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About Campus

Fall 2012
Tacos to go, campus radio at 100, following the sun and more

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Tacos to Go

Jeffrey Pilcher, University of Minnesota professor of Mexican history, has searched the world for tacos, finding them nearly everywhere. In Britain, they were served with baked beans. In France, they tasted like coq au vin. In China, tortillas were made of rice. Pilcher wondered, How did the taco conquer the world?

Photograph by Gary Bistram
Jeffrey Pilcher, academicAs he explains in his new book, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, Pilcher expected to learn that Mexico’s ancient food traditions, traced to the Aztecs, were appropriated, sanitized, and globalized by American corporations. Instead, he discovered two surprising agents of what he calls “globalization from below.”

The taco was invented in the late 1800s as rural Mexicans flooded Mexico City looking for work in the industrializing economy. Women brought their recipes and sold corn-based snacks—antojitos—but not a taco among them until about 1890, when the word first appeared in print.

“Suddenly, in 10 or 20 years, it is everywhere,” Pilcher says. “There’s a taco shop on practically every corner in the working class parts of the city.”

Pilcher believes the snack may have been popular with silver miners, who gave it the Spanish name for “plug,” for the small charges of gunpowder wrapped in paper and jammed in drill holes to blast out ore. “Wrap some hot sauce in a tortilla instead of paper and it sort of looks like a stick of dynamite,” Pilcher says. “One of the first versions of ‘taco’ that appears in Mexico City, right around 1900, was called taco de minero—miner’s taco.”

The snack spread to the Spanish-speaking southwestern United States, and Glen Bell’s Taco Bell introduced tacos to Anglo tastes in the 1950s. Pilcher says he expected that Bell’s franchises spread the taco around the world, but the Taco Bell craze stopped at U.S. borders.

Instead, two surprising evangelists spread the gospel of taco. First were U.S. soldiers who loved Mexican food in the Southwest and took their appetite for tacos to military bases worldwide. Second were surfers, who chased an endless summer of surfing to coasts around the globe.

“There’s globalization from above, which everyone says is bad,” says Pilcher, who has published widely on the history of food and culture, identity, equality, and capitalism. “But then there’s globalization from below—just ordinary people moving around, taking their tacos with them.”
—Greg Breining

Not to Be Taken for Granted
Photograph by Patrick O'Leary
Abe and GoldyThe University of Minnesota community gathered on Northrop Mall July 20 to mark the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Morrill Act of 1862, the statute that established land grant colleges, including Minnesota’s only public research university.

Funding for land grant schools came from the sale of federal lands, with the money benefiting the states. States accepting this funding were required “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions of life.” The Morrill Act and subsequent federal legislation that established agricultural research sites, historically black colleges, education for Native Americans, and oceanic-related research helped democratize higher education in America.

According to University historian Ann Pflaum, while the 1862 Morrill Act was momentous, its significance wasn’t immediately realized as public attention was distracted by the Civil War, the Homestead Act, the Emancipation Proclamation, and, especially in Minnesota, the U.S.–Dakota War (which occurred six weeks after the Morrill Act signing). Later in the 19th century, as land grant colleges became established, this new perspective—that higher education should not be for the professional and wealthy classes only, but also for people of promise no matter their backgrounds—became widely accepted.

“Ironically, more than a century later, however, these ideals are apt to be so much taken for granted throughout higher education that some may have almost forgotten how innovative they were in the 1860s,” Pflaum says.

This fall, an exhibition based on material from the collections of the University Archives examines the ongoing question of how the U of M should fulfill its role as a land grant institution. For the Common Good runs September 10 through November 30 in the Atrium Gallery of the Elmer L. Andersen Library. For more information call 612-625-9825 or go to

To learn about more events celebrating our land grant roots—and to watch a video of a Great Conversation between University President Eric Kaler and Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor about the challenges facing the 21st century university—go to
—Shelly Fling

Campus Radio Turns 100
Sometime during 1912, a strange apparatus appeared on the roof of the University of Minnesota’s electrical engineering building. It was a series of cables suspended horizontally between two metal towers that carried the signals from the U’s first experiments with “wireless” telegraphy. Only a small number of radio experimenters heard the Morse Code that emanated from the antenna, but the legacy of station 9XI carries on today at Radio K, the U’s student-run station.

The University’s foray into radio took a brief hiatus when a government order silenced transmissions during World War I. Following the Armistice, 9XI returned to the air with agricultural reports and weather forecasts. In January 1922, the dots and dashes gave way to voice and music broadcasts as WLB, its programming dominated by lectures from U professors, concerts, and Gopher football.

In the 1940s, WLB’s call letters switched to KUOM. When a polio epidemic shut down Minnesota’s schools in 1946, KUOM launched the Minnesota School of the Air to reach homebound children, and the program became a classroom staple for several generations.

While KUOM was broadcast throughout much of Minnesota, another station with far less reach took to the air in U dorms in the late 1940s. The student-run WMMR played Top 40 tunes and had a sizable on-campus listenership.

In 1993, the U’s administration was threatening to sell off KUOM when WMMR’s student manager, Jim Musil (B.A. ’98), proposed a solution: merge WMMR and KUOM. The result was Radio K. The station, still managed by students, plays an eclectic mix of independent music with a heavy focus on Minnesota-based artists.

The current generation of Radio K students plan to celebrate the U’s radio centennial this fall. Senior Caleigh Souhan, Radio K’s student program director, says “by holding steadfast to our fiercely independent roots, Radio K creates a community of passionate broadcasters committed to representing the best in truly independent music.”
—Jim du Bois

For more on the history of broadcasting at the U and throughout Minnesota, visit

President Kaler on Penn State
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler issued a statement on July 23 in response to NCAA sanctions against Penn State. “First and foremost, we express our sincere sorrow for the individuals and their families who have been harmed in unimaginable ways, and our thoughts are with them,” he said.

Expressing support for the sanctions imposed by the NCAA and the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, Kaler called Penn’s State’s situation “a cautionary tale for all of us. The culture of big-time college sports must never supersede a culture of safety, compliance, transparency, and accountability on our campuses.” He reminded the U community that any employee who witnesses a sexual assault on campus, or a sexual assault involving U employees on or off campus, is expected to immediately report the incident to law enforcement.

“No university program or official is more important than the safety of individuals on our campuses, especially children. The U will support any employee who reports a suspected crime in good faith.”

Following the Sun
Photograph courtesy of the American Solar Car Challenge
Centaurus IIIThe University of Minnesota solar car sped into St. Paul at 60 miles per hour July 21 after an eight-day, 1,600-mile race through the eight states bordering the Great Lakes. Centaurus III (pictured here) took fifth place out of 11 teams. The U’s Solar Vehicle Project involved 40 College of Science and Engineering students who logged 50,000 hours over the past year designing the aerodynamic vehicle. The team has existed since 1991. The 3-by-6-foot Centaurus III weighs less than 400 pounds and averaged about 26 miles per hour.

Campus Quotable
The apple is self-explanatory, since Minnesota is famous for inventing new apples like the sweet Honeycrisp, or the less-successful Ultra-Puckertart, which caused the inside of your cheeks to slam together while you chewed. ‘America’s most painful new fruit,’ I believe the reviews said.
Star Tribune humor columnist James Lileks reflecting on the University of Minnesota’s recently released list of the “Top 10 Plants that Changed Minnesota.”

Campus Quotable
Now we can get on to doing some science!
—Assad Aboobaker, a post-doctoral researcher at the U, quoted in the Star Tribune after a $500,000 telescope went missing on a trip from Minnesota to Antarctica but later showed up unharmed at a Texas truck wash.


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