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Women in Latin American History

            I am requesting a full-year sabbatical leave from July 2006 through June 2007 to conduct research and to design a new course on the changing roles women have played in Latin American history.  This sabbatical services the needs of our students, the University, and the broader academic community through advancing Truman’s mission of offering an exemplary undergraduate education grounded in the liberal arts and sciences.  It represents a converging of my teaching and research interests, and will culminate in both a new course and publications.
            I was hired as a Latin Americanist in 1999 as part of an effort to diversify the history curriculum.  History majors need to take two non-western classes, and there is a constant high demand for more Latin American courses.  In addition to introducing students to a major geographic area that is often marginalized in historical studies, I also attempt to present the experiences of Indians, peasants, slaves, women and others who are often written out of history.  This sabbatical will allow me to develop a new history course that places gender at the center of analysis of the lived experiences of Latin Americans, which will provide history majors with a richer and more well rounded liberal arts education.
            This sabbatical will also benefit the University.  The Women’s and Gender Studies Committee has few WGST course offerings in the History discipline and has requested that I develop a course that includes a strong focus on feminist/gender perspectives and other issues of equity.  As a first step, I modified my JINS 338 course Race and Ethnicity in Latin America for the Spring 2005 semester to engage issues of race, class, and gender.  The new course I wish to develop emphasizes the gender component, and will strengthen the WGST program and the University as a whole.  This sabbatical will also enhance by ability to mentor undergraduate student research projects on gender in Latin America, extending the benefits of the sabbatical well beyond the confines of the history program.
            Finally, academic studies of women and gender in Latin America is a relatively new field that tends to lag behind that of the United States and Europe.  Through conference presentations and peer-reviewed publications, this sabbatical will contribute to historical knowledge of the roles of Indigenous women in Latin America.  Engaging a broader literature will foster my growth and development as a teacher-scholar which, in turn, will return significant benefits to our students and the university in general.
            My time on this project will alternative between background reading on feminist theory and the history of gender in Latin America, research into primary source archival documents, educational travel to observe women’s projects, designing a new course on women and gender in Latin America, and drafting an academic paper on Indigenous women in Latin American.  These are not discrete, progressive, or linear stages, but aspects that out of necessity interact and inform each other.  They also require extended residency away from the University.  I will be working on all five aspects during the tenure of the sabbatical leave.
            My background readings will focus both on the history of women and gender in Latin America, and more broadly on feminist theory.  Through book in academic journals, I have identified fifteen recent books on women and gender in Latin America that will be useful to read during the course of this sabbatical (see appendix).  I will rely on the assistance of colleagues both here at Truman and elsewhere to supplement these with broader readings outside of the field of Latin America in feminist theory and the history of gender and women’s studies.  These readings will help me interrogate and interpret material I encounter in the archives, as well better understand what I observe in my educational travels.  At the same time, I will be searching for reading material appropriate for my proposed course on women in Latin America.  These readings will also provide critical background information and a theoretical framework for my academic writings on Indigenous women.
            Taking ideas from these readings, I will conduct archival research in Latin America.  Primary source documents are the fundamental building blocks of the history discipline, and archival research is the primary manner through which we create new knowledge and remain engaged teacher-scholars.  This requires extended residency in Latin America that becomes impractical without a sabbatical.  I plan to spend September through November of 2006 reviewing the holdings of the Ministry of Government archive in Quito, Ecuador, with a followup visit in the spring to fill in gaps in my research.  This archive holds official correspondence that documents political activities in rural communities and will allow me to analyze the role gender played in Indigenous mobilizations in Ecuador.  I have previously conducted historical research in Ecuador and have briefly visited this archive in order to verify this project’s viability, but this sabbatical will provide the first opportunity to delve deeply into this little known and used collection.  Archival research will provide me with new material for research papers, as well as instructional purposes at Truman, particularly in my new course on Latin American women.
            A sabbatical will also allow me to conduct educational travel to observe women’s projects in Latin America, providing me with direct insights into how gender is constructed.  My academic and archival readings will help me understand how the uses of gender have varied over time and place and in different class and racial settings.  I have also come to realize that observing contemporary happenings helps me better understand and interpret historical events.  Some of these observations will build off of contacts that I have already established.  For example, I work on the web page for a training school for female Indigenous leaders in Ecuador, the Escuela de Formación de Mujeres Lideres “Dolores Cacuango” ( and will observe the internal workings of this organization.  I will also participate in study tours that examine the roles of women, such as the U.S.-Nicaragua Women’s Empowerment Project (, a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) summer seminar (, and a Global Exchange’s Reality Tour (  I will space these observations throughout the sabbatical year, allowing me time to maximize the experiences through background readings, time for reflections, and writing about them.  These experiences will provide rich ethnographic material for my proposed course on Latin America women.  Direct experiences and observations make material read out of a book come alive, allowing me to be a much better and more effective teacher.  These experiences in Latin America will help me advance Truman’s mission of offering our students an exemplary liberal arts and sciences education.
            Utilizing the material from my readings, research, and educational travel, I will design a new course on The History of Women in Latin America that I tentatively plan to teach during the spring semester of 2008.  This upper-division history course will provide a comprehensive overview of the roles women have played in Latin America, from the beginnings of human inhabitation to the present.  We will analyze the actions of specific women, such as the Malinche, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Evita, and Rigoberta Menchú, and what they can teach us about construction of gender in Latin America.  We will also examine major historiographic themes such as the meanings of marianismo, motherhood, feminism, and political activism (such as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina).  In addition, we will interrogate how experiences of gender vary by race, class, age, geography, and time period.  This course will service the needs both of the Women’s and Gender Studies Committee that seeks more history course offerings to fill out its program, as well as the needs of the history discipline that is always in want of non-western course offerings to meet the distribution requirements for our majors.  I will work on lectures, assignments, and other activities for this course over the entire year, and will have a syllabus ready to present to the WGST and history discipline at the beginning of the 2007 fall semester.  I will be able to work this course into my regular rotation, teaching it every two years.  Given these needs and demands, I do not foresee any difficulty in moving this course through faculty governance in time to teach during the spring semester of 2008.
            Based on these readings, archival research, educational travel, and course preparation, I plan to write an academic paper interrogating gender politics in Latin American Indigenous movements.  Historians have traditionally assumed that gender relations from the dominant white/mestizo society are replicated in Indigenous society.  Anthropologists, however, observe that women are often the carriers of a culture, being the ones most likely to speak an Indigenous language, wear traditional dress, engage in religious rituals, and pass these traditions on to the next generation.  Political scientists note how women use their gender and motherhood as protected space to press political demands, with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina often given as a prime example of this phenomena.  There has been little attention paid, however, to the role gender and motherhood plays in Indigenous movements.  Do their internal structures replicate gender relations common in the dominant culture, or do they reflect the beliefs and sensibilities of Indigenous communities?  Do Indigenous activists make use of motherhood to advance a political agenda similar to how white activists have done?  My article will be an interdisciplinary analysis of these political uses of gender and motherhood.  I will work on these ideas at the same time as I prepare my course syllabus, and plan to present a draft of this paper at the Latin American Studies Association meeting in October 2007and Truman’s Women’s History Month conference in March 2008.  Feedback from these conferences will not only help me revise the paper for publication in a venue such as the Journal of Latin American Studies or Latin American Research Review, but it will also give me new ideas to incorporate in my course on Latin American women.
            My training as a social historian focusing on the experiences of common people in Latin America provides me with the academic qualifications for this project.  Much of my research and teaching interests to this point have engaged issues of race and ethnicity, particularly the experiences of Indigenous peoples.  Only rather incidentally have I examined the role of Indigenous women, who often face a triple discrimination of class oppression, racial discrimination, and gender repression.  My colleagues both at Truman as well as elsewhere have recognized my sensitivity to these issues and have encouraged and fostered these interests.  At Truman, the Women’s and Gender Studies Committee has encouraged me to develop this class.  The Women’s Resource Center also invited me to be a member of their Faculty Advisory Board.  Elsewhere, I have presented conference papers on the roles of women in Indigenous movements in Ecuador and have published two book chapters on this topic.  I have also been asked to present a paper on gender in Ecuador at a panel at the Conference of Latin American History in January 2006.  Since I am increasingly being encouraged to teach, present, and write on these issues, it is important that I develop a more formal and grounded understanding of the field of gender studies.  A sabbatical will be mutually beneficial for the University, our students, and the broader academic community.

Recent Books on Women and Gender in Latin America

Abbassi, Jennifer and Sheryl Lutjens. Rereading women in Latin America and the Caribbean: The political economy of gender. Latin American perspectives in the classroom. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.
Auyero, Javier. Contentious lives two Argentine women, two protests, and the quest for recognition. Latin America otherwise. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.
Baldez, Lisa. Why women protest: Women's movements in Chile. Cambridge studies in comparative politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Craske, Nikki and Maxine Molyneux, ed. Gender and the politics of rights and democracy in Latin America. Women's studies at York series (Palgrave (Firm)). Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York, N.Y: Palgrave, 2002.
Dore, Elizabeth and Maxine Molyneux, eds. Hidden histories of gender and the state in Latin America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.
González, Victoria and Karen Kampwirth. Radical women in Latin America: left and right. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.
Gutmann, Matthew C., ed. Changing men and masculinities in Latin America. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.
Hutchison, Elizabeth Q. Labors appropriate to their sex: Gender, labor, and politics in urban Chile, 1900-1930. Latin America otherwise. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.
Kampwirth, Karen. Feminism and the legacy of revolution: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas. Ohio University research in international studies. Latin America series: Research in international studies, no. 43. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004.
________. Women & guerrilla movements: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas, Cuba. University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.
Maloof, Judy. Voices of resistance: testimonies of Cuban and Chilean women. Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
Molyneux, Maxine. Women's movements in international perspective: Latin America and beyond. New York: Palgrave, c2001.
Montoya, Rosario, Lessie Jo Frazier, and Janise Hurtig, eds. Gender's Place: Feminist anthropologies of Latin America. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
Power, Margaret. Right-wing women in Chile feminine power and the struggle against Allende, 1964-1973. University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, c2002.
Reuque Paillalef, Rosa Isolde and Florencia E Mallon. When a flower is reborn: The life and times of a Mapuche feminist. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.

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