The UA has a strong history of scholarship, outreach and collaborations with partners along the U.S.-Mexico border and elsewhere in Latin America. Those within the UA's history department point to that institutional legacy as the department has earned top 10 status for its focus on Latin American history. (Photo credit: FJ Gaylor, University of Arizona RedBar)
The UA has a strong history of scholarship, outreach and collaborations with partners along the U.S.-Mexico border and elsewhere in Latin America. Those within the UA's history department point to that institutional legacy as the department has earned top 10 status for its focus on Latin American history. (Photo credit: FJ Gaylor, University of Arizona RedBar)

UA Ranked Top 10 for Latin American History

After standing in the top 20 category for some years, the UA's history department has gained top 10 status for its specialty area in Latin American history.
June 27, 2013
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UA history department faculty engaged in work related to Latin America history include:

  • Bert Barickman has studied a broad range of topics, including slavery, plantation agriculture, indigenous resistance to colonialism and political elites in Brazil.
  • Martha Few studies and teaches on Guatemala and Mexico, Mesoamerican ethnohistory, the history of medicine and also human-animal studies.
  • Juan Garcia studies and teaches on Mexican American history.
  • Oscar Martinez teaches about the history of Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border region, also investigating their political, economic, and social histories.
  • Erika Perez researches gender, sexuality and colonial America. She also investigates issues related to Spanish borderlands and the American west.
  • Jadwiga Pieper Mooney investigates women's rights, gender equity and other related topics in Latin America.
Of the UA history department's rise to top 10 status, Kevin Gosner, associate professor and head of the department, said: "The budget situation has been tough in the last five years, so it is especially satisfying to come up in the ranking after having come through a very difficult period." (Photo credit: Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)
Of the UA history department's rise to top 10 status, Kevin Gosner, associate professor and head of the department, said: "The budget situation has been tough in the last five years, so it is especially satisfying to come up in the ranking after having come through a very difficult period." (Photo credit: Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)

The multiple efforts to capitalize on the benefits of the University of Arizona's proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border have helped earned the history department top 10 status for its focus on Latin America.

U.S. News & World Report placed the UA's department at No. 9 for the specialty area. Others with top 10 status include the University of Texas at Austin, Yale University and Duke University.

Such institutions, the magazine noted, have the nation's leading graduate programs for the study of social, political and racial issues in Latin American countries.

"We are proud to be recognized. More often than not, programs in the top 10 have been well respected for a long time," said Kevin Gosner, associate professor and head of the UA history department.

"We've had faculty at the UA since the 1930s, and especially since the 1950s and 1960s, working on issues in Mexico and along the border as well as other parts of Latin America. We've been beneficiaries of that legacy."

History departments have historically been more heavily tuned to American and European history, "yet, most of the world's populations live outside of those regions," Gosner said.

"As the population of the U.S. continues to grow, and with more people coming from Latin America, it is important that their histories and identities are acknowledged and a whole range of questions are explored."

Within the department, at least 15 full-time faculty members are invested in work related to Latin American history, though dozens of other faculty members and researchers who are in one way affiliated with the department are also engaged in the specialty.

And Gosner offered a caveat: "Good programs aren't just the sum of their parts. They do more than just accumulate a group of scholars among the faculty."

Gosner also credited students and alumni of the department, numerous other UA units and the University's link to regional and national partners for strengthening the history department's focus on issues in Latin America.

The department's faculty have maintained collaborations with those within the UA Southwest Center and the Center for Latin American Studies, two centers with important regional impact for the cultivation of cross-border relationships, outreach, teaching and scholarly research.

Likewise, faculty have long focused on issues related to culture, politics and economics. More recently, they have begun to analyze environmental history, the history of medicine, international migration and comparative borderlands, particularly in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Gosner also emphasized the impact of the UA Libraries and Special Collections, which manages major collections and houses rare and unique archival material for the study of the borderlands in Arizona and the Southwest. Students and faculty also have benefited from connections with the Arizona State Museum, a leading repository focusing on indigenous cultures in Arizona and the northern region of Mexico.

The department's success also manifests in strong student research and outreach and also job placement, Gosner said. 

"Our recent rise in the ranking is in large part due to our cohort of graduate students who have earned doctorate degrees in the last 10 years," he said. "They are now producing first and second books and moving into the role of department heads and directors of institutes."

UA alumnus Maria Muñoz seconds that.

"One of the things that the national rankings are unable to calculate is the commitment of the history department faculty to help graduate students in ways that do no show up in quantifiable aspects," said Muñoz, a 2009 UA graduate who is now an assistant professor of history at Susquehanna University.

Muñoz had a choice between the UA and Oxford University. Eventually, she decided to focus on Latin American history and subsequently chose the UA, which she terms "one of the toughest programs" in the U.S.

"I knew that UA's program would prepare me better not only as a scholar, but also as a teaching professor," said Muñoz, who studies indigenous movements and historical memory.

"It was a tough decision to make, but I do not regret going to the UA. I was right in terms of the level of preparation professors like Bert Barickman, Kevin Gosner and William Beezley provided me with," she said.

Some of the most recent graduates of the history department have gone on to publish, take faculty positions and earn major awards for their work.

Of note: Elena Albarran, a 2007 graduate, led the book project "Children of the Revolution: Constructing the Mexican Citizen, 1920-1940" and is now a faculty member at Miami University; Emily L. Wakild, also a 2007 graduate, is a Boise State University faculty member who has published several book chapters and journal articles; and 2005 graduate Celeste González de Bustamante, a UA assistant professor of journalism, is renowned for her cross-national border reporting and training of student journalists.

Also, the American Historical Association awarded the UA department one of its 2011 Equity Awards, honoring its efforts in "retaining underrepresented racial and ethnic groups" in the field, the association noted. 

UA students also have often earned nationally competitive awards, including those from the Ford Foundation, U.S. Fulbright and Fulbright-Hays programs. Recently, Muñoz was among those to earn a Fulbright-Hays fellowship along with 2013 graduate Alex Hidalgo, who earned a U.S. Fulbright scholarship.

Hidalgo said he took an interest in the UA particularly because he was aware of its strength in Latin American studies.

While considering graduate programs, he reached out to Gosner.

"He was very welcoming and touched on all the right things: the cost of living was affordable and students were earning grants and getting jobs," Hidalgo said. "All of those things were important considerations for me." 

Indeed, Hidalgo became acutely aware of the same synergies Gosner mentioned.

After choosing the UA, Hidalgo spent three years working at the Arizona State Museum's Office of Ethnohistorical Research. "The experience I gained there was invaluable to me and my own research."

For the 2009-2010 academic year, Hidalgo earned a U.S. Fulbright to investigate indigenous cartography in Mexico City and Oaxaca during a period that spanned the 1600s to the 1800s, ultimately to research how the Amerindians and Spaniards communicated despite cultural differences. 

After his work with Fulbright, Hidalgo spent one summer working at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. before returning to the UA to finish his doctorate. He credits faculty support for his success.

Hidalgo's research incorporated anthropology, art history and conservation studies. Among his major findings: Maps became a new form of communication indigenous painters used to negotiate with Spanish officials, and such dialogue shaped how land and other spaces were divided and distributed.

"The faculty are incredibly supportive of graduate projects," said Hidalgo, who defended his dissertation this summer.

"Perhaps in a more traditional department, this wouldn't have been such an attractive subject," said Hidalgo, who has just accepted a tenure track position at Texas Christian University.

"But, here, you can really think outside of the box and bring in various perspectives that really make a difference," Hidalgo said. "That's why we can be successful on the market, negotiating tenure track positions, which are hard to come by."