Historians of Latin America have begun to look closely at the relationship between higher education and Latin American society and, more particularly, at the role of higher educational institutions in reproducing Latin American elites, their ideals, and values.1 This essay focuses on one such institution, the National School of Mines or Escuela Nacional de Minas of Medellín, Colombia. While various writers have acknowledged the Escuela’s special role in the rise of modern Colombian industry—especially the growth of manufacturing in the Medellín Valley—little has been written about the Escuela itself. This study traces the evolution of this famous engineering school, assessing it in light of vital trends that shaped Colombian national development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; above all, the rising influence of a powerful elite from Medellín. It shows that besides training engineers, the Escuela formed young men in the image of that elite, instilling in them the elite’s ideals and values and grooming them to be sober, technocratic-style leaders.

Only recently have scholars begun to acknowledge the significance of the Escuela de Minas. Frank Safford has noted that the Escuela trained “all-purpose” engineers who made their influence felt in the mining and, more important, transportation, construction, and manufacturing industries that had begun to flourish by the end of the nineteenth century in the Colombian department of Antioquia. Safford also has highlighted the Escuela’s effort to form practical engineers, who, unlike their more intellectually oriented counterparts from the Facultad de Matemáticas e Ingeniería in Bogotá, would be oriented to the “real world” of business enterprise. He portrays the Escuela essentially as a faithful reflection of the values that characterized the inhabitants of the surrounding region, especially members of Antioquia’s pragmatic, entrepreneurially minded elite.2

The Colombian sociologist Alberto Mayor Mora has carried Safford’s insights a step further. Mayor has examined the Escuela’s role in the birth of modern Colombian industry by focusing on the rise of a pioneering generation of industrialists from Medellín who transformed the regional capital into the nation’s cradle of manufacturing. He has demonstrated not only the notable presence of engineers in the top ranks of those industrialists but also the influence that engineers (that is, Escuela alumni) brought to bear on the industrialization process through their adherence to the ideas of “scientific management.” For Mayor, the Escuela’s significance lay in the ability of its instructors to impart those ideas to the entrepreneurs and executives who shaped the emerging industrial and manufacturing order.3

Yet Mayor overlooks the development of the Escuela itself. Indeed, he fails to show how the Escuela arose and consolidated in the particular historical context of late nineteenth-through early twentieth-century Colombia. The following essay focuses on the Escuela’s crucial formative years, 1887 to 1930. It seeks to shed light on the ideological basis of the engineering program, especially its reflection of elite desires to spread Antioqueño “order and progress” throughout the country.

Origins and Antecedents

The Escuela Nacional de Minas occupies a vital place in the history of Colombian higher education. It formed part of a series of efforts to advance knowledge of the technical professions, especially engineering, in Colombia during the nineteenth century. These efforts began in the early years of the century with the practice of sending upper-class youth abroad to study scientific and technical subjects, and continued with the founding of the country’s first engineering schools. The latter included the short-lived yet influential Colegio Militar (1847–1854) and the more enduring Facultad de Matemáticas e Ingeniería (1867–present), both in Bogotá. Such schools represented a new brand of engineering education in Latin America. Distinct from military training and influenced increasingly by U.S. (as opposed to French) models, they embodied a response to new demands for technical skills spurred by Latin America’s export-oriented economic growth. Founded in Medellín in 1887, the Escuela Nacional de Minas was part of this response.4

The Escuela also reflected the conditions peculiar to its surrounding region, the northwestern Andean department of Antioquia. Although known to the world for its gold mines since the arrival of gold-hungry conquistadors in the sixteenth century, this pocket of Spanish America had remained isolated by the barriers of the rugged Cordilleras Central and Occidental. Its isolation would end, effectively, only with the advent of modern transportation in the first third of the twentieth century. But the same isolation also fostered the development of a unique regional society, marked by the predominance of small-scale placer mining and agriculture as well as a vibrant import-export trade. By the end of the colonial period, this society had produced a close-knit merchant-miner elite, including men who became rich through gold exports to Jamaica in the 1820s. These entrepreneurs expanded their activities over the course of the nineteenth century, investing in mines, cattle ranches, frontier colonization, and, by 1900, coffee exports and textile manufacturing. By consolidating and perpetuating their fortunes through intermarriage and business partnerships they also evolved, by midcentury, into a powerful bourgeoisie centered primarily in the city of Medellín.5

For this group, entrepreneurial success embodied not only the basis of social status but the affirmation of a system of values, or modo de ser, that sanctioned entrepreneurship as a way of life. Such values included hard work, thrift, initiative, perseverance, and practical—as opposed to abstract or theoretical—knowledge.6 Born of direct experience, the preference for practical knowledge also shaped the region’s approach to education, ultimately fostering the study of engineering. This approach first became apparent in the early nineteenth century, when local mine owners sought to acquire new, scientifically based knowledge that would allow them to improve the productivity of their mines. Toward this end, the largest mine owners recruited foreign technicians, mainly French, German, Swedish, and English mechanics or mining engineers, to teach them new mining methods. The mine owners and other members of the elite also began to promote scientific and technical learning for local inhabitants. They did so initially by recruiting some of the aforementioned technicians, or an occasional foreign scientist, to teach students at the Colegio (later Universidad) de Antioquia. The wealthiest among them also began to send their sons abroad to study one or more of the applied sciences—often chemistry—or a technical profession like civil or mining engineering.7

By the 1860s and 1870s, however, the Antioqueños had begun establishing their own centers of scientific and technical education. These included the Escuela de Artes y Oficios and the Universidad de Antioquia. Although established in 1864 as a trade school, the Escuela de Artes y Oficios came to offer fairly sophisticated academic instruction; that is, a four-year program including courses in mathematics and, by 1872, civil engineering. Indeed, the Escuela de Artes served as the region’s first engineering school until the opening in 1874 of a formal program for civil engineers at the Universidad de Antioquia. The latter was the immediate predecessor of the Escuela de Minas; when the Escuela opened, on April 11, 1887, it simply inherited the program’s facilities, faculty, and students.8

Institutional Growth and Consolidation

Founded by the brothers Pedro Nel and Tulio Ospina, with a curriculum modeled after that of the Mining College of the University of California at Berkeley (the Ospinas’ alma mater), the Escuela Nacional de Minas’ explicit goal was to train engineers who would make practical contributions to the region’s important mining industry.9 Yet the Escuela produced relatively few mining experts. Between 1892 and 1911, less than 20 percent of the jobs held by former students involved work at a mine; by the 1930s, that proportion had dropped to 10 percent.10 Subsequent years also revealed a decline in the number of students willing to become mining engineers.11

Instead, soon after its inception, the Escuela began to produce mainly civil engineers. The greater appeal of civil engineering was one obvious reason. Unlike mining engineering, which usually entailed enduring the dangers and discomforts of life at a mine far from civilization, civil engineering offered its practitioners the chance to live and work in the city under more amenable circumstances.12 In addition, thanks to the urban-industrial growth of Medellín and its surrounding valley in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, civil engineering graduates found their skills in increasing demand—especially with the steady expansion of the region’s railway system. Although initiated in 1874 by Cuban engineer Francisco Javier Cisneros and administered by Antioqueños and foreigners until the early 1890s (after which the department took full charge), the Antioquia Railway soon became a primary source of employment for local professionals. Its employees, furthermore, consisted mainly of alumni of the Escuela, which, from 1903 to 1961, supplied the railway with virtually all its superintendents and technical supervisors.13

The technical and administrative needs of the railway, in turn, influenced the Escuela, motivating authorities to enlarge the curriculum with new courses on thermodynamics and locomotion, industrial hygiene, mechanics, accounting, and railway administration. Such needs also encouraged a close working relationship between the Escuela and railway officials, many of whom served as part-time, adjunct faculty and administered the 18 to 20 departmental scholarships earmarked for the Escuela’s most worthy students. Railway officials supported the practice of offering students apprenticeship experience during the two-month Christmas holiday. In sum, the region’s railway industry helped reorient the Escuela toward civil rather than mining engineering. This trend was clear by 1911, when the Escuela received official approval for its new civil engineering program.14

The Escuela’s emphasis on civil engineering coincided with its gradual institutional consolidation. In 1895, after several years of chronic penury, teacher shortages, and sometimes virtual chaos, the Escuela had closed down on an order from the country’s ministry of education. Although ministry authorities claimed the program had not been progressing satisfactorily, available evidence shows it actually had begun to improve by the end of 1892, producing its first three graduates in 1893 along with higher enrollments up to the time it closed.15 Still, the officials’ negative view encouraged Tulio Ospina’s belief that the Escuela was a victim of “anti-Antioqueño” sentiment in Bogotá; that is, of the central government’s resentment of its political opponents in Medellín, including the Escuela’s founders. In any case, the violence that erupted during the country’s last and bloodiest civil war, the War of the Thousand Days (1899-1902), discouraged efforts to reopen the Escuela for nine years, until February 1904.16

Two years later, Antioquia’s departmental ministry of education annexed the Escuela to the Universidad de Antioquia. Both Tulio Ospina, then rector of the university, and Eusebio Robledo, Antioquia’s director of public education, had recommended the annexation, asserting that the Escuela would be better off as part of the older, better-endowed, and better-established university.17 Indeed, over the next five years, the Escuela not only found stability but gained a new sense of identity. It owed these achievements primarily to Ospina’s guidance. Ospina demanded that engineering students adhere to a code of personal and professional conduct symbolized by the motto he adopted for the Escuela in 1911, Trabajo y Rectitud. This code gave the institution a new sense of cohesion and purpose; indeed, an esprit de corps among faculty and students that would live on in the minds of graduates. Its adoption also marked the last step in the Escuela’s institutional consolidation as, in June 1911, the Escuela finally separated from the Universidad and reestablished its administrative autonomy.

The consolidation process benefited from the Colombian government’s decision to provide the Escuela with greater financial support. Although weak during the school’s nascent years, the government’s annual subsidies to the Escuela rose from $4,000 in 1904 to $20,000 in 1912.18 The Escuela also received aid from the Department of Antioquia. Although, like most Colombian higher educational institutions, the Escuela relied on the national government for the bulk of its support, the department played a crucial role in its early development. In 1890, departmental authorities donated a site, books, laboratory supplies, and instruments, as well as 6 new scholarships (raising the total to 11); they also contracted a Belgian instructor to teach courses in chemistry, mineralogy, and metallurgy. In 1912, they signaled their confidence in the Escuela by allocating $3,000 for new equipment and teachers’ salaries.19

Subsequent increases in national and departmental aid paved the way for important material improvements over the next decade-and-a-half. In 1911, the Escuela acquired more spacious quarters by moving into the large, rambling former home of Benito Uribe on the corner of Palo and Cuba streets, then part of a peaceful residential district near downtown Medellín. (Thirty-three years later, the Escuela would abandon the old house in favor of a new, more modern building that remains in use today.) It also acquired new supplies for its chemistry lab, physics equipment, meteorological instruments, and geological and mineralogical collections. By the mid-1920s, it boasted a materials resistance lab, a bookstore for textbooks and general supplies, and a library whose holdings had been acquired through alumni and faculty donations.20

The Escuela’s physical expansion occurred simultaneously with a pedagogical reorientation that involved a renewed emphasis on the applied sciences, as opposed to mathematics. That emphasis had been lost in the Ospina brothers’ absence from the Escuela during its early years, between 1887 and 1906. (Pedro Nel had devoted himself to politics, and Tulio to personal business and scholarship in the 1890s.) The shift also owed much to the influence of mathematics instructor José María Escovar. As rector in 1889–90, Escovar had overseen the adoption of a more rigorous, math-based curriculum somewhat resembling that of the Escuela’s counterpart in Bogotá, the Facultad de Matemáticas e Ingeniería. Besides reflecting Escovar’s own predilection, this change may have been an attempt to comply with academic standards set by central authorities who, as noted earlier, had expressed their dissatisfaction with the Escuela’s program by ordering it to close in 1895.21

In any case, when he assumed authority—he held the rectorships of the Universidad de Antioquia (1906-1911) and the Escuela (1911-1921)—Tulio Ospina sought to promote a more empirical and “applied” approach to learning. He encouraged the use of laboratories as well as class field trips designed to show students the benefits of observation. He had initiated the practice of field trips—modeled after those he had experienced himself at Berkeley—in the 1890s, when, as the Escuela’s (and the university’s) only geology instructor, he began taking students to observe geological formations outside Medellín. Other instructors soon followed suit. The year 1916-17 alone witnessed 17 field trips, including a visit to the famous Zancudo mine (the largest single silver and gold mine in the region under native-owner operation), a new brewery opened by Cervecería Antioqueña, a glass factory in the nearby town of Caldas, the ironsmith in Amaga, and new factories that had cropped up in the Robledo district overlooking Medellín. By the early 1930s, these trips ranged farther and included memorable senior class adventures to the Atlantic coast (Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta), oil fields in Barrancabermeja in the state of Santander, the tropical rain forest of El Choco, the Magdalena Valley, and various sites on the sabana de Bogotá. Student accounts of these odysseys—which usually involved travel both by train and muleback— appeared periodically in the Escuela’s official publication, Anales.22

A crucial aspect of the reorientation under Ospina involved recruitment of a small core of competent, full-time faculty who could be relied on to carry out the Escuela’s educational goals. Such recruitment had been difficult in the Escuela’s earlier years when competent instructors had been scarce. Indeed, in 1890, the Escuela’s senior class roundly rejected one instructor and called for his removal, accusing him of incompetence and demonstrating their unhappiness by going on strike—refusing to attend classes until local authorities complied with their demands.23

By the time it separated from the university in 1911, the Escuela had attracted a new group of dynamic young instructors, including well-known alumni such as Alejandro López and Jorge Rodríguez. López by then had achieved local prominence as director of the Antioquía Railway and the Zancudo mine. As an instructor between 1910 and 1920, he established the Escuela’s first course in modern administration, based partly on the “scientific management” ideas of F. W. Taylor. He and Rodríguez, a future rector of the Escuela, pioneered the use of statistics to improve the performance of local enterprises. Noteworthy for their zeal and dedication to the program, these instructors also were professionals who, like most university faculty in Colombia (and Latin America in general), had to divide their time between teaching and more remunerative activities. Among 15 men listed as members of the Escuela’s faculty in 1925, only 2 taught fulltime, and both of them were foreigners contracted to do so. The other 13 combined their teaching duties with their own business affairs or with jobs at the Antioquia Railway, the city of Medellín, or a local manufacturing firm. Besides engineers, they included an architect, a builder, and an electrician. Furthermore, their teaching often took second place to their other business and professional commitments. This became painfully obvious to school authorities when, at the end of 1925, the Escuela lost nine of its instructors, of whom three left town to work with railroad companies and the other six claimed the need to devote more time to their businesses.24

The hiring of geologist Robert Wokittel of Germany and civil engineer Juan Weber of Switzerland that same year helped compensate for the loss. It also represented an effort to recruit and retain instructors with a fulltime commitment to the program. Wokittel and Weber each agreed to a two-year contract stipulating teaching and other responsibilities, including an exclusive commitment to the Escuela (that is, no outside employment); teaching five courses (including those related to their specialties); supervising all labs; ordering supplies and equipment; and leading field trips, as well as serving as academic advisers to the Escuela’s executive council, the Consejo Directivo. By 1930, the Escuela could boast four fulltime instructors in its mining and civil engineering program, all of whom had been hired on similar terms.25

Available evidence on salaries shows that, at least on paper, the Escuela paid its full-timers fairly well. Wokittel and Weber each were hired at $350 a month; by the mid-1930s, full-time faculty earned $400 per month. These figures compared favorably with the earnings of some professional engineers, including those who worked for mining companies in Bolivia. On the other hand, the Escuela’s part-time instructors, still the majority of the faculty, earned only $50 per course, with most teaching one, two, or, in a few cases, three courses at a time.26 Enrollments grew steadily during these years, a further sign of the Escuela’s institutional growth and consolidation. They rose from 26 in 1904, the year of the Escuela’s reopening, to 66 at the start of 1911. Between 1911 and 1921, they grew at an average rate of 7 students per year. In 1921, the Escuela could boast an enrollment of 134. Although the numbers dwindled slightly in the mid-1920s, they climbed again during the last years of that decade, reaching a peak of 160 by 1930.27

The Escuela’s engineering students represented a highly select group among Colombian youth. Their status owed much to the requirement of a secondary education for admission to the Escuela, at a time (the mid-1920s) when only about 5 percent of the country’s school-age population attended secondary school and an even smaller proportion graduated.28 Furthermore, over time the Escuela refined its admission requirements. In 1912 it simply required candidates to have passed all the courses for the bachillerato técnico or, alternatively, an entrance exam administered by the Escuela itself. By 1921, however, it required the traditional six-year high school degree, the bachillerato clásico.29

Most students were natives of Antioquia who had attended a boys’ secondary school, or colegio, in Medellín, such as the Jesuit-run Colegio de San Ignacio, the Christian Brothers’ Colegio de San José, or the Liceo Antioqueño, a public colegio under the auspices of the Universidad de Antioquia. During Ospina’s rectorship, slightly more than one-third of the students came from small towns outside the Medellín Valley (often lodging with friends or relatives in order to attend the Escuela). Yet an increasing portion of students hailed from other parts of Colombia: from one-sixth of those enrolled in 1914-15 to one-third in the mid-1920s, revealing the Escuela’s national scope. Students’ ages ranged from the late teens to the early twenties.30 Between 1887 and 1930, therefore, students at the Escuela constituted a relatively privileged group of young men of diverse regional origin, many of whom left their hometowns to come to Medellín and pursue a profession. The Escuela accommodated their ambitions by preparing them to become engineers. It also instilled in them a distinctly Antioqueño—and essentially bourgeois—ethos.

Trabajo y Rectitud: Context and Coals of the Program

The Escuela’s institutional consolidation took place against the backdrop of nearly three decades of national economic growth and prosperity, leavened by a spectacular coffee boom. This era also stood out for its political stability, engineered largely by Colombian Conservatives who retained power after 1902. The Conservatives’ ability to continue in power owed much to the new, postwar influence of leaders from Antioquia, particularly members of the Medellín bourgeoisie. Long noted for their moderation and pragmatism in politics (as opposed to sectarianism), bourgeois Conservatives played a key role in bringing together elites from both parties and in building a new, bipartisan consensus that found expression in the Republican movement. Founded by Medellín lawyer and banker Carlos E. Restrepo in 1904, republicanism represented a coalition of Liberal and Conservative politicians and businessmen devoted to transcending the enmities of the past to build a more peaceful and prosperous future. It proposed to do this through political and economic reforms that addressed elite grievances, including those underlying the partisan hostilities that had fueled the last civil war. An example of its approach lies in one of republicanism’s greatest achievements: the constitutional reform, implemented on Restrepo’s election to the presidency in 1910, that guaranteed minority party (in this case, Liberal) representation in government. Although the Republicans failed to establish themselves as a permanent third party, they projected a new model of national leadership. Eschewing extreme partisanship in favor of toleration and bipartisan cooperation, or convivencia, this model reflected the impact of the Antioqueños’ own unique political tradition.31

It also reflected the Antioqueño bourgeoisie’s development concerns, which were most visible during the modernizing regime led by President Pedro Nel Ospina (1922-1926). Ospina advanced an agenda that stressed expansion of foreign trade and creation of an infrastructure based on modern methods of banking, finance, transportation, and education, strategies similar to those pursued in his own region. His success derived in part from the support not only of Conservative politicians but of Antioqueño elites— technocrats who shared his outlook and imposed it on key ministries such as Public Works and the Treasury.32 The rise of Antioqueño influence in government—via the Republicans and a revitalized Conservative party—thereby brought to the fore a new brand of leadership based on the notion of government as an enterprise to be managed on behalf of bipartisan (and thus, national) interests rather than exploited for partisan gain.

This notion encouraged an ideal of the public leader as a rational manager or technocrat, an ideal that became a vital part of the engineering program at the Escuela Nacional de Minas, thanks to Tulio Ospina. Born in Medellín in 1857, Tulio Ospina grew up in the bosom of one of Antioquia’s most prominent families. Through his mother, Enriqueta Vásquez Jaramillo, he belonged to one of the region’s oldest, wealthiest, and most politically important merchant clans; through his father, former Colombian president Mariano Ospina Rodríguez, he inherited an allegiance to the country’s dominant Conservative party, along with close ties to the Conservative elite of Medellín. After an upbringing that included Jesuit tutors as well as lessons in mathematics and science from his father, he earned his degree in mining engineering from Berkeley in 1879. Over the next two years, with his brother, Pedro Nel, he traveled across the United States and parts of Europe, rounding out the cosmopolitan education that characterized the privileged sons of Antioquia’s bourgeoisie.33

Yet despite a commercial partnership with his brother, founded when he returned to Medellín in 1881 (Ospina Hermanos), Tulio Ospina chose not to dedicate himself exclusively to commercial or business affairs. Nor did he seek a career in public office, despite his support for the Medellín-based Historical Conservatives in the 1890s and the Republican movement from 1904 to 1910, and despite the successes of his father and Pedro Nel, who won the presidency in 1922. Instead, Tulio Ospina found his vocation in the more contemplative realms of teaching and scholarship. He won recognition as a geologist, publishing one of the first serious studies of Colombian geology and subsequently gaining membership in the Geological Society of Paris. He also wrote knowledgeably on various other subjects, including local history, ethnology, tropical agriculture, and etiquette, and founded the local societies of history and agriculture.34

Ospina’s ideas reflected a regional ideology that expressed the pride and burgeoning self-confidence of the region’s bourgeoisie. This group had come to embrace the notion that Antioquia’s exceptional economic development, prosperity, and political stability stemmed from the ostensibly exceptional qualities of the Antioqueños themselves. Such qualities included a Yankeelike love of work, as well as thrift, practicality, entrepreneurial initiative, and, above all, a knack for business that, since the early nineteenth century, had tempted other Colombians to think of the Antioqueños in terms of an unflattering stereotype of the Jews. A product of contemporary anti-Semitism, the stereotype—or rather, its malicious application—moved some regional apologists to respond by concocting their own theories about the region’s ethnic origins. By the turn of the century, some intellectuals, Ospina included, believed that Antioqueño achievements might be at least partly those of a superior race. Ospina himself became a major proponent of the theory that the inhabitants of his native region, commonly dubbed paisas, represented a superior Colombian ethnic group or “new breed of mestizo” that had evolved from the harmonious blending of the region’s original three racial groups, Indian, African, and Spanish-Basque.35 His view rested on the rather racist argument that the region’s Indian ancestors had constituted members of the Caucasian, as opposed to the mongoloid, race, thus producing a “more refined” (that is, whiter) blend.36

Above all, Ospina’s statements buttressed the widespread belief that paisas possessed their own “manifest destiny” to populate and lead the rest of the country. Ospina articulated this belief when, in a speech before a meeting of Antioquia’s historical society, he affirmed that by virtue of their unusually high population growth rate, Antioqueños would exercise an ethnic as well as economic hegemony in Colombia—thereby teaching other Colombians their own work ethic and “healthy” way of life.37

Such ideas became implicit at the Escuela. Indeed, Ospina’s regionalism undoubtedly encouraged the tendency of some instructors to view the Escuela Nacional de Minas as an instrument of paisa influence nationally. Rector Carlos Gómez Martínez made this view explicit in 1923 when he characterized the Escuela as “the arm of Antioqueño penetration [and expansion] throughout the Republic . . . [acting] for the good of the latter.”38 Gómez’ statement also recalled the goal that Ospina and other founders had established for the engineering program by the time of its separation from the university in 1911—to form leaders of integrity and character willing to be missionaries of progress, and in particular, engineers who could abide by the Escuela’s demanding motto, Trabajo y Rectitud.

Overall, Trabajo y Rectitud (work and moral uprightness) expressed the new, bourgeois ideal of the gentleman. As illustrated by Tulio Ospina’s own education, that ideal had emerged during the nineteenth century through the Colombian upper classes’ increasing contact with England, France, and the United States; and had begun to replace the older, Hispanic or “hidalgo” ideal of social standing. It also expressed the practical, positivist spirit of the bourgeoisie of Medellín, which, through politics as well as economic achievement, had expanded its role in national life considerably by 1910.39 Thus the motto symbolized the Escuela’s desire to form engineers after the model of some of the country’s most powerful and successful men.

It also implied a set of specific norms to which students of the Escuela were to adhere. This can be seen through a close look at the first part of the motto, trabajo, which referred to several qualities considered vital to a person’s—and an engineer’s—success. The first was a strong work ethic. In his speech to the student body in 1914, instructor Carlos Cock stressed the importance of work as a source of personal honor, roundly rejecting the more traditional Hispanic and aristocratic view of work as dishonorable. Cock portrayed engineering itself as especially honorable—indeed as a noble, missionary activity on a par with that of the early Christian knights. He even depicted the engineer as a kind of knight, whose purpose in life was to serve humanity through special skills. Finally, perhaps in an effort to inspire his listeners, he completed the analogy by attributing the success of past Escuela graduates, many of whom had excelled in business, to their knightly devotion to their work; or their “constancia y energía en la lucha honrada por la vida.”40

Trabajo also conjured up a less romantic but equally inspiring image of the engineer as the consummate “organization man,” capable of channeling individual ambition to the benefit of the group or society at large. Tulio Ospina promoted this image as a way of teaching students the value of self-discipline. During one of his end-of-the-year speeches, he reminded students that only by practicing self-discipline could a person effectively satisfy both his own and society’s needs, the two being inextricably linked. Conjuring up a quasi-corporatist vision of society, Ospina declared:

In submitting to authorities, we [engineers] contribute to the rise of our collective dignity, which lies in the order and greatness of the collectivity to which we belong.41

The Escuela cultivated order and discipline within its walls through regulations stipulating regular class attendance, punctuality (for both professors and students), and, at least in the early years of Ospina’s rectorship, the wearing of uniforms and attendance at Sunday Mass. Its regulatory statutes also provided for officials known as pasantes to keep records of student behavior and forward them each year to the minister of education in Bogotá. Misbehavior could warrant punishment ranging from a simple reprimand to suspension from classes or expulsion from the program.42

In addition to self-discipline (with its corollary of obedience to rules and authority), trabajo stood for two other qualities of character deemed essential to the engineer: dedication and courage. Ospina informed students that as professionals they must be willing to persevere in the line of duty and to show courage in the face of hardship. He emphasized the importance of these qualities for mining engineers in particular, reminding students that in Colombia, mining engineers usually had to carry out their tasks amid primitive and often dangerous conditions. Ospina also asserted, with some exaggeration perhaps, that because of these conditions, mining engineers faced a greater risk of death than soldiers in the line of duty.43 Finally, given that the Escuela did not accept women at the time, he depicted the Escuela as a training ground for young men. The Escuela was to produce men of stoic and courageous temperament, capable of facing physical, mental, and psychological challenges. Alluding specifically to the challenges presented by class field trips, which usually involved fairly arduous travel, Ospina warned students against displays of “feminine nervousness,” which would render them unfit for these expeditions and, indeed, for the Escuela itself. Those who failed the journey’s test of physical courage would never be “manly” engineers, “worthy of wearing the ax and pick [the school pin] on their lapel.”44

The Escuela’s effort to enforce the norms embodied in the first half of its motto generally meant that only students willing to strive, work hard, and follow rules (swallowing pride along the way) would survive its five-year program. On being admitted to the institution, students followed a rigorous schedule, attending classes from seven in the morning until late in the evening. In addition, they were expected to gain practical experience by apprenticing themselves at a mine or other company during their vacations. Those who excelled under this regimen were recognized in a ceremony held at the end of the year, and awarded a prize—usually a book, certificate, or medal—before an audience of fellow students, family, and friends.45

The second part of the school motto, rectitud, called on engineers to uphold high standards of ethical conduct. Honesty and integrity were of special concern to Tulio Ospina. His experience in the mining industry had shown him how unscrupulous practices could undermine an enterprise.46 “It is my hope,” Ospina declared, “that later on, when a businessman who is hiring one of our students asks, ‘Is he trustworthy?’ the answer will be that he is, because he graduated from the Escuela Nacional de Minas.”47 Ospina also saw integrity as vital to professionals who might someday hold public office and, by extension, be vulnerable to bribery by wealthy businessmen and speculators. He observed happily that graduates of the Escuela already were legendary for their ability to resist the temptation of bribes. To encourage students along the same ethical path, he reminded them that violations of the Escuela’s ethics code, such as cheating on exams, would bring suspension and public condemnation.48

Rectitud also demanded that engineers show respect for the traditions and values of the Catholic church. This demand reflected not only a realistic acceptance of the church’s pervasive influence in Colombian life but also the Escuela’s acknowledgment of the Constitution of 1886, which protected the church’s dominant position by enforcing respect for Catholic doctrine and ritual in all public educational establishments. Escuela authorities therefore took care to remind students of Catholic holy days of obligation, such as Corpus Christi, one of the most important religious events of the year; they also made a point of encouraging students to participate. Furthermore, they cooperated with influential Catholic organizations, such as Juventud Católica, by allowing student members to miss classes on certain occasions.49

More important, the Escuela reinforced the puritanical mores of conservative Antioqueños. According to regulations, students were not to indulge in drinking or gambling or to patronize houses of prostitution. Ospina himself kept close watch over “excessive” youthful behavior, for the students’ own health as well as for the Escuela’s image. Since his days as rector of the university he had acquired the habit of reporting to parents about their sons’ progress, and he rarely missed an opportunity to convey his interest in maintaining a “healthy” moral environment, free from the “contamination” of sex and political quarrels.50 After Ospina’s death in 1921, his successors continued his paternalism; they strove to minimize students’ contact with taverns and houses of prostitution and to ensure that the latter did not establish themselves too close to the Escuela.51

Finally, rectitud implied the expectation that engineers behave in accordance with established rules of propriety; in other words, that they behave like gentlemen. The case of young José Manuel Solís demonstrates the Escuela’s view of the boundaries of gentlemanly behavior. A 1923 report of the Consejo Directivo reveals that Solís was accused of disrespect toward a young lady from town and that the consejo itself decided to punish the young man by suspending him from the program. The consejo justified the decision by asserting that the youth had violated a basic rule of gentlemen—that they should protect ladies’ honor and respectability and, thereby, their own. Although the report does not describe the exact nature of Solís’ offense, it concludes that his behavior hurt the Escuela by tarnishing its reputation for producing men of impeccable honor. Only after learning of the youth’s formal apology to the girl’s father did the consejo revoke the suspension.52 This incident highlights the extent to which the Escuela enforced social conventions and norms expected of all middle- and upper-class Colombian men.

The rather harsh penalty initially imposed on Solís reflected another tradition that Tulio Ospina originated. During his rectorship, Ospina took a keen interest in seeing that these would-be engineers and gentlemen acquired a sense of dignity and an awareness of social obligations. For Ospina, such obligations included familiarity with contemporary rules of etiquette, a subject on which he frequently lectured at both the university and the Escuela. Ospina believed that etiquette involved not simply a collection of rules promoting courtesy but a means for preserving social cohesion in Colombia’s multiclass society. Indeed, in his view, good manners facilitated harmonious relations between the classes. Above all, they helped the upper classes to assimilate upwardly mobile members of the lower classes, who, according to Ospina, were “largely descendants of Indians and Africans, whose grandfathers were savages only one or two centuries ago.” Because of their mixed racial and ethnic origin, Ospina concluded, the lower classes were “quite backward” in matters of etiquette.53

Besides demonstrating the paternalistic and racist sentiments common among Medellín’s social elite, Ospina’s comments reveal his own somewhat patronizing attitude toward students of the Escuela, most of whom were of provincial, middle-class origin and as yet untutored in the more sophisticated ways of Medellín’s increasingly complex urban society. More important, however, is that his words show his astute recognition of etiquette as a valuable tool for the socially aspiring professional. Acceptance into upper-class circles in Medellín at this time required not simply money but mastery of the art of aparentar (appearing sophisticated and important), an art that required skill at conversation, manners, and social ritual.54

The Escuela encouraged such mastery by giving students the chance to practice their etiquette skills during the Escuela’s annual closing ceremony. The ceremony itself embodied a tradition Ospina had borrowed from his alma mater, Berkeley. Its purpose was to foster school spirit by bringing students and their families, faculty, and other school employees together in a congenial atmosphere. The mayor, the governor, and the archbishop typically attended, as well as other local dignitaries and guests. In 1912, the program began solemnly with the playing of the Colombian national anthem. Ospina then gave a speech evaluating the achievements of the past year, encouraging students to work hard, and expressing optimism about the school’s future. After graduates received their diplomas, everyone sat down to a “sumptuous luncheon” accompanied by orchestral music, the singing of Señorita Lola Roussel, and poetry recited by poet and Escuela alumnus Francisco Rodríguez Moya.55 As a whole, the event demonstrated the Escuela’s effort to train not only competent professionals but polished gentlemen who would feel at ease in the upper-class social circles to which many an ambitious young engineer aspired.

The Project Bears Fruit

Consolidating during an era of unprecedented, coffee-based economic expansion, the Escuela stood poised to respond to the technological and organizational needs of that expansion. Its graduates played a key role in the industrialization that transformed Medellín, Antioquia, and Colombia as a whole after 1900.56 They became, moreover, not only business administrators and entrepreneurs but politicians and statesmen who sought to reconcile the demands of private industry with those of the public good. By the end of the 1920s, with one of its most prominent graduates, mining engineer Mariano Ospina Pérez, heading the recently formed National Federation of Coffee Growers, founder Tulio Ospina’s early goal seemed to have been satisfied. “It is the ambition of all the officials at this School,” he had stated in 1912, “that the pupils here [become] orderly and efficient administrators of all kinds of enterprises . . . [above all] men who can be entrusted with the most vital public and private interests.”57

This statement not only foreshadowed a future trend—one that endures to this day—but confirmed the Escuela’s place in a nation-building process orchestrated by Colombian elites, especially Antioqueño Conservatives, after 1902. The process included elite efforts to bring about social and political stability by promoting greater civic consciousness among Colombians. Engineers were to exemplify that consciousness by upholding high standards of public as well as professional morality. Trabajo y Rectitud demanded as much.

The author thanks Maurice Brungaardt, David Bushnell, and David Sowell, who offered encouragement and valuable advice on earlier drafts of this article, including its embryo version, presented at the 103d Annual Conference of the American Historical Association, December 1988.


See, for example, Gertrude M. Yeager, “Elite Education in Nineteenth-Century Chile,” HAHR 71:1 (Feb. 1991), 73-105; and Iván Jaksić and Sol Serrano, “In the Service of the Nation: The Establishment and Consolidation of the Universidad de Chile, 1842–79,” HAHR 70:1 (Feb. 1990), 139-71.


Frank Safford, The Ideal of the Practical: Colombia’s Struggle to Form a Technical Elite (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1976), 200, 219.


Alberto Mayor Mora, Etica, trabajo, y productividad en Antioquia (Bogotá: Ediciones Tercer Mundo, 1984). Mayor emphasizes the role of Alejandro López, a notable instructor, in disseminating key concepts derived from F. W. Taylor’s doctrine of scientific management.


Safford, Ideal of the Practical, chaps. 4–8.


Ann Twinam, Miners, Merchants, and Farmers in Colonial Colombia (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1982), 147–49; Roger Brew, El desarollo económico de Antioquia desde la Independencia hasta 1920 (Bogotá: Banco de la República, 1977), 35-40, 87-90.


For a classic description of the Antioqueño modo de ser that stresses a Protestant-style work ethic as the Antioqueños’ most distinctive feature, see James Parsons, Antioqueño Colonization in Western Colombia, 2d ed. (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1968). For a deeper analysis of the underlying entrepreneurial patterns among the families of the merchant-miner elite, see Ann Twinam, “Enterprise and Elites in Eighteenth-Century Medellín,” HAHR 59:3 (1979), 444-75.


Brew, El desarollo económico, 70-74.


Ibid., 74-77; Safford, 204; and Peter Santamaría, “La ingeniería,” in Historia de Antioquia, ed. Jorge Orlando Meló (Bogotá: Suramericana de Seguros, 1988), 404.


Bertha Duque and Luz Elena Rendón question the Escuela’s relevance for the mining industry, asserting that by the time of the Escuelas founding, mining had lost its former importance in the region. See Duque and Rendón, “Anotaciones para una historia de la Escuela Nacional de Minas, 1887-1912” (M.A. thesis, Universidad Nacional-Seccional de Medellín, 1986).


Mayor Mora, Etica, trabajo, y productividad, 54; Nestor Castro, “Los ingenieros de Minas de la Escuela de Minas y el sector minero” (Paper presented at the Seventh Mining Congress, Facultad de Minas, Medellín, 1987). Castro also notes how most of the technical innovations in the mining sector came from foreigners or local entrepreneurs without formal education, rather than from professional mining engineers.


Instructor Gabriel Trujillo to Dean Felipe Hoyos, Dec. 13, 1951, Archivo de la Decanatura, Facultad Nacional de Minas, Medellín (hereafter Decanatura, FNM). In his letter, Trujillo complains of the profession’s declining popularity among youth.


For a description of conditions faced by mining engineers from the Escuela, see Pamela Murray, “Forging a Technocratic Elite in Colombia: A History of the Escuela Nacional de Minas of Medellín, 1887-1970” (Ph.D. diss., Tulane Univ., 1990), 129-32. The description stems from interviews with alumni who worked at mines in the 1930s.


Mayor Mora, Etica, trabajo, y productividad, 216-17 (table 24). On the Antioquia Railway, see Hernán Horna, “Francisco Javier Cisneros: A Pioneer in Transportation and Economic Development in Colombia” (Ph.D. diss., Vanderbilt Univ., 1970).


Tulio Ospina, “Informe del rector de la Escuela Nacional de Minas de Medellín,” Anales de la Escuela Nacional de Minas (hereafter Anales), July 1912, pp. 136–40. For a discussion of individuai courses, see Mayor Mora, Etica, trabajo, y productividad, 115-22. For further discussion of the relationship between the Escuela and the railway company, see Murray, “Forging a Technocratic Elite,” 65-67.


Luis Santiago Botero, “Breve reseña histórica sobre la Escuela Nacional de Minas,” Dyna [Escuela publication] 72 (Oct. 1956), 95; Reports from Rector Eduardo Zuleta to Director of Public Education, Medellín, 1892, Decanatura, FNM.


Duque and Rendón, “Anotaciones,” 97-99. In his 1912 informe, Ospina claimed that efforts to reopen the Escuela before 1904 were hindered by the unfavorable political circumstances in which Antioquia (that is, the regional leadership) found itself vis-à-vis the national government. Ospina, “Informe del rector,” 1912, pp. 126-28.


Tulio Ospina and Eusebio Robledo, Reforma universitaria, pamphlet (Medellín, Imprenta Oficial, 1905). Directed to Colombia’s minister of education, this pamphlet contains a proposal to reform the Universidad de Antioquia so as to promote technical professions like agronomy and engineering in preference to law and medicine. It also proposes temporarily closing the schools of law and medicine and renaming the institution the Universidad Técnica de Antioquia, which it actually became from 1906 to 1910.


Ospina, “Informe del rector,” 1912, p. 136. The symbol $ indicates pesos. One peso equaled approximately one U S. dollar. By the mid-1920s the government had stopped increasing the Escuela’s subsidy, a trend reflecting the decline in the portion of the national budget allocated to public education generally after 1920. By 1925, the Escuela was receiving only $23,612. Although in 1927 Colombia’s legislature raised the Escuela’s stipend to $100,000, school officials never saw this amount. Indeed, rectors’ reports reveal that because of the financial crisis that hit the government two years later—along with the political changes brought by the Liberal party’s electoral victory in 1930—the Escuela received less than half the sum promised; in 1931, only $45,000 annually.


José María Escovar, Report to Minister of Education, Mar. 14, 1890, Decanatura, FNM; Ospina, “Informe del rector,” 1912, p. 140.


Rector’s reports for 1909, Archivo de la Rectoría, Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín; Rector’s reports for 1912-1924, Anales.


Escovar report, 1890.


Information about these trips came from interviews with alumni as well as student accounts published in Anales and Dyna. For a fuller discussion, see Murray, “Forging a Technocratic Elite,” 67–69.


Duque and Rendón, “Anotaciones,” 91-93.


Rector Carlos Gutiérrez, Annual Report to Minister of Education for 1925, Decanatura, FNM.


For a full description of the process of recruiting the foreign instructors, see Murray, “Forging a Technocratic Elite,” 75-79. In 1930, the four full-time instructors were Wokittel, Hans Stuhlman of Hamburg, Julián Cock Arango, and Antonio Villa Carrasquilla. Rector José María Escovar had fired Weber in 1927 after Weber had refused to teach a course the rector considered part of the instructor’s contract and had failed to remedy his differences with students who had complained about his teaching.


A list of salaries appears in Jorge Rodríguez, “Nota sobre los cuadros estadísticos de la Escuela,” Oct. 12, 1936, Decanatura, FNM. On Bolivian mining engineers’ salaries, see Manuel Contreras, “The Formation of a Technical Elite in Latin America: Mining Engineering and the Engineering Profession in Bolivia, 1900-1954” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia Univ., 1990), 255-57.


Rectors’ annual reports to Minister of Education, 1904-5 and 1911-30, Decanatura, FNM. Some of these reports also appear in Anales, which began publishing in 1911.


Aline Helg, Civiliser le peuple et former les élites: l’éducation en Colombie, 1918- 1957 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1984), 58 (table 5). Helg calculates a national average of 5.4 percent, or 30,350 students, who attended secondary school in 1923.


Prospectus in Anales, Mar. 15, 1912. Besides degrees in mining and civil engineering, the Escuela conferred intermediate degrees in surveying (agrimensor) and mining technique (práctica de minas), which presumably went to those who did not complete the five-year program for engineers. Annual report for 1921, Director of Public Education to Governor of Antioquia, Medellín, 1921, Archivo de la Gobernación, Medellín.


Information on students’ regional origins comes from rectors’ annual reports and is discussed more fully in Murray, “Forging a Technocratic Elite,” 116-19. Ages listed in Jorge Rodríguez, “Datos estadísticos sobre la Escuela de Minas para el año 1933,” June 28, 1934, Decanatura, FNM.


Christopher Abel, Conservative Politics in Twentieth-Century Antioquia (1910-1953) (Oxford: Oxford Univ., Latin American Centre, Occasional Papers no. 3, 1973), 9–13; and Jorge Orlando Melo, “La política de Antioquia, 1904-1946,” in Meló, ed., Historia de Antioquia, 149-50.


For an analysis of some of the policies advanced by the government of Pedro Nel Ospina, particularly regarding investments in transportation and fiscal reform, see Angela Mejia de López, Algunos aspectos de la administración Pedro Nel Ospina, 1922-1926 (Bogotá: Univ. Nacional de Colombia, 1984). For a list of Antioqueños who occupied key government ministries during the Ospina era and later, see Meló, Historia de Antioquia, 150.


Estanislao Gómez Barrientos, Don Tulio Ospina (Medellín: Imprenta Oficial, 1921), 1–35.


Ibid. Ospina’s geological treatise, Reseña sobre la geología de Colombia y del antiguo departamento de Antioquia, was published in 1911.


Ann Twinam, “From Jew to Basque: Ethnic Myths and Antioqueño Entrepreneurship,” journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 22:1 (1980), 81-107. Twinam explains how the myth of the Antioqueños’ Jewish origin evolved and inspired countermyths, such as Ospina’s “new breed,” which formed an extreme aspect of this regional ideology.


Academia Antioqueña de Historia, ed., El pueblo antioqueño: seis estudios de seis autores de renombre (Medellín: Granamerica, 1972), 17-18. Ospina’s essay on ethnic origins originally appeared in 1900.


”Conferencia dictada por Don Tulio Ospina para conmemorar el centenario de la independencia de Antioquia,” Boletín de Historia y Antiguedades (Bogotá), Apr. 9, 1915. See also Antonio José Uribe to Carlos E. Restrepo, Medellín, May 1901, Universidad de Antioquia, Archivo de Carlos E. Restrepo. Written in the dark days of the civil war, Uribe’s letter alludes to Antioquia as the source of the nation’s future “redemption.”


Rector Carlos Gómez Martínez to Alejandro López, Apr. 21, 1923, Decanatura, FNM.


Luis Nieto Arteta portrays the Antioqueño as the archetype of the “new man,” whose presence reflected the impact of the coffee economy on Colombian society; that is, the spread of acquisitive, commercial, or capitalistic values and attitudes. Nieto Arteta, El café en la sociedad colombiana (Bogotá: Ediciones Tiempo Presente, 1975).


“Discurso del Sr. Dr. Carlos Cock,” Anales, Apr. 1914, pp. 408-9.


Ospina, “Conferencia dictada por D. Tulio Ospina, Rector de la Escuela Nacional de Minas en el acto privado de clausura del año escolar de 1912,” Anales, Mar. 1913, pp. 235–36.


“Estatutos de la Escuela Nacional de Minas de Medellín,” Anales, Apr. 1912; Duque and Rendón, “Anotaciones,” 119-31.


Ospina, “Conferencia del rector de la Escuela Nacional de Minas en la clausura del año escolar, 1914-1915,” Anales, 1915, pp. 671-76.


Ibid., 673-74. The Escuela began to admit women in 1941, when it opened its doors to 19-year-old Sonny Jiménez.


Duque and Rendón, “Anotaciones,” 122-28; Interviews with alumni, Medellín, 1987.


Ernesto Ramirez describes Ospina Hermanos involvement in the mining industry, including conflicts the company encountered in its attempt to serve as an agent for foreign investors. Ramírez, Poder económico y dominación política: el caso de la familia Ospina (Bogotá: Univ. Nacional de Colombia, 1984), 175-76.


Ospina, “Conferencia dictada . . . año escolar 1912,” pp. 239-40.


Ospina, “Conferencia . . . 1914-1915,” 672-73.


Rectors’ correspondence, 1914-16 and 1923-24, Decanatura, FNM.


Ospina’s correspondence with parents, 1909-10, Universidad de Antioquia, Archivo de la Rectoría; and Ospina, “Conferencia . . . 1914-1915,” 672-73.


Rector Gómez Martínez to Antioquia Department, Medellín, May 1924, Decanatura, FNM.


Secretario Julio Vallejo to J. M. Solís, Medellín, Sept. 8, 9, and 20, 1923, Decanatura, FNM.


Ospina, Protocolo hispanoamericano de buen tono y urbanidad, 2d ed. (Medellín: Editorial Bedout, 1939), 1.


Alexander Payne alludes to the rather stuffy manners of elite Medellinenses as well as those aspiring to join them. Payne, “Crecimiento y cambio social en Medellín, 1900-1930,” Estudios Sociales (Medellín: FAES) 1:1 (Sept. 1986), 162.


Ospína, “Conferencia dictada . . . año escolar 1912,” 235-36.


For a full account of Escuela engineers’ involvement in the growth of public and private enterprise, especially manufacturing, during the first half of the twentieth century, see Mayor Mora, Etica, trabajo, y productividad; for an analysis of career patterns, see Murray, “Forging a Technocratic Elite,” chap. 4.


“La aspiración de todo el personal dirigente de esta Escuela es que los alumnos que en ella coronen su carrera no sean simplemente ingenieros . . . sino también los administradores ordenados y económicos de todo género de empresas públicas y privadas y a la vez capaces de figurar como empresarios de industria.” “Conferencia dictada . . . año escolar 1912,” p. 235.