Casey Lurtz

Casey Lurtz (she/her)

Assistant Professor

Contact Information

Research Interests: Modern Mexico and Latin America more broadly, rural and agricultural history, commodities, history of development, economic history, and Atlantic history

Education: PhD, University of Chicago


My writing and teaching focus on questions of rural development, world markets, the environment, and economic ideas in the long nineteenth century. I am primarily a historian of modern Latin America, with a focus on Mexico, but am dedicated to exploring that region as an essential part of larger global histories.

My first book, From the Grounds Up: Building an Export Economy in Southern Mexico (2019), 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. Forwarding an idea of popular economic liberalism, the book looks at how villagers, workers, and smalltime politicians seized and reshaped the toolkit of liberal economic policy to secure and advance their own interests. The project also engages the history of global migration and provides a picture of localized international commerce in the hands of Mexican and foreign planters, merchants, and politicians.

My ongoing research concerns larger conceptions of the state, the economy, and the environment in 19th century Latin America. To this end, I am pursuing two ongoing research projects. The first, Projecting Prosperity: Striving for a State in Nineteenth Century Mexico, is a history of Mexico’s national administrative formation from independence through the Mexican Revolution. In it, I illuminate how those who worked beyond the realm of electoral politics understood and imagined the state and to what ends. The project looks past the political tumult that generally defines our understanding of nineteenth century Mexico to present a story of desired and increasingly real institutional stability. Building on rich historiographies on “everyday forms of state formation” and popular political liberalism in Mexico, I trace how the basic institutions of a durable and functional state grew out of popular and elite economic aspirations and needs, particularly as related to the exploitation of the nation’s environment.

The second, From Enlightenment to Development: Latin America’s Economic Experiments in the Post-Independence Era will be a transnational examination of the shared project of figuring out Latin America’s place the world economy after independence. It will look at the building of Departments of Fomento, translated as development or improvement, and their equivalent across Latin America in the nineteenth century. Dedicated to promoting growth and modernization, these bureaucracies attempted to embody and enact nascent approaches to what we would now call economic development. The project will examine how technocrats, politicians, scientists, and the producers they targeted reimagined and reshaped their landscape to meet the needs of both their own emerging economies and the demands of global capitalism. Through a more diverse and localized understanding of the origins of this transformation, my work will advance our knowledge of how development projects, both historical and contemporary, fashion the inequalities and environmental transformations that continue to mark Latin America today.​

Each of these projects also involves a digital humanities component, and I am collaborating with students and colleagues in the U.S. and Mexico to deepen my engagement with the possibilities of digital mapping and data management. I am part of a collaborative project called ArchivoMex that works to make historical data from Mexico available and useable and am also working with Johns Hopkins computer science students on a digital table reader that uses OCR and image recognition to extract historical data from printed sources. As part of a nascent collective of scholars interested in historical GIS in Mexico, I am building a digital map of Mexico’s municipalities based on the 1900 census. You read see more about this work and the student collaborators who are an essential part of it on my personal website.