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Dr Benjamin Smith

Room: Room H338, third floor of the Humanities Building

Tel: 44 (0)24 76523422 (internal extension 23422)

Fax: 44 (0)24 76523437 (internal extension 23437)


Office hours: Monday 1-2pm and Tuesday 1-2pm
Twitter: @benjamintsmith7



Academic Profile

  • Reader of Latin American History, University of Warwick (2016-present)
  • Associate Professor of Latin American History, University of Warwick (2013-2016)
  • Associate Professor of Mexican History, Michigan State University (2005-2012)
  • PhD in History, Cambridge University (2006)



"Don't you know this story about two fellows who were playing cards and one had two aces and the other fellow asks him. "What do you have?". "Two aces. And You?" "Two pistols." So he says. "Ok You Win".And that's the way the PRI is here. It's got pistols and anybody who objects, well he gets run over by a car”, Jesús Sánchez in Oscar Lewis, The Children of Sánchez, (New York: Vintage Books, 1963), p 498.

POr Que m drugs


Since 2006 I have been working as a scholar of modern Mexican history. As a historian of nineteenth and twentieth-century grassroots politics, I have done most of my research in the archives, villages, churches, and markets of the predominantly indigenous state of Oaxaca. My first book, Pistoleros and Popular Movements: The Politics of State Formation in Postrevolutionary Oaxaca attempted to capture the diversity of post-revolutionary politics and looked at regional bosses, female-led social movements, violence, and agrarian reform from the 1920s through to the 1950s. Building on a shared interest in Mexican state formation, Paul Gillingham and I are also edited a collection of essays on the subject, entitled Dictablanda: Politics, Work, and Culture in Mexico, 1938-1968. It was published in early 2014.

My second area of research has been religion and popular conservatism. While researching Pistoleros and Popular Movements, I became increasingly interested in the relationship between local religious cultures and grassroots politics. In part, my inspiration emerged from the archives; a belief that different hierarchies, rituals, and political practices existed beyond peasants' choreographed appeals to the state. In part, my inspiration came out of my love for Luis González's classic microhistory, Pueblo en vilo, and his forgotten appeal for historians to engage with villagers' religious understandings of the world. The resulting book, The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico, looked at landownership, priest-parishioner relations, religious rituals, and politics in the Mixteca Baja from the late colonial period to the 1960s, and was published by the Univerisity of New Mexico Press in 2012.Beyond these broad research interests, I have also published a variety of articles on indigenous and grassroots responses to indigenismo, indigenous militarism, the PAN, taxation, state healthcare, and the drug trade.

Although I am continuing to work on grassroots politics, I have made the reluctant and potentially rash decision to move beyond my patria chica (Ser mexicano es un orgullo pero ser oaxaqueño es un don de Dios!). Following my previous rather scattergun approach, I am working on four, occasionally interlinked, projects:

1) Dictablanda, Democracy and the PRI. This project uses recently declassified Mexican Secret Service documents in order to examine the internal workings of the PRI. Bringing together political science, anthropology, and revisionist histories of the one party state, the work argues that beneath choreographed demonstrations of PRI authoritarianism, local communities carved out a functioning form of political pluralism. The work not only interacts with works on Mexican democratization, but also broader re-evaluations of democracy per se. I recently published one of my articles on this in Past & Present.

2) Politics, the press, and the reading public in Mexico, 1940-1980. This project looks at the relationship between the PRI state and the public sphere, and examines national and local newspapers, internal PRI rags, and corridos and occasional flysheets. Michael Lettieri, Paul Gillingham, and I organized a substantial conference at the UC San Diego US-Mexico Center which brought together historians, communications scholars, political scientists and journalists to examine the development of Mexico's public sphere over the past century. At present, University of New Mexico Press are publishing an edited volume based on this conference.

I am also using a British `Academy grant to write a monograph on the press and civil society in Mexico during the twentieth century. The book brings together extensive research in Mexico and the U.S. and examines the growth in the reading public, censorship, satire, Mario Menendez and the radical press, the Excelsior "Pinochetazo", José García Valseca and the gangster press, and newspapers and social movements in Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí and Chihuahua. The working title for the book is Stories from the Newsroom, Stories from the Street: Essays on the History of Mexican Journalism, 1940-1976.

3) Narco-Mex: A History of the Drug Trade in Mexico. Wil Pansters (Utrecht), Peter Watt (Sheffield), and I have received an AHRC grant, designed to fund a project which looks at the history of the Mexican drug trade. The grant will fund four policy-oriented workshops (in the US, Mexico, and the UK), one large international conference, and the production of a monograph on the history of the trade. So far we have collected considerable data from US and Mexican federal, state, judicial, military, and secret service archives.

4) Las Poquianchis: Sex, Serial Killers, and their Significance in Cold War Mexico. In 1964 the police arrested three sisters accused of kidnapping, torturing and murdering over 100 men, women, and children. The case shocked the nation, pulling back the curtain on Golden Age Mexico and revealing a world of forced prostitution, kidnapping, sexual exploitation, and institutional corruption. This short, readable text designed for undergraduates and the general reader contextualizes the Poquianchis within broader histories of prostitution, forced labor, urbanization, and corruption and looks at the way in which contemporary Mexicans drew their own meanings from the case.

I teach introductory courses on Latin American history, a 200-level course on Mexican history, and an interdisciplinary 400-level course on the drugs industry in Latin America.



Benjamin T. Smith and Paul Gillingham (eds.), Dictalanda: Politics, Work, and Culture in Mexico, 1938-1968 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

Benjamin T. Smith, The Roots of Conservatism in Mexico: Catholicism, Society, and Politics in the Mixteca Baja, 1750-1962 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012)

Benjamin T. Smith, Pistoleros and Popular Movements: The Politics of State Formation in Postrevolutionary Oaxaca (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009)

Articles and Special Issues

Paul Gillingham, Michael Lettieri, Benjamin T. Smith, (eds.), Journalism, Satire, and Censorship in Modern Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, forthcoming)

Benjamin T. Smith, "The Year Mexico Stopped Laughing: The Crowd, Satire, and Censorship in Mexico City" in Paul Gillingham, Michael Lettieri, Benjamin T. Smith, (eds.), Journalism, Satire, and Censorship in Modern Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, forthcoming)

Paul Gillingham, Michael Lettieri, Benjamin T. Smith, "Introduction: Journalism, Satire and Censorship in Mexico" in Paul Gillingham, Michael Lettieri, Benjamin T. Smith, (eds.), Journalism, Satire, and Censorship in Modern Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, forthcoming)

Benjamin T. Smith, “El espíritu de Dios… en los corazones de todos”: La resurgimiento de Catolicismo en la Mixteca Baja, 1867-1910" in Marta Eugenia Ugarte García and Matthew Butler, Pablo Serrano Alvarez (eds), México católico. Proyectos y trayectorias eclesiales, siglos XIX y XX (Pachuca: Collegio de Hidalgo, 2017), 201-35.

Benjamin T. Smith, "Drug Policies in Mexico, 1900-1980", Beatriz C.Labate, Clancy Cavnar, & Thiago Rodrigues, (eds.), Drug Policies and the Politics of Drugs in Latin America. (Cham: Switzerland, Springer International Publishing, 2016), pp. 33-53.

Benjamin T. Smith,"Crime in Mexico" in Mexican Crime Photographs from the Archive of Stefan Ruiz (London: Gost Books, 2015)

Benjamin T. Smith, "Building a state on the cheap: Taxation, Social Movements, and Politics" in Benjamin T. Smith and Paul Gillingham (eds.), Dictalanda: Politics, Work, and Culture in Mexico, 1938-1968 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014)

Benjamin T. Smith and Paul Gillingham, "Introduction: The Paradoxes of Revolution" in in Benjamin T. Smith and Paul Gillingham (eds.), Dictalanda: Politics, Work, and Culture in Mexico, 1938-1968 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014)

Benjamin T. Smith, "Who Governed? Grassroots Politics in 1960s Mexico", Past & Present, (November 2014)

Benjamin T. Smith, "Rumbo a una cartografia de Cardenismo" in Tanalis Padilla (ed.), El campesinado y su persistencia en la actualidad mexicana (Mexico City: Conacultura, 2014)

Benjamin T. Smith, “Rewriting the Moral Economy: Agricultural Societies and Economic Change in Oaxaca’s Mixteca Baja, 1830-1910 “ in Matthew Butler and Antonio Escobar Ohmstede, (eds), Mexico in Transition: New Perspectives on Mexican Agrarian History, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries/ México y sus transiciones: reconsideraciones sobre la historia agraria mexicana, siglos XIX y XX, (University of Texas-CIESAS, 2013)

Benjamin T. Smith,"The Rise and Fall of Narcopopulism in Sinaloa, 1940-1980", Journal for the Study of Radicalism (Fall 2013), pp. 125-167.

Benjamin T. Smith and Gabriela Soto Laveaga, (eds,), Special issue of Endeavour on Medicine in Mexico (March 2013)

Benjamin T. Smith, “Towards a typology of popular responses to rural medicine in Mexico”, Endeavour, (March 2013)

Benjamin T. Smith, “Heliodoro Charis Castro and the soldiers of Juchitán: Indigenous Militarism, Local Rule and the Mexican State” in Ben Fallaw and Terry Rugeley (eds.), Forced Marches: Soldiers and military caciques in modern Mexico (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012)

Benjamin T. Smith, “El Señor del Perdon y los matacristos de Oaxaca: La Revolución desde el punto de vista de los católicos”, Desacatos, 28, (2010), pp. 61-76.

Benjamin T. Smith and Keith Aaron Van Oosterhout, “The Limits of Catholic Science and the Mexican Revolution”, Endeavour, 34.2 (2010), pp. 55-60.

Benjamin T. Smith, “Anticlericalism, Politics, and Freemasonry in Mexico, 1920–1940” The Americas, 65.4 (2009), pp. 559-588.

Benjamin T. Smith, “Inventing Tradition at Gunpoint: Caciquismo and Culture in the Región Mixe, Oaxaca, 1930- 1959”, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 27.2 (2008), pp. 215-234

Benjamin T. Smith, “”The Party of the Priest”: Local Religion in Huajuapam de León, 1920-1952” in Matthew Butler (ed.), Faith and Impiety in Revolutionary Mexico: God’s Revolution? (London: Palgrave, 2008), pp. 261-278.

Benjamin T. Smith, “Defending “Our Beautiful Freedom”: State Formation and Local Autonomy in Oaxaca, 1930- 1940”, Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, 37.1 (2007), pp. 125-53

Benjamin T. Smith, “The Politics of Anticlericalism and Resistance: The Diocese of Huajuapam 1900-1940”, Journal of Latin American Studies, 37.3 (2005), pp. 469-505

Benjamin T. Smith, “New lines of inquiry into the post-revolutionary state in Oaxaca (1934-1947)” in Carlos Sanchez Silva (ed.), Historia, sociedad y literatura de Oaxaca. Nuevos enfoques, (Mexico, IIHUABJO-IEEPO, 2004), pp. 67-98.

Benjamin T. Smith, “El suicidio de un diputado: La inestablidad del régimen pos-revolucionario”, Agenda Política, Periodismo de Investigación y Análisis, 1.2 (2004), pp. 3-9.


Aline Maria de Carvalho Pagotto, Interview with Benjamin T. Smith, in Historia e Cultura


UCL History Spot on La Dictablanda: Soft Authoritarianism in Mexico, 1938-1968

Non-academic Articles

"Arresting Mexican Kingpin "el Chapo" hardly means the drug war is over" The Guardian

Mexico on the brink. Ayotzinapa and Peña Nieto. Dissent

The end of the Drug War or the Cartel of Cartels, Dissent Magazine and Truth Out

"Qué quiere la Sección 22 del SNTE-CNTE?” Nexos

"Legalizing marijuana is no easy fix for Mexico's drug problem", The Conservation

"Tragic Realism: The Rise of Mexican narcoliterature", The Conversation

Teachers, Education Reform and the Mexican Left, Dissent Magazine

What does El chapo's Escape mean for the Mexican drug trade? Dissent Magazine

Violencia de estado, reforma educativa e izquierda, Letras Libres

1940: The Year Mexico Legalised Drugs, BBC History Extra

Cómo manipular a la prensa, Nexos

1940: The Year Mexico Legalised Drugs, Transform: Getting Drugs Under Control

In the news

"Mexico promises justice for unsolved murders", Aljazeera

Enrique Peña Nieto's Reforms, France24

Duncan Tucker, Constitutionally Challenged, Index to Censorship

Inauguration of Hilarion exhibition in Oaxaca, Proceso, Oaxaca Digital, Red Global Noticias

HSBC and Money Laundering, World FInance (Video)

A cartel's balance sheet, World Finance (Video)

"Mexico's Mystery: Why were five clergy murdered last year", National Catholic Register

"El Chapo's Escape", LBC radio

Paul Imison, Mexico’s Education Dispute Reflects Wider Obstacles to Reform, World Politics Review

Ricarlos I, Impredecible, lo que puede resultar de las autodefensas: especialistas, La Jornada

La Cuadratura del Círculo, Romepvientos TV,

Conclusiones del evento sobre periodismo y guerra contra las drogas, Freedom House, Mexico

SRE responderá a acusaciones en Londres sobre Ayotzinapa, Excelsior

Mexico's Criminal History, International New York Times

Mexican mugshots: Criminal cult heroes of the 1960s, The Guardian

Florencia Costa, O significado do número 43, Brasil Económico

Guilia Mutti, Guerrillas, Bandits and Terrorists: Lost Police Mugshots From Mid-Century Mexico, Vice Magazine

Mexican Crime Photographs from the archive of Stefan Ruiz, The Telegraph

Paul Imison, Mexican Journalists Are Still Being Killed Despite Promises of Protection, Vice Magazine

El Chapo's capture, Sky News

Pope Francis' Tour of Latin America, Sky News

Mexico was most dangerous country to be a Catholic priest, France24

High impunity rates in Mexico, eFM, South Korea

Oaxaca Teachers Strike 2016, BBC World Service

Mexico's Crime Photographs, Washington Post

Trump Visits Mexico, Sky News

US elections: Will Trump Build a Wall? Sky News