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Helga Baitenmann

Associate Fellow, University of London

Residency: February 2019– March 2019

Research Project: Zapata’s Justice: Land and Water Conflict Resolution in Revolutionary Mexico (1914–1916)

Research Interests: Agrarian reform, legal anthropology, Mexico’s judiciary, gender rights


Helga Baitenmann is an associate fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London. She received her Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Her most recent publications are “Ejerciendo la justicia fuera de los tribunales: de las reivindicaciones decimonónicas a las restituciones de la reforma agraria,” Historia Mexicana 66: 4 (2017) and Matters of Justice: Agrarian Reform and the Judiciary in Revolutionary Mexico (under contract with the University of Nebraska Press).

Inspired by legal anthropologists who have made important contributions to our understanding of how actors in rural Mexico, most often indigenous, mix norms and procedures in daily practice together with a thorough review of available archival materials, this project challenges the widely held view that, during the Mexican Revolution, Zapatista villages governed themselves with complete autonomy from the state and according to the pueblos’ customary justice. It shows how the Zapatista authorities in the multi-state region of south-central Mexico dealt with quarrels over small and medium-sized properties, the restitution of usurped pueblo lands and water sources, as well as village boundary disputes. They did so by blending nineteenth-century judicial procedures and civil law, limited but radical reforms to the existing judicial system, and new forms of land and water management—all of which strengthened state authority.