Facultad de Minas

Date: 1900
Owner: Wikimedia
Source Type: Images


The Facultad de Minas of the National University of Colombia is one of several educational institutions in Latin America that were created in order to promote the useful arts, subjects that became increasingly emphasized with the Bourbon reforms of the late eighteenth century and, subsequently, in the late nineteenth century. In Colombia, the idea was to train a corps of skilled workers who could create national wealth by building roads, mining minerals, increasing crop yields, and discovering economically profitable plants that would improve, enrich, and modernize the nation. Frank Safford, an historian of nineteenth century Latin America, has argued that teaching applied science was also a vehicle for instilling an ethos of hard work and morality into the population at large. Yet failure to educate students in research and the basic sciences ensured that they were perpetually one step behind, learning outmoded techniques instead of remaining on the cutting edge. To be sure, only a few countries in the world possess the resources to keep up with modern advances, but Latin American education has been criticized for neglecting research and development, which is a necessary step to joining the world's scientific elite.

Founded in 1887, Colombia's National School of Mines was meant to provide the nation with both technological knowledge and a corps of technocratic men who would lead Colombia into modernity. According to historian Pamela S. Murray, graduates from the School of Mines filled a variety of business and bureaucratic positions while only a small potion of its alumni actually worked in the mining industry. The marked preference for technocratic leaders who could use the practical skills of an engineer to facilitate order and progress on a nationwide scale was very widespread in Latin America and reflected the importance of Auguste Comte's ideas of positivism to the region since the late nineteenth century. Thus from 1922 to 1962, the National School of Mines consistently supplied at least one graduate to the president's cabinet, as well as one elected president and one leader of a military junta. Furthermore, the social and political networks that the school engendered made it an institution that, despite its alleged purpose as a technical school, tied its alumni into a very influential web of business men, officials, and, incidentally, even a few miners.

References: Murray, Pamela S. Dreams of development: Colombia's National School of Mines and its Engineers, 1887-1970. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Safford, Frank. The Ideal of the Practical: Colombia's Struggle to Form a Technical Elite. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976.