A tale of two cities: Jiménez to conduct research in Bogotá and Medellín during Fulbright

After several years of study and publications based on the history of city growth and urban politics of Mexican municipalities, Department of History professor and recent Fulbright scholar Christina Jiménez is setting her sights on Colombia to study their history of city growth and the politics around urban public space to see if comparable dynamics emerged in Mexico and Colombia between 1900 and 1950.

As a Fulbright scholar, Jiménez will spend two months in Colombia in spring of both 2024 and 2025 researching historical archives in the cities of Bogotá and Medellín. She’ll also be collaborating with faculty and graduate students at local universities, namely University of the Andes in Bogotá and University of Antioquia in Medellín. Over these research periods, she will continue to teach and do her university service for UCCS remotely.

“I’m excited to learn more about these historical archives and what they do, or don’t, have,” said Jiménez. “I’m also really looking forward to working with my Colombian colleagues and their students, both undergrad and graduate in Bogotá and Medellín. Bogotá has a very rich urban history, meaning that there’s lots of really excellent history that’s already been written about city development there. There’s a whole community of scholars I can engage with there on these themes of urban history, so that’s wonderful. I’m hoping to be able to do some traveling around Colombia and around some of the neighboring countries as well.”

Jiménez at the Bogotá archives

Jiménez is building on her previous research and work based on Mexican history to study the informal economy of Colombia and its rural to urban migration dynamic, specifically the influx of street vendors and other service vocations which use shared city spaces to work. This research can be seen in her book “Making an Urban Public: Popular Claims to the City in Mexico, 1879-1932,” which was recognized as an Outstanding Academic Title of 2019 by the Choice publishing branch of the American Libraries Association.

“I will collaborate with interested faculty and students at universities in Bogotá and Medellín to investigate how urban inhabitants envisioned and used the public spaces of those cities in the early twentieth century, including their streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas, among other spaces,” explained Jiménez. “I’m really curious about what was happening in other Latin American countries, because I know this was happening across the region, not just in these two cities in Mexico. I’m pretty sure a similar dynamic was happening in Colombia, not only of the informal economy, but of this dynamics of state regulation as well, and I have all sorts of conclusions that I could draw about that.”

Jiménez will focus on the time period from about 1900-1950, when urbanization was in full swing. She’ll be looking specifically at low-skilled male occupations, meaning jobs that can be undertaken without much expertise and that were traditionally held by men and boys, such as shoeshiners, water carriers, newspaper sellers and similar vendors, and the municipal and state regulations they were subject to. Part of what she hopes to find in the archives is physical proof pointing to how these vendors were regulated, usually in the form of documents like registry books, permits or fiadors, which are similar to guarantors.

“My focus is on if there was this type of informal self-entrepreneurial activity in the city,” Jiménez said. “If so, was it regulated? If it was regulated, how was it regulated? I want to see if it’s similar or different from what I found in Mexico and if the Colombian cities had the same type of regulations.”

Jiménez will hopefully find answers to these questions in the archives.

“Finding if they existed will be one thing,” said Jiménez. “But then actually finding some historical documents produced by or about them, that would be awesome. As an historian, I have to hope that any existing documents will still be available in the archives, but you never know because they might not have survived a fire or a flood or building transfer. I’m going to be really excited if I actually find registry books for these occupations.”

The National Church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Bogotá, Colombia.

Another challenge in researching the archives is going through unmarked and unindexed and unorganized materials. Much historical documentation hasn’t been indexed yet, though Jiménez is prepared for that.

“Doing the historical research is always a little bit of a detective work,” she laughed. “Sometimes an archive doesn’t know all of the information that it has because everything hasn’t been indexed or cataloged. The archivists might know they have boxes from around 1900 on markets, but don’t have a detailed description of what’s in those boxes.”

While Jiménez specializes in all of Latin America history, she chose Colombia as her next research area in part because of its similarities to urban evolution in Mexico but also for its own rich background.

“Colombia just has a fascinating history. I think a lot of people associate it with the drug wars of the 1980s and “Narcos” and all that, but there’s so much more to it,” said Jiménez. “It has some similarities with Mexican history, in terms of the same trajectory and time period of rural to urban development, and there’s also a lot of racial and ethnic diversity. The country had a large influx of African men and women through the slave trade to work on mainly coffee plantations and it also has a rich indigenous history as well, so that’s kind of similar to Mexico. Plus, Colombians love their history, and that is really important in the sense of how well the historical archives are maintained.”

Along with being excited about the Fulbright award, Jiménez is looking forward to expanding the scope of her work and delving into a new region.

“While I know a lot about the dynamics in terms of urban history and Mexican history, I’m new to Colombia and its history and that’s exciting at this stage of my career,” she said.

Jiménez also hopes to host a joint class session between her Colombian and UCCS students so they can learn from one another. She wants to show her UCCS students that Colombia is more than its stereotypes and pop-culture portrayals. In her graduate City and Citizenship seminar, for example, she plans to share how over the past several decades, these Colombian cities have embarked on innovative urban revitalization programs that have changed urban civic culture, such as the building of public cable cars to create access to the informal neighborhoods built on the hillsides surrounding Medellín.

“Colombia isn’t just about the drug wars. There is a really rich and interesting history in this beautiful country. I’m hoping that highlighting some of this history and these fascinating people-centered stories will help others see the complexity and nuance of the history of Colombia beyond these real stereotypical ideas,” Jiménez said.

Historical document titled: “Regulation for the Tax Collection on Public Spectacles,” from the Historical Archive of Medellín

Though Jiménez’s next steps are contingent on what she finds during her Fulbright trips, she’d like to work with her collaborators in Colombia to present the research and release publications. In the meantime, she’s working on a second book called “City of Workers: History of the Informal Economy of Public Service Workers and their Networks in Mexico, 1916-1936” for more insight on the evolution of Mexican informal economy.

“Depending on what I find and how my collaborations develop, I could do something focused like a series of conference papers and presentations, working collaboratively with Colombian historians on some of these themes,” said Jiménez. “I would definitely be interested in continuing to pursue ideas around this question, and broad theme of urban informality, both in work and in housing in another Latin American country. I would also really love to be able to develop some collaborations where we can work together and not only present research, but get publications out as well, and get it published in Spanish. Colombia would probably be the main route for that, for other Latin Americans to read in Spanish.”

Jiménez is looking forward to pursuing these ideas and joining the Fulbright ranks.

“It’s a real honor to be awarded a Fulbright, and it’s not just the opportunity to go and research and work internationally, but also becoming part of a whole Fulbright community of other scholars, resources and support.”

About the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program offers more than 400 different opportunities to teach, research and conduct professional projects in over 135 countries. Opportunities are available for higher education faculty and administrators as well as for professionals outside of academia, artists, journalists, scientists, and independent scholars. UCCS faculty, staff and students interested in learning more about Fulbright awards should contact the Office of International Affairs.

About the UCCS College of Letters, Arts & Sciences

The College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at UCCS is the university’s largest college, enrolling nearly 6,000 students across 21 departments and programs. The college offers 19 majors and 53 minors in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Students can also choose from five accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degrees, nine full master’s degrees and three Ph.D. degrees, as well as pre-medical and pre-law programs. The mission of the college is to position graduates for success in their personal and professional lives, with a focus on thinking, creating and communicating — skills vital to employers and graduate and professional schools. Learn more about the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at UCCS.