Mikael Wolfe

Assistant Professor of History
B.A., Columbia University, East Asian Studies (1995)
M.A, The University of Chicago, International History (major field East Asia, minor field Middle East) (1999)
Ph.D., The University of Chicago, Latin American History (2009)
Mikael Wolfe
In my work, I examine the intersection of social, political, environmental, and technological change in modern Mexico and Latin America by focusing on the history of agrarian reform, water control, hydraulic technology, drought, and climate change. I offer a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses in Mexican, Latin American, environmental, and comparative and global history, on topics such as the history of water control, climate ethics, economic development, international relations, revolution and film (see course offerings below).

My first book, Watering the Revolution, recipient of the 2018 Conference on Latin American History's Elinor Melville Prize for Latin American Environmental History, transforms our understanding of Mexican agrarian reform, Latin America's most extensive and longest-lasting (1915-1992) through an environmental and technological history of water management in the emblematic Laguna region. Drawing on extensive archival research in Mexico and the United States, it shows how during the long Mexican Revolution (1910-1940) engineers’ distribution of the water paradoxically undermined land distribution. In so doing, it highlights the intrinsic tension engineers faced between the urgent need for water conservation and the imperative for development during the contentious modernization of the Laguna's existing flood irrigation method into one regulated by high dams, concrete-lined canals, and motorized groundwater pumps. This tension generally resolved in favor of development, which unintentionally diminished and contaminated the water supply while deepening existing rural social inequalities by dividing people into water haves and have-nots, regardless of their access to land. By uncovering the varied motivations behind the Mexican government’s decision to use invasive and damaging technologies despite knowing they were ecologically unsustainable, the book tells a cautionary tale of the long-term consequences of short-sighted development policies.

The research I completed for my first book led to my second book project tentatively entitled “Revolution in the Air: A Comparative Historical Climatology of the Mexican and Cuban Revolutions.” The book makes climate endogenous to the story of revolution. It contends that climatic events did not simply happen once, only to disappear in importance. Rather, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries interpreted climatic variability through a mixture of geopolitical, scientific, and religious knowledge and practices. These interpretations, in turn, shaped how revolutionary societies incorporated climatology into a broader state policy toward the environment.

Featured News

August 19, 2020
From Karen Bass to Kamala Harris Senator Kamala Harris’s selection as Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential running mate is groundbreaking, indeed historic. Harris is the first Black woman to join a presidential ticket after running herself for president. This is of course cause for celebration, especially since it now makes her the Democratic frontrunner...
May 6, 2020
Tensions are rising as nations around the world struggle to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus and stave off economic collapse. Meanwhile, in poor war-torn nations like Yemen, the impact of the virus is likely to dwarf current hot spots in wealthy nations at peace. Yet in the United States, small groups, some armed or bearing Confederate...
August 30, 2019
Hispanic American Historical Review (HAHR) Interview with Professor Mikael D. Wolfe 1. How did you come to Mexico as an area of research? Before I became a Mexicanist, I studied the history of Japan and Korea. I took a break from graduate school at the University of Chicago and worked for an environmental NGO in Mexico City, where I learned a...


Environmental History
Global, Transnational, and International History
Legal History
Science and Technology
Social History
Spatial History and Historical Geography