I am a historian of modern Latin America whose work centers on the intersection of social, political, environmental, and technological change. In particular, I explore questions of water control, agrarian reform, and the effects of climate and weather on the process of social revolution. I employ interdisciplinary historical methods in my scholarship and teaching that seek to transcend the imaginary boundary between the human and nonhuman environments.

I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in modern Latin American history, historiography and film, history of US-Latin American relations, comparative history of modern Latin America and East Asia, environmental history of Latin America and the United States, climate ethics, and water history (see teaching tab to the right. I am accepting graduate students to work under me, but before contacting me, please become familiar with my work. Specific questions engaging with my work and how it relates to your own research interests are more fruitful as a basis for conversation than generally asking to learn more about my work.)

My first book, Watering the Revolution: An Environmental and Technological History of Agrarian Reform in Mexico (Duke, 2017; winner, 2018 Elinor K. Melville Prize for Latin American Environmental History; short-listed, 2018 María Elena Martínez Prize for Mexican History), investigates how people managed their water—via dams, canals, and groundwater pumps—in a great crucible of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20, the arid north-central Laguna region. In so doing, it demonstrates how Mexican federal engineers were not merely passive implementers of large-scale state development schemes such as agrarian reform. Instead, to implement the latter, they actively mediated knowledge between state and society, identifying what they thought was technologically possible and predicting its environmental consequences.

The book also explains how engineers encountered an intrinsic tension between farmers’ insatiable demand for water and the urgency to conserve it. By closely examining how the Mexican state watered one of the world’s most extensive agrarian reforms, the book tackles an urgent question in the literature on postrevolutionary Mexican state formation, Latin American environmental history and history of technology, and global development studies: how and why do governments persistently deploy invasive technologies for development even when they know those technologies are ecologically unsustainable?

To answer this global question, my book integrates environmental and technological history along with social, economic, political, and legal analyses based on extensive research in archival sources, journals, newspapers, and government publications in Mexico and the United States. Using this “envirotechnical” analytical framework, the book uncovers the varied motivations behind the Mexican government’s decision to use invasive and damaging technologies despite knowing they were unsustainable.

My research on agrarian reform and water management in north central Mexico led me to investigate how weather shapes the process of social revolution across Cuba’s varied climates and environments. In my new book project, Rebellious Climates: How Extreme Weather Shaped the Cuban Revolutions, I combine environmental history and historical climatology to argue that extreme weather events such as drought and hurricanes were not merely infrequent external shocks to Cuba, quickly entering and exiting the main anthropocentric stage of its theater of revolution. Instead, these events were long enmeshed in Cuban politics, economics, society, and culture, and thereby shaped the origins and progression of the 1959 revolution in ways largely overlooked by historians.

Academic Appointments

  • Associate Professor, History

Administrative Appointments

  • Associate Professor of History, Stanford University (2022 - Present)
  • Assistant Professor of History, Stanford University (2012 - 2021)
  • Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental History, University of California, Los Angeles (2010 - 2012)
  • Visiting Fellow, Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California-San Diego (2009 - 2010)
  • Visiting Fellow, Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame (2009 - 2009)

Honors & Awards

  • Elinor K. Melville Book Prize for Latin American Environmental History, Conference on Latin American History (2018)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Organizer, International Water History Conference, Montpelier, France (2013 - 2013)
  • Organizer, The Future of Environmental History: What the Past Teaches us about the Future of the Environment," UCLA History Faculty Symposium (2011 - 2011)
  • Organizer, "Mexico's Other National Security Crisis: Food and Water Sustainability," Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California-San Diego Workshop (2010 - 2010)
  • Article reviewer, Mexican Studies (2011 - 2013)
  • Book reviewer, Hispanic American Historical Review (2010 - 2010)
  • Book reviewer, Environment and History (2013 - 2013)
  • Revisions Contributor and Reviewer, Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations (2012 - 2012)
  • Article reviewer, Journal Mexican Studies (2012 - 2012)
  • Article Reviewer, Journal Mexican Studies (2013 - 2013)
  • Member, Historical Conversations Committee, History Department, Stanford University (2013 - 2014)
  • Member, Undergraduate Studies Curriculum Committee, History Department, Stanford University (2012 - 2013)
  • Selection Committee Member, Kellogg Institute, University of Notre Dame (2009 - 2009)
  • Member, American Historical Association
  • Member, The Conference on Latin American History
  • Member, Latin American Studies Association
  • Member, American Society for Environmental History
  • Member, Climate History Network

Program Affiliations

  • Center for East Asian Studies
  • Center for Latin American Studies
  • Program in History & Philosophy of Science

Professional Education

  • B.A., Columbia University, East Asian Studies (1995)
  • M.A, The University of Chicago, International History (major field East Asia, minor field Middle East) (1999)
  • Ph.D., The University of Chicago, Latin American History (2009)

2023-24 Courses

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • Technology and the environment in history (Book Review) JOURNAL OF POLITICAL ECOLOGY Book Review Authored by: Wolfe, M. 2023; 30
  • "A Revolution Is a Force More Powerful Than Nature": Extreme Weather and the Cuban Revolution, 1959-64 ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY Wolfe, M. 2020; 25 (3): 469–91
  • The Climate of Conflict: Politico-environmental Press Coverage and the Eruption of the Mexican Revolution, 1907-1911 HAHR-HISPANIC AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW Wolfe, M. D. 2019; 99 (3): 467–99
  • Considering the Alternatives: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Agriculture, Water, and Migration in Mexico under State Developmentalism and Neoliberalism MEXICAN STUDIES-ESTUDIOS MEXICANOS Wolfe, M. 2013; 29 (1): 1-2
  • Review of "A Land Between Waters: Environmental Histories of Modern Mexico" Environment and History Wolfe, M. 2013
  • The Historical Dynamics of Mexico's Groundwater Crisis in La Laguna: Knowledge, Resources, and Profit, 1930s-1960s MEXICAN STUDIES-ESTUDIOS MEXICANOS Wolfe, M. 2013; 29 (1): 3-?
  • Land Reform in Puerto Rico: Modernizing the Colonial State, 1941-1969 (Book Review) HAHR-HISPANIC AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW Book Review Authored by: Wolfe, M. 2011; 91 (3): 554-555
  • Bringing the Revolution to the Dam Site: How Technology, Labor, and Nature Converged in the Microcosm of a Northern Mexican Company Town, 1936-1946 JOURNAL OF THE SOUTHWEST Wolfe, M. 2011; 53 (1): 1-31
  • Review of "Agua, Poder Urbano, y Metabolismo Social" Hispanic American Historical Review Wolfe, M. 2011; August
  • Mining Water for the Revolution: Marte R. Gomez and the Business of Agrarian Reform in 'La Laguna, Mexico' The Kellogg Institute Working Papers Wolfe, M. University of Notre Dame. 2010
  • Conflicto por un cambio de regimen de aguas en La Laguna: la 'construccion social' de la primera gran presa en el rio Nazas, 1900-1936 Buenaval Journal of the Universidad Iberoamericcma-Laguna Wolfe, M. 2006: 1-37