Assistant Professor Chris Suh has won the W. Turrentine Jackson (Article) Prize of the Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association for an article he published in Pacific Historical Review last year. Titled “‘America’s Gunpowder Women’: Pearl S. Buck and the Struggle for American Feminism, 1937-1941,” the piece examines debates between first and second wave feminism and the influence of racialized thinking on U.S. conceptions of women’s progress. The prize is sponsored by the University of California Press.
Dr. Pablo Palomino, Assistant Professor of Latin American & Caribbean Studies and Mellon Faculty Fellow at Emory Oxford, recently published The Invention of Latin American Music: a Transnational History with Oxford University Press. Below, Dr. Palomino offers a glimpse into the making of the monograph as a part of the History Department’s series on new faculty publications.
Books are produced over years if not decades. Give us a sense for the lifespan of this book, from initial idea to final edits.
Back in 2006 in my hometown, Buenos Aires, I decided to expand over Latin America as a whole the structural affinities between Buenos Aires’ tango and Rio de Janeiro’s samba—their poetic and social similarities—I had explored in my History thesis at the University of Buenos Aires. I was assistant professor of Latin American Social History (guided by the wonderful Dora Barrancos) and wanted to write a history of the modernization of urban music poetics in Latin America in the 1930s. I then learned that the story of marginal musical genres becoming modern national symbols at some point in the early 20th century was quite universal. What were the peculiarities of Latin America in this regard?
I suspected that the popularity of certain music genres had to do with their ability to express the experience of modernity, which is one of loss and fracture but also of re-creation of social relations and emotional bonds. (Hence the global prominence of love songs). As ethnomusicologists and many historians of music teach us, is a crucial arena for people to make sense of all that. But while the historiographic agenda was then focused on the making of national identities, somehow seeing music as mainly serving the national experiment, I was interested in the larger cultural mechanisms that made possible for people to express the experience of modern life, including but surpassing the nation. The need for an inter- or trans-national approach was evident. The peripatetic trajectories of many of my favorite artists—from Carlos Gardel to Caetano Veloso—also suggested this approach, as it was the music repertoire of my parents’ generation, made of several chronological layers and geographic spaces: my folks, Argentine baby-boomers, and their Chilean or Bolivian friends, can sing by heart entire Cuban boleros and Mexican rancheras from the times of their parents’ generation. How does a love song from another time and space becomes part of someone’s sentimental world? And what’s the significance of this phenomenon for Latin American history? I decided to write a doctoral dissertation about how certain social and cultural elements of music—nightlife, poetics, markets, and symbols—became modernizing agents, mechanisms to process and transmit modernity, within but especially across Latin American societies in the 20th century.
With that idea in mind I moved to California, thanks to a scholarship from UC Berkeley, and from 2007 to 2014, under the guidance of Mark Healey, Margaret Chowning, and awesome fellow students, I realized that the key concept of my research would be that of transnational musical networks, which involved not just “genres,” but diasporic artists, musicians’ associations, broadcasting, impresarios, cultural diplomacy, and musicology itself, which emerged in Latin America in the 1930s. I remember discovering at the Bancroft Library the volumes of the pioneering Latin Americanist musicological flagship, the Latin American Music Bulletin (1934-1946), and realizing something incredibly obvious and yet overlooked by scholars: that the very category of “Latin American music” had a history! The dissertation analyzes several musical networks connecting Latin America through archival work in the region’s three largest countries (Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, plus the United States).
Then in 2015-2017, as a postdoc at the University of Chicago, I realized that my project could illuminate something bigger: that music was arguably the most romantic—in the exoticist and essentialist sense—dimension of the very idea of Latin America that has been naturalized by scholars in their intellectual practice and by lay people in the public sphere. Inspired by Mauricio Tenorio’s critique of “Latin Americanism” as a discourse, I began to re-write some chapters and add new ones, in order to show how those transnational networks in fact had produced the very musical idea of Latin America, and also that they were key in turning the abstract 19th-century idea of “Latin America,” into a legitimate world region—in Herder’s terms, if it has a music, then it’s a culture, and therefore a people.
Since I began working at Oxford College of Emory in 2017, I elaborated these insights, gained tons of feedback in conferences and presentations, and finished the writing in a very supportive environment—and the OUP editors and reviewers gave me precious feedback. My students help me see in the classroom that what we call “Latin America” is at the same time a mosaic of widely disparate histories and the subject of a cultural transmission that has itself a long history—one to which I am happy to contribute.
What was the research process like?
It was wonderful, in that it took me through multiple archives, languages, and disciplines. Starting with the Inter-Library Loan system, which is one of the most wonderful things ever created and gave me access to a truly global perspective on music, modernity, and globalization. Then the CLIR-Mellon and the SSRC fellowships, as well as support from UC Berkeley, allowed me to spend a lot of time in Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Mexico City, Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Washington DC, tracing key archival threads. I ended up using only a fraction of the material I gathered, but also published along the way some side articles on specific histories. The research journey combined archives with fascinating places, people, and ideas. Then organizing the sources and writing the book was like continuing to travel through those places, people, and ideas from my own desk at home or my office.
Are you partial to a particular chapter or section?
There is a section in the Introduction that I added toward the end of the writing process, in which I chronologically reconstruct the elaboration of the idea of “Latin America” since colonial times, in order to locate the emergence of Latin American music in the early 1930s as a way of defining this world region. This is perhaps my most important historiographic contribution. I was undecided about the title of this introductory chapter: should “Music” and “Latin American History” be connected with“and” or with“in”? Then Jeffrey Lesser suggested the exact title, which he saw hidden in plain sight: “Music is Latin American History”—it captures the whole point of the book.
How does this project align with your broad research agenda?
My research focuses on history in three ways. As a problem, I’m fascinated by the history of globalization—and this book tells the history of musical globalization from a regional perspective. As a method, I am inspired by the “total history” of the medievalists from the Annales school that sought the articulation of the multiple dimensions (cultural, political, mental, economic, environmental, etc.) of human reality. I did an absolutely modest attempt in my book to study aesthetic, economic, cultural, and political dynamics combined. And as a cultural activity, I am interested in researching the history of Latin America to combat stereotypes and contribute to its regional and global integration. Somehow this book, very imperfectly, advances this general agenda.
Dr. Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies and Chair of African American Studies, recently published an opinion piece in The Guardian. Anderson analyzes parallels between the wave of anti-black lynchings and race riots in 1919 – which came to be known as the “Red Summer” – and today. An associated faculty member in the Department of History, Anderson is, most recently, the author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy (Bloomsbury, 2018). Read an excerpt from her timely article in The Guardian below, along with the full piece: “In 1919, the state failed to protect black Americans. A century later, it’s still failing.”
“As in 1919, we are dealing with an America where black and brown people must go into the streets to demand their rights because the institutions of democracy have failed to protect them. In 2020, we have a nation where large swaths of the executive, legislative and judicial branches at the federal and state levels have virtually abandoned millions of American citizens.”
Dr. Carl Suddler, Assistant Professor of History, recently joined Adam McNeil of Rutgers University to discuss his book Presumed Criminal: Black Youth and the Justice System in Postwar New York on the New Books Network podcast. Suddler published Presumed Criminal with NYU press in July 2019. Listen to the interview on the New Books Network website.
Prof. Mary L. Dudziak, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law, is a contributing author of the new book World War II and the West It Wrought (Stanford University Press, 2020). Dudziak recently participated in an webinar with the volume’s contributors: Mark Brilliant, Geraldo L. Cadava, Matthew Dallek, Jared Farmer, David M. Kennedy, Daniel J. Kevles, Rebecca Jo Plant, Gavin Wright, and Richard White. See the event, streamed on YouTube, below:
Dr. Pablo Palomino, Assistant Professor of Latin American & Caribbean Studies and Mellon Faculty Fellow at Oxford College, has published The Invention of Latin American Music: A Transnational History with Oxford University Press. The book charts how distinct musical styles of geographically and ethnically heterogeneous regions came to fall under the single category of “Latin American Music” by the mid-twentieth century. Palomino’s transnational study captures how music was a privileged field for the construction and dissemination of Latin Americanness throughout the region and in global cultural marketplaces. Read a review of The Invention of Latin American Music from Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Samuel N. Harper Professor of History at The University of Chicago, below.
“‘Latin America’, Palomino shows, was never a distinctive and coherent song or symphony; it has been a contentious key to play sundry very local and very global cultural trends. Palomino provides the first and best more-than-national account of the lasting background music of the 20th century, whose Latin Americanness was neither in the non-Westernness nor in the uniqueness of its musical scores or lyrics, but in the very struggle to play notes, to sing feelings, this way today, that other way tomorrow, producing thus collective memories which, albeit never wholly Latin American, gradually fulfilled Joaquim Nabuco’s old sense of being: ‘We are but a drop of water in the ocean. Let us be cognizant that we are water droplets, but let us also be aware that we are ocean.'” — Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Samuel N. Harper Professor of History, The University of Chicago
Congratulations to Dr. Michelle Armstrong-Partida, Associate Professor of History, on the publication of the co-edited volume Women and Community in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia (University of Nebraska Press). Armstrong-Partida’s collaborators are Alexandra Guerson (University of Toronto) and Dana Wessell Lightfoot (University of Norther British Columbia). The twelve-essay collection features groundbreaking work on the lives of women from a range of socioeconomic and religious positions in premodern Iberian societies. Elizabeth S. Cohen, Professor Emerita at York University, writes that “This well-conceived volume gathers and fruitfully juxtaposes fresh material from many sites and communities and provides an entrée into the specialized research of a rich range of scholars.” Read more about Women and Community in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia on the University of Nebraska page.
Dr. Kylie Smith, a historian at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, has published Talking Therapy: Knowledge and Power in American Psychiatric Nursing with Rutgers University Press. Five years in the making, Talking Therapy traces the rise of modern psychiatric nursing in the United States from the 1920s to the 1970s. Through an analysis of the relationship between nurses and other mental health professions, with an emphasis on nursing scholarship, this book demonstrates the inherently social construction of “mental health,” and highlights the role of nurses in challenging, and complying with, modern approaches to psychiatry. After WWII, heightened cultural and political emphasis on mental health for social stability enabled the development of psychiatric nursing as a distinct knowledge project through which nurses aimed to transform institutional approaches to patient care, and to contribute to health and social science beyond the bedside. Nurses now take for granted the ideas that underpin their relationships with patients, but this book demonstrates that these were ideas not easily won, and that nurses in the past fought hard to make mental health nursing what it is today.
Dr. Yanna Yannakakis, Associate Professor of History, recently published a conversation about law in colonial Latin America with Dr. Bianca Premo, Professor of History at Florida International University. Their piece is published as a part of the History and the Law Project within the Exchanges of Economic, Legal and Political Ideas Programme. The conversation includes discussion of Yannakakis’s digital project, “Power of Attorney,” which we featured in 2018: “Recent Faculty Publications: Q & A with Yanna Yannakakis about ‘Power of Attorney.’”
Read the piece by Yannakakis and Premo here: “On not going to court in colonial Spanish America: A conversation between Bianca Premo and Yanna Yannakakis.”
Congratulations to PhD alumnus Ben Nobbs-Thiessen on the publication of his first monograph – Landscapes of Migration: Mobility and Environmental Change on Bolivia’s Tropical Frontier, 1952 to the Present – with UNC Press. Nobbs-Thiessen is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Washington State University. Dr. Jeffrey Lesser advised Nobbs-Thiessen’s 2016 dissertation, “The Cultivated State, Migrants and the Transformation of the Bolivian Lowlands, 1952-2000.” Read a blurb about the book below and see more on the UNC Press website.
In the wake of a 1952 revolution, leaders of Bolivia’s National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) embarked on a program of internal colonization known as the “March to the East.” In an impoverished country dependent on highland mining, the MNR sought to convert the nation’s vast “undeveloped” Amazonian frontier into farmland, hoping to achieve food security, territorial integrity, and demographic balance. To do so, they encouraged hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Bolivians to relocate from the “overcrowded” Andes to the tropical lowlands, but also welcomed surprising transnational migrant streams, including horse-and-buggy Mennonites from Mexico and displaced Okinawans from across the Pacific.