Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

portrait of Neil Brenner
portrait of Neil Brenner

Mary Beth Pudup

Instructional Professor and Director of Community Studies, Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization (CEGU)


Mary Beth Pudup is a historical and economic geographer with abiding interest in the comparative political economy of cities, regional development, community organizations, and the ecology of place. Over three decades she was a professor in and the Director of the Community Studies B.A. Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a national pioneer and exemplar of undergraduate experiential education. That pathbreaking program offers students conceptual and methodological foundations to understand relationships among the non-profit and philanthropic sectors, community organizations, the state and civil society writ large, and how those sectors together shape human, social and political development in the Global North and South. The program’s keystone is an extended, immersive field study that places students in a wide variety of organizations to co-produce knowledge through experience, culminating in senior capstone projects. Pudup is a recipient of the UCSC faculty senate Award for Teaching Excellence.

Her early research focused on the Midwestern agro-industrial complex that underwrote Chicago’s industrial landscape during the nineteenth century. She then conducted research in eastern Kentucky exploring how household subsistence agriculture shaped central Appalachia’s long-term development. After completing her doctorate in Geography at UC Berkeley, Pudup held postdoctoral positions at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC and the Regional Research Institute at West Virginia University in Morgantown. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation. She is currently completing a book project using urban agriculture as a lens to understand social, economic and environmental problems of the contemporary US city, focusing on how San Francisco’s community garden history bears witness to key moments of the city’s transformation.

Over the course of her career Pudup has taught classes on political economy, urban geography, field study practice, urban agriculture, thesis writing, and communities, social movements and the nonprofit sector. She is an unalloyed champion of the transformative power of field study for amplifying student learning and achievement, especially around questions of how ideas are transmitted from theory to practice through the agency of organizations articulating and pursuing their missions. She assumes a new position within CEGU to elevate community facing pedagogy addressing the contemporary era’s urgent questions of environmental change.