TV watching these matches in my uncle’s house. The passion and poetry of the broadcast (by Víctor Hugo Morales) encapsulates the glory of the goal and the significance for this moment in Argentine society, still hurting from war, a brutal dictatorship and hopeful for a new beginning. Here’s the translation that Amy Robinson and I put together. We use it in every Latin American culture or history class that we teach.

Maradona has it there (the ball). Two are tagging him.
He stops the ball.
Sprints on the right side, the genius of world football.
Here comes
He can pass (touch) it to Burruchaga.
Always Maradona.
Genius, genius, genius
Ta, ta, ta
I want to cry
Oh holy God
Long live football!
Awesome goal, Diegol!
Maradona, this is a moment for crying, excuse me
Gol, gol, gol
Maradona in a memorable sprint
In the [greatest] play of all times
Cosmic kite, what planet did you come from
To leave so many Englishmen behind?
To make the country a clenched fist shouting out loud for Argentina?
Argentina 2, England 0
Diegol, Diegol
Diego Armando Maradona
Thanks, God. For football, for Maradona, for these tears
For this Argentina 2, England 0 

Perhaps we’ll see the Barrilete Cósmico flying high, guiding our way to a new era. I’m surprised this is not a tenet of faith of the the Maradonian church.

Workshop on “Biological Wellbeing, Development and Inequality in Mexico”

I wanted to share the call for papers of a workshop I am co-organizing with Roberto Vélez (CEEY, Mexico), Rafael Dobado (Complutense, Spain), and Agustín Grajales (BUAP, Mexico). It is the fruit of discussions that started in the Economics & Human Wellbeing conference last fall in Tübingen.

The event will take place in Puebla, Nov. 24-25, 2017. If you are interested, please look at the attached brochure and send us a proposal.

Call for proposals BWD and IM

Modern Mexico (HIST 4110, Fall 2013)


The course is an analysis of the interplay of Mexican politics, economic opportunities, culture and relations with the United over the course of Mexican history and how it shapes present-day conditions. The course is organized in six units, four of which are chronological and two are thematic.

I build the class around active learning activities, primarily discussion, group work and graded online discussion boards. About a third of the contents are delivered and discussed online and graded using a rubric. Interactive lectures are also a component of the class. Students will write one ten-page paper at the end of either unit 3 or 5, five five-page essays and participate in online discussion boards.


  1. What is Mexico? (week 1)
  2. The Nineteenth Century (weeks 2–3)
  3. The Mexican Revolution (weeks 4–6)
  4. The Perfect Dictatorship (weeks 7–8)
  5. Crisis and Democracy (weeks 9–13)
  6. The Border (weeks 14–15)

The Graduate Section

This course has a graduate section. Graduate and undergrad students participate in class discussions, both are equal citizens. Graduate students add more readings tailored to their interests (at least two books), lead some class discussions, and write a longer paper.


All books will be available in the bookstore.

  1. Meyer, Sherman and Deeds, The Course of Mexican History ($55, $25 for rent)

    A thorough review of Mexican history. Expensive but good. You can rent it or buy it used. If you need to buy an older edition, please visit the library to see acquire the latest chapter and adjust chapter numbers. Thanks!!!

  2. Henderson and Joseph, The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics ($20)

    An anthology of primary and secondary sources. We use this anthology extensively in our class and online discussions and in the papers and essays. On the distinction between primary and secondary sources, click on this BGSU Library document.

  3. Eric Zolov, Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture ($28, $17 ebook)

    The history of Mexican rock and roll provides an entry point to discuss cultural and social change from the 1950s to the 1970s and how the urban middle-class youth defied the perfect dictatorship—and its response.

  4. Judith Adler Hellman, Mexican Lives ($13)

    Fascinating ethnographic account of how Mexicans of different walks of life live. Their dreams, aspirations and fear during the dramatic transformations of the eighties. The impact of free trade, migration, organization of grass roots movements.

  5. Jeffrey Pilcher, Que vivan los tamales! Food and the Making of National Identity ($26)

    For centuries native cuisine was seen as a backward legacy of the prehispanic past. This book discusses how and why did tamales and tacos become the proud symbol of Mexican identity?

  6. Daniel Jaffee, Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival ($25, $16 ebook) [to be confirmed]

    Transformations brought by fair trade movement in a small rural community in the Mexican south.

US & Latin America, Online Summer Course Available

Join History 4000 (US and Latin America) a second-session online summer course that focuses on historical origins of the relationship of US and Latin America in order to understand the present-day bearings.

We study how diplomats, businesses, organizations, and the public shaped international relations by conducting research on primary sources available in online collections. Regardless of the tone of the relationship, the outcome has always been highly influential to all parties involved. By looking at the formation of US policy and what is at stake for Latin Americans, through their mutually influence on each other, we can gain a better understanding of the complexities of our modern world. For example recently deceased president Hugo Chávez built his popularity in Venezuela and Latin America on his staunch opposition of American policies. But Venezuela has remained one of the most important oil exporters to the United States. The relationship with Venezuela in recent years illustrates tensions, historical conflict, cooperation and occasional indifference between the United States and Latin American nations.


The course is organized in three two-week modules:

  • 1st Module: 19th Century through WWII
  • 2nd Module: The Cold War
  • 3rd Module: The Present Day (1990s and 2000s)

In each module students discuss two prompts based on readings, watch lectures, and take one quiz. Students write two research papers (one due at the end of the first module, the second due either at the end of the second or the third module). Topics and online primary source collections that are circulated at the beginning of the class.

Jaume Vicens Vives Award

Book cover

Cover with artwork by María A. Challú

I’m happy to announce that Living Standards in Latin American History, the collection of essays that I co-edited with Ricardo Salvatore and John Coatsworth (Harvard University DRCLAS, 2010) was awarded the Jaume Vicens Vives prize. The prize is granted by the Spanish Economic History Association to the best book on Latin America and Spain published in the last two years. We are thankful and honored by this recognition of such a prestigious association.

This was a collaborative endeavor that involved contributors, editors, reviewers and commenters, and DRCLAS publications staff.  Everyone shares in this success. It was a long-haul effort that started in a conference in 2004 and matured as a book in a process that took longer that we had anticipated but that was very fruitful. Besides the award, we have received favorable reviews and comments.

This is personally a great satisfaction. As the least experienced of the editors I learned a lot from my fellow editors, contributors and the DRCLAS editorial staff. I’m also thrilled that this prize was awarded by the Spanish Economic History Association. Spanish historians (including Vicens Vives) were very influential in my formation and today I not only read them but frequently exchange ideas and collaborate with them. It will be an honor to attend the X Congress in Carmona, Spain to receive the award on behalf of the editors and contributors.

Last but not least, people have commented on the cover… It features the artwork of my sister, María Alejandra Challú. She’s not only a terrific artist who has exhibited her work, but also a respected art therapist working with dialysis patients. In connection to her work, she started to participate in a grass roots organization to improve adult literacy in and around Buenos Aires. The art cover (multitud 4) is based on a painting she prepared for the organization. She generously also let us use another piece in the series for the promotional materials of the Ohio Latinamericanist Conference held in BGSU in February 2011.

Course on Modern Mexico (HIST4110/5110, Fall 2011, Tu & Th 1-2:15)

This Fall I will teach HIST4110 Modern Mexico. It is an upper-level survey class that covers Mexican history from independence to the present day. The goals are just two: to explore the connections between economic growth, inequality, popular political participation and the close relationship to the US in the past and present of Mexico; and to analyze contemporary problems with a historical perspective. The class is also offered at the graduate level as HIST5110, please contact me to discuss additional readings and activities related to the graduate component.

Mural representing Mexican history in the Government Palace of Tlaxcala

Mural representing Mexican history in the Government Palace of Tlaxcala

In this edition of the class I am experimenting with a new arrangement of units that puts the second goal to the forefront: we will begin with the present day, reading Nora Hamilton’s Mexico. It happens to be organized more or less around the issues outlined in the first goal. The other units are devoted to furthering our understanding of Mexico’s history, primarily through the lens of those issues more or less in a chronological fashion. The two last books resume the discussion of recent times from the perspective of the everyday lives of Mexicans and an analysis of US and Mexico relations. Three books on the past, three on the present, although the latter are anchored in a solid understanding of history.

Besides the discussion of the books based on your reading, we will discuss photographs, cartoons, documentaries, movies, and clips related to the unit’s  topics. Informed discussion in class and optionally in online forums, is the expectation for this class. Assessment is primarily based on quizzes (50%) and a final paper that connects at least two of the major issues (50%).

Don’t hesitate to post your comments and questions.

Tentative schedule, week by week

1    Unit I: Overview of Mexican History
Hamilton, Mexico, Political, Social And Economic Evolution

2-4     Unit II: Political, Social and Economic Transformations in Recent Mexico
Hamilton, Mexico, Political, Social And Economic Evolution

5-6    Unit III: The Nineteenth Century
Wasserman, Everyday Life and Politics in Nineteenth Century Mexico (U. of New Mexico Press, 2000)

7-8     Unit IV: The Mexican Revolution
Gonzales, The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1940 (University of New Mexico Press, 2002)

9-10    Unit V: The Perfect Dictatorship
Zolov, Refried Elvis: The Rise Of Mexican Counterculture (University of California Press, 1999)

11-12    Unit VI: Everyday Life and Inequality in the Late 20th Century
Adler, Mexican Lives (New Press, 1995)

13-14    Unit VII: Legacies and Current Issues in United States-Mexico Relations
Domínguez, United States and Mexico, Between Partnership and Conflict (Routledge, 2009)

15    Review
16    Final paper due

Seminar on Latin American History (Fall 2011, Tu & Th 4-5:15, Williams 141)

(Postdata: Some have expressed concern about obtaining the materials. We’ll sort this out in the first week of classes to provide lower cost alternatives to buying the books. I also wanted to point out that this is a tentative arrangement of readings, the list may change in the final version. Don’t hesitate to send me an email with your preferences, concerns, etc.)

In Fall 2011 I’ll be teaching my graduate seminar on Latin America: HISTORY 6820:  Problems in History: Latin America. This course is an introduction to the historiography of Latin America, colonial and modern. It is not intended as a survey class on the history of the region, but a discussion of selected issues and approaches.

Mural by Diego Rivera

Mural by Diego Rivera

Given that this is the only graduate seminar on Latin American history in our regular offerings, I decided to keep it broad, from the colonial to the modern era, leaning more heavily on the latter. It includes topics that are very close to my research interests (late colonial Mexico, political economy,  living standards and inequality), but hopefully has a bit for everyone and seeks to feature not only typical academic work but also novels and ethnography. At the end of each unit, students will write an essay. It is possible to substitute some readings with my authorization.

1- Chasteen, Born of Blood & Fire, 978-0393911541, Norton
Overview of the region’s history. Concept: hegemony.

Unit I: The Colonial and Postcolonial Reality
2- León Portilla, Visions of the Vanquished/Schwartz, Victors and Vanquished/Wachtel, Vision of the Vanquished (choose one)
3- Marichal, Bankruptcy of empire, 0521879647, Cambridge Univ. Pr.
4- Earle, The Return of the Native, 978-0822340843, DUP
The trauma of conquest, transformation of native society, how colonial society worked, how colonial and postcolonial constructions were constructed. Concepts: political economy, identity

Unit II: Peasants and Mobilization
5- Van Young, The Other Rebellion, 978-0804748216, SUP
6- Azuela, The Underdogs
7- Gotkowitz, A Revolution of Our Rights, 978-0822340676, DUP
The origins of rebellions; rebellion and revolution; peasant ideologies. Concepts: Peasant, Political culture.

Unit III: Inequalities of Wealth, Opportunities and Power
8- Kouri, A Pueblo Divided, 978-0804758482, SUP
9- Fisher, A Poverty of Rights, 978-0804752909, SUP
10- Selections from: Living Standards in Latin American History; Indelible Inequalities; Williamson, Five
11- Adler Hellman, Mexican Lives, 978-1565841789 The New Press
Social and historical foundations of inequality; human development as a multidimensional problem; inequality and trade; the problem of persistence. Concepts: categorical and relational inequality, capabilities, market economy, ethnography.

Unit IV: Poor People’s Politics
12- Plotkin, Mañana es San Perón, 978-0842050296, Scholarly Resources
13- Winn, Weavers of the Revolution, 978-0195045581, OUP
14- Auyero, Poor People’s Politics, 978-0822326212, DUP
Changing coalitions in the twentieth century; populism, socialism and neoliberalism; importance of labor, labor and state. Concepts: populism, clientelism, poor people’s politics

Epilogue: Latin American History as Magic Realism
15- García Márquez, A Hundred Years of Solitude

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