November 3, 2015

University hosts forum in honor of late professor Friedrich Katz

Last Friday, UChicago hosted the inaugural Cátedra Internacional Friedrich Katz forum in honor of the University’s late professor Katz, whose work examined Mexican politics through the 19th and 20th centuries. 

History professor Emilio Kourí served as the forum’s organizer. Kourí spoke highly of Katz’s contribution as a cornerstone of UChicago’s strength in Mexican History. “Professor Katz was a member of the faculty here for close to three decades. He was one of the most important historians of the Mexican revolution, and he also was very important for making Chicago a center for the study of Mexican history,” Kourí said.

Kourí highlighted that Katz was one of the first professors to put the University of Chicago at the forefront of international engagement in academia. Using his work and life experiences, Katz was able to bridge the international stage; his family escaped Vienna during the Second World War before seeking refuge in Mexico.

The planning for the program began a few years ago when a group of historians discussed Katz’s work at a conference.

“A number of us from these various institutions were a part of [the conference], and there we decided that maybe we should do something more regular to allow this [gathering] to happen, and one way or another, this is how it came out,” Kourí said.

The Cátedra Internacional brought together six universities: the University of Chicago, El Colegio de México, CIESAS, the Free University of Berlin, the University of Vienna, and Columbia University.

“These were all institutions either with which [Katz] was associated himself, like Vienna, Berlin, or Chicago, some of the Mexican ones, or some where his closest colleagues were,” Kourí said.

Each year the conference will shift locations. Next year, it will be hosted by El Colegio de México and CIESAS; it will move to Berlin in 2017 and Columbia in 2018.

Keynote speaker John Womack of Harvard University was a colleague and friend of Katz. “We were friends, real friends…We often shared research. He was always very generous,” Womack said.

Following the keynote lecture, a panel of five graduate students, each of whom had contact with Katz before his passing, discussed their research. While this year’s conference focused on Katz’s work, the forum’s goal is to expand their focus to talk about Mexico at large and continue researching the region and its politics.

“If you ask me what people are going to be talking about at this gathering in 10 years, I don’t know, and that’s probably what’s exciting. It’s alive; it’s new research that’s coming through,” Kourí said.

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