Casey Lurtz

Assistant Professor

Gilman 330G
Monday, 2-4 p.m.; and by appointment
Curriculum Vitae
Personal Website


I am a historian of modern Latin America, with a focus on Mexico. I write about how rural people understood, encountered, and shaped the world beyond their horizons and the landscapes beneath their feet. While mostly focused on Latin America, I am invested in tracing ties that stretched across oceans, in looking at how even a worn-down cabin at the end of a dirt trail became part of a globalized world.

My current project, From the Grounds Up: Building an Export Economy in Southern Mexico, 1867-1920, uses the development of southern Mexico's coffee economy to explain how engagement with global markets was shaped by resilient local political and social structures. The project also engages the history of global migrations and provides a picture of localized international commerce in the hands of Mexican and foreign planters, merchants, and politicians. It is under contract with Stanford University Press.


From the Grounds Up: Building an Export Economy in Southern Mexico, 1867-1920 is a study of how peripheral places grappled with globalization at the turn of the century. Through extensive use of local archives in the Soconusco region of Chiapas, Mexico, I place indigenous and mestizo villagers, migrant workers, and local politicians at the center of a new story of the export boom. I argue that their participation in commodity production restrained a consolidating state and the international markets it increasingly served. Alongside plantation owners and foreign investors, a dense but little explored web of small producers quickly adopted and adapted to export production. Smallholders acquired knowledge, access to markets, and the tools to participate in them by taking an active role in the expanding global economy. These small time players exploited the marginality of spaces available for development – their homes – to ensure that they too saw some benefit from market integration across the Atlantic and Pacific worlds. Much of Latin America was engaged in production for market by the turn of the century, on scales large and small, involving crops from spices to staples. Alongside extraction by outside actors, locals’ rational choices thus become a necessary means of understanding the predominance of export-led growth in rural Latin America. The work is under contract with Stanford University Press.

Future projects explore Mexico’s agricultural geography in the years preceding the Mexican Revolution, comparative notions of rural development in nineteenth century Latin America, and the circulation of economic and scientific ideas related to agricultural exploitation between urban centers and rural producers.