Office: Hall 215
History teaches us that abstractions become most meaningful in reference to specific persons, places and things. In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I received a rigorous training in Latin American social history and selected sixteenth-century Mexico as the chronological and regional focus of my dissertation. As part of fulfilling the curriculum requirements, I also chose to enroll in a seminar on colonial Latin American literature. A paper I wrote for this seminar would ultimately become the first article listed on my resume, “The Politics of Conquest: An Interpretation of the Relación de Michoacán,” published in the journal The Americas in October 1990.
Though a tentative first step, the article succeeded in applying some concepts drawn from post-structural theory and the “close reading” associated with literary criticism to a somewhat understudied historical source detailing the sixteenth-century encounter between indigenous peoples and Franciscan missionaries, in the region (now state) of Michoacán in west-central Mexico.
After this experience, the die was cast. My first book, Rereading the Conquest Power, Politics, and the History of Early Colonial Michoacán, Mexico, 1521—1565, is best understood as the history of a history. It analyzes the story of the sixteenth-century conquest and Christian evangelization of Michoacán, Mexico. The first half of the book analyzed historical documents from that era as foundational texts whose content and exclusions shaped and constrained the recording of this event. The second half of the book analyzed reinterpretations of this story from the late eighteenth through the twentieth century, situating it within the broad sweep of Mexican history and concluding with descriptions of my own experience. My intellectual formation during those years coincided with what is sometimes termed the “linguistic turn” in the historical profession in the United States and Western Europe. During the 1990s, the social historical models that came to dominate the profession after World War II and in the United States from the mid 1960s on were enriched and at times challenged by an emphasis on the theoretical dimensions of historical writing. All of my work embraces without necessarily resolving the tensions produced by combining an interest in social history with theoretical debates on the nature of historical representation.
My first book analyzed sixteenth-century historical documents as literary texts. My second book moved from the sixteenth century into the twentieth century and from the analysis of written texts into an engagement with visual culture. Paul Strand in Mexico included an exhibition, the digital restoration of a film, and an international academic symposium bringing together distinguished scholars from a variety of disciplines along with practicing photographers and the general public. The exhibit has journeyed or will journey to The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami, The Aperture Gallery in New York City and the El Paso Museum of Art before its final stop at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in the fall of 2011.
I am currently planning a three-volume study of the Latin American Baroque, which I expect to occupy me for much of the remainder of my career. The first volume will analyze the Brazilian baroque, or perhaps emphasize Afro Latin American influences by incorporating both Brazil and Cuba into the study. The second volume will examine the Andean world, including areas now defined as Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. Finally, I hope to conclude where I began my career, with a final volume on Mesoamerica, or Mexico and Central America. In these works, I intend to situate local examples of the Latin American Baroque within a “global” or trans-regional framework. For example, I will investigate how Portuguese experiences in Africa, India and China informed colonial practices in Brazil, and how the silver trade facilitated Spanish connections to Asia from the Pacific Coast through Manila, with demonstrable impacts on cultural history in places like Salvador, Mexico City and Lima.
This ongoing research agenda will inform my teaching over the next two years, as I develop an advanced seminar on the Latin American Baroque and a survey course entitled "Religion, Power and Politics in Latin America" to complement my existing course offerings.