During my freshman year in college I was fortunate to take a handful of inspirational humanities classes that started me thinking about the goal of becoming a professor. I had enrolled in college as a potential biology major, but after that first semester my heart and head were set on the humanities. I quickly became involved in the humanities-focused honors program and designed an interdisciplinary major in history and literature, mainly focused on Europe & the U.S. I got what some might say is a late start in my field of study, Latin American literary and culture studies—I didn’t start taking courses in Spanish until I was a junior in college. But almost from the beginning I was hooked and signed up for a study abroad experience following my junior year. That experience was transformative in many ways, including the transformation of my major from the one I had designed to Spanish language and literatures. It was that study abroad experience, subsequent coursework and time abroad, and a taste of research that also led me to graduate study in Latin American literatures and cultures.
I began graduate school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill with a defined interest in nineteenth-century Argentina. I was intellectually curious to explore the intersections between nation formation and science (or positivism) as the guiding philosophy of the state, and was increasingly interested in sociological approaches to the study of literature. The power of nationalism in the present and in the past also fascinated me. Readings and personal experiences led me to Argentina and, so early on in graduate school I began working on roots of nationalist sentiment, how citizens buy into it, and how forms of collective identity emerge. Thanks to a series of mentors I was able to cultivate my ideas in coursework and my MA thesis, and was later guided to develop a broader perspective that went beyond Argentina to encompass the Río de la Plata region, which encompasses primarily Uruguay and the littoral area of Argentina. Argentines and Uruguayans have a common historical experience through the early twentieth century. So many of the processes that defined nineteenth-century Argentina or Uruguay happened regionally: circulation of media; movement of people involved in the production, distribution, and consumption of print; state formation; war; the development of educational systems and the exchanges between educational bureaucrats, to name just a few. Ultimately this regional work on nineteenth-century forms of print media & reading—everyday reading, as I call them—became the focus of my PhD dissertation.
None of that would have happened, nor would I be where I am today, though, without the support and inspiration from amazing scholar-teachers from UNC’s departments of Romance Studies and History whose classes I took and who became mentors for me, and without the unique space for dialogue and collaboration that the UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American Studies provided. The Consortium promoted graduate student-faculty exchanges, hosted a wealth of events related to Latin America, and supported research for graduate students in ways that were truly formative for me, as well as most of my fellow students.
So in summary fashion I could say that I owe my interest in the field of Latin American studies to experiences abroad and the people I met, institutional support at UNC Chapel Hill and great mentoring, and my research in Uruguay and Argentina that has been incredibly enriching intellectually, has allowed me to develop very meaningful collaborative initiatives, and that has given me the chance to meet countless people who in one way or another have contributed to my deeper understanding of the region.
My focus on nineteenth-century Latin America continues. Following my first book that traced the development of print culture to understand how Argentina and Uruguay became the most literate countries in Latin America by 1900, I began work on circus troupes that performed short dramas taken primarily from tales of popular literature, some of which I had come across working on my first book. These dramas and their performers became the backbone of the most powerful entertainment industry in the region for the last two decades of the 1800s and are at the heart of the emergence of modern popular culture in both Argentina and Uruguay.
In both my previous work and this current project I’m drawn to the lasting impact of the ephemeral. This is one central theme that I deal with often in my classes at WU. Other themes my courses often explore include Latin American popular culture, nation and nationalism, and helping students approach readings as readers would have or could have in the past.