Foreign Policy Blogs

UNAM Goes Online

At 101 years old, the National Autonomous University of Mexico is one of Latin America’s premier universities, and one of its largest, with over 300,000 students enrolled. Last month, UNAM started posting its archives and teaching materials on the Internet—for free. See www.unamenlinea.unam.mx.

In part, political pressure against the university is motivating the endeavor. UNAM has a well-deserved reputation as a hotbed of leftist criticism: Diego Rivera murals adorn the Mexico City campus and UNAM faculty regularly lambast President Calderón. A Los Angeles Times article by Ken Ellingwood frames it as follows:

Sen. Gustavo Madero, a member of Calderon’s conservative party, said it was time for the UNAM to show what it does with its money, which he said included half of Mexico’s research funds. “What is needed is to show results … to be accountable,” Madero said at the time.

The online project is, in part, a response to that. “All of a sudden we said, ‘We should flood them with everything the UNAM does — put it all on the Internet,’” Ordorika said. “What better accountability could there be than all the books we do, all the articles we do, all the services the university provides, all the libraries, all the theses? Everything.”

Of course, UNAM is hardly the first university to move in this direction. Since 2001, over 200 universities across the globe have posted classroom material online. Some hallowed universities like MIT and Yale even offer free classes on iTunes, showing they are accessible institutions devoted to community service. Other universities have caught the wave of online education as a means of offering online certificates and degrees that, in many cases, are cash cows.

However, UNAM’s endeavor is more comprehensive. Included in Toda la UNAM en Linea will be newspaper clippings dating back to 1722, old and delightfully scratchy radio recordings, student theses, and photos. The LA Times piece called it “an effort of staggering scope.”

Podcasts of readings by the late great poet Jaime Sabines–“the sniper of literature”–are early faves. As awareness spreads, my guess is UNAM’s vast biology collection on the many species that nest in Mexico will prove popular to nature lovers across the Americas. Undoubtedly, a slew of information will be unearthed that challenges stale history; already chat rooms are tagging a 1919 newspaper clipping that likens Emiliano Zapata to “the king of the Huns that sacked Rome.” And maybe, just maybe, Mexico will uncover its own Dresden Codex.

Disclaimer: This post was written for Mexico Today, which compensates me. I conduct all my own research, and all the views expressed here are entirely my own.