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Thursday, July 22, 2010

UNCP historian Dr. Jeffrey Lucas produces a new book

In Dr. Jeffrey Kent Lucas’ new book,  “The Rightward Drift of Mexico's Former Revolutionaries: The Case of Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama” (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), readers will find that the allure of Mexican history remains strong.

Jeffrey LucasDr. Lucas, who has taught Mexican and Latin American history at UNC Pembroke since 2006, immersed himself in Mexico City for two years while researching his book. The historian succumbed to the charm of “borderlands” history while a doctoral student at the University of Texas at El Paso.

“I met and dined with seven of Soto y Gama’s 11 children,” Dr. Lucas said. “Those interviews were part of my research.”

The descendant of Spanish-born immigrants, Soto y Gama (1880 – 1967) was a visionary leader of the Mexican Revolution and a follower of and advisor to Emiliano Zapata. When Zapata was ambushed and murdered in 1919, Soto y Gama hitched his horse to another wagon.

“When Soto y Gama gave his famous anti-Bolshevik speech in 1921, it was a turning point,” Dr. Lucas said. “After that, he married and started a family.”

An intellectual and an attorney, Soto y Gama “drifted rightward” from Marxism to conservatism, from near atheism to Roman Catholicism, the author said. Soto y Gama joined the lower house of the Mexican Congress as an uneasy ally of President Alvaro Obregon.

Historians have several theories.

“Obregon was striving for U.S. recognition, and he moved to the right to please the U.S.,” Dr. Lucas said. “As his ally, Soto y Gama moved with him.”

Land reform, the driving force of Soto y Gama’s early ideology, was slowly abandoned. Others say that the age-old nemesis of Mexican government was to blame.

“Some historians attributed his drift to corruption, but there is no evidence of that,” Dr. Lucas said. “Everyone who runs for president of Mexico runs against corruption.”

Through his examination of Soto y Gama, Dr. Lucas unravels the ideological threads of Mexican political history in the 20th century.

“Between World War II and the end of his life, Soto y Gama’s vision of a perfect world differed drastically from the vision he had held before 1920,” Dr. Lucas wrote in his conclusion. “In his final two decades, his ideal world consisted of a nation of God-fearing, Mass-attending Roman Catholics.” (p. 248)

Book Cover“ A crucial question arises from all these crosscurrents: Whose Revolution was it?” he concludes. “The Mexican Revolution produced a beautiful constitution that they have been trying to live up to ever since.”

“The Case of Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama” grew out of Dr. Lucas’ dissertation and took him four years to complete.

“I am really pleased with the way the book turned out,” he said. “I have some ideas for my second book.”

Besides teaching history at UNCP, Dr. Lucas coordinates undergraduate social studies education.

“My research is in Mexican history, but my experience is in education,” he said. “I’m in close contact with the schools almost daily.”

Dr. Lucas was a middle school teacher for 14 years following a 20-year career in the Air Force. His next book may deal with his experience in public education and his ideas about educational reform.

“I was teaching in Texas when Gov. Bush instituted accountability into the classroom,” he said. “We were the first to experience testing programs that eventually led to No Child Left Behind.”

Dr. Lucas has some ideas about high-stakes testing and the outcomes it produces.

“The thesis for my next book project is something like: ‘If you don’t want teachers to teach to the test, then don’t hold them accountable to it’,” he said. “Our students come to us at UNCP as freshmen unable to think critically, and they become good thinkers by the time they are seniors.

“I’d like to think we have something to do with that,” Dr. Lucas concludes.

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