Career Profile: Miguel Aguilar Robledo

Miguel Aguilar Robledo is professor of geography and coordinator of the Social Sciences and Humanities Program in the Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí (UASLP) in Mexico. He earned both his bachelor’s degree (Licenciatura) in geography focused on geography and ecology relationships in 1983, and his master’s degree (Maestría) in geography focused on evaluation and conservation of natural resources in 1992, at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. In 1999, he earned his PhD in geography from the University of Texas at Austin, studying historical land tenure and environmental change under the supervision of Karl W. Butzer. His research currently focuses on historical, regional, and environmental geography, as well as on sustainable development, ecotourism, and community participation. He has published several books and articles, and presented more than one hundred conference papers and invited talks throughout the Americas. He has not only developed several new courses and innovated links between research and community projects, but he also has been instrumental in initiating new geography programs in his country.

This profile was published in 2005. Miguel is currently still a Professor of Geography and Coordinator of the Social Sciences and Humanites Program at the Universidad Autonoma de San Luis Potosi in Mexico.

AAG: How is geography doing in Mexico?

MIGUEL: In general, geography is making a lot of progress. Right now we are harvesting part of the previous work done by several generations of geographers. Imagine, Mexico has developed three new undergraduate programs since 2002 and, in February of this year, the second PhD program in geography was opened.

AAG: To what do you attribute this growth?

MIGUEL: I think it is the result of the national trend of geography becoming a mature field. Since we have many more PhD’s in geography who graduated from universities here and abroad, I think the international context has also influenced this recent revival of Mexican geography, especially with developments in GIS and new geospatial technologies that have made a great contribution to increasing the social visibility of our discipline. Somehow, as Mexicans, we find ourselves rethinking our profession, and others are now realizing that geography is a really useful and exciting discipline.

AAG: How many geographers are there now in your program?

MIGUEL: Seven.

AAG: What got the ball rolling?

MIGUEL: You see, the UASLP lacked a social science community. Since I was hired, back in 1984, my first task was to develop an institute of humanities as a platform to open a college of social sciences and humanities. Initially, I felt “exiled” without colleagues in the university, and for almost two decades just tried to keep the minimal vital signs of geography alive. Then, with some disillusionment, I left to the United States to continue my geographical training. Once back, I promoted geography and other social sciences to the UASLP administration, and told them this is the time to develop these disciplines.

AAG: The right time to try again.

MIGUEL: Yes, to try again. At that time, we had a very receptive chancellor, who was very optimistic and gave us the political support we needed to open not only geography but also anthropology and history programs. This support continues under our new chancellor and we’re about to open our fourth program in archaeology.

AAG: Congratulations. What are some of the goals that you still have on the horizon?

MIGUEL: Well, we’re making a great effort in the national level to rebuild our current geographical organizations and to create new ones to promote a network of geography programs and a nationwide academic certification. Before 2002, the geography programs in Mexico were practically isolated from each other.

AAG: Very good.

MIGUEL: Another goal is to open a graduate program in geography by 2007, first a master’s program and then a PhD.

AAG: What emphases?

MIGUEL: Our masters will be focused on territorial management or something related, and the other emphasis could be national security, or security and geopolitics. Political geography and geopolitics are fields barely known in Mexico. As geographers, we have somehow relinquished these areas of study and research in Mexico and we want to reclaim them.

AAG: What about your own research?

MIGUEL: As a scholar, I have worked on the historical geography of Mexico and I’m presently finishing a related book in this field. Environmental history is one of my strong interests, but I am also making my research “useful” for my local colleagues in state and national institutions by working on issues of sustainable development, especially those that are community-based.

AAG: How do your research and community projects relate?

MIGUEL: Right now we are working on a community mapping project and related land tenure study in the Mexican Huasteca in collaboration with geography professors and students from the Department of Geography at the University of Kansas.

AAG: What inspired you to become a geographer?

MIGUEL: I was born and raised in the countryside, where I developed a deep sense of closeness to nature. After finishing high school, I found geography through its diversity of subjects and possibilities – or maybe it found me! I especially loved field work.

AAG: Why did you become a member of the AAG?

MIGUEL: I think this was one of the more important decisions I ever made in the past, because AAG’s such a vigorous organization, with a great membership, with contacts and specialty groups working in the areas that most interest me. It gave me the great opportunity to keep in touch with my American and worldwide colleagues.

AAG: Do you come often to the meetings?

MIGUEL: I went to the annual meetings in San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. I’ve also been supporting my colleagues and students to attend the meetings.

AAG: Do you have any trouble getting funding for going to the meetings?

MIGUEL: Usually, in my case, it’s not a problem. But funding in general in Mexico is a problem. It is especially important for our younger colleagues to attend regularly the AAG meeting.

AAG: These international connections are very enriching for American scholars as well.

MIGUEL: Yeah! The AAG has widened my opportunity to get a better look at this robust community of geographers from the United States and abroad. I’m very proud of being a member of the AAG, and I think that if the international membership of the AAG grows, the AAG will become a truly world organization, becoming even stronger and more attuned to the new challenges that this global world poses.

Dr. Patricia Solis, 2005