Outstanding Academic Titles 2022: Latin America

This week we highlight 2022 Outstanding Academic Titles pertaining to Latin America

1. The Gray zones of medicine: healers and history in Latin America
ed. by Diego Armus and Pablo F. Gómez Pittsburgh, 2021

In this thought-provoking collection, contributors reconstruct the lives of individual healers whose enduring contributions reshape understandings of how medical knowledge evolved and circulated in Latin America. Through 12 biographical narratives spanning five centuries, The Gray Zones of Medicine provides insight into how individual health practitioners negotiated their way through what editors Armus (Swarthmore College) and Gómez (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) refer to as the “interstitial spaces” of medicine. Examining themes such as how non-traditional practitioners often wielded power that threatened their licensed counterparts and how they negotiated healing within the confines of slavery while challenging cultural norms, Gray Zones reveals how these practitioners often learned their craft through trial and error, so healing practices were usually defined by local knowledge of the environment. By contextualizing each individual in a unique time and space, this work reveals the rich interactions that transcended social and ethnic classes as well as urban and rural environments and how this multifaceted generational transmission of knowledge continues to upend gender norms and serve indigenous populations. View on Amazon

2. Moral majorities across the Americas: Brazil, the United States, and the creation of the religious Right
Cowan, Benjamin A. North Carolina, 2021

Cowan’s work is a major milestone in the recent history of the religious Right. Moving away from a traditional focus on the US, Cowan’s masterfully researched monograph illustrates how the rise of evangelicalism in the late 20th century was a truly transnational phenomenon, one in which Brazil was a major contributor. Beginning with a conservative minority of bishops’ resistance to the Second Vatican Council, Cowan (Univ. of California, San Diego) demonstrates that, beginning in the 1960s, Brazilians domestically and internationally laid the groundwork for modern evangelical conservative politics—based on anti-communism, anti-ecumenism, anti-modernism, anti-rationalism, anti-egalitarianism, and eventually, neoliberalism—that would shape the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Such efforts benefited from the support of Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964–85), whose own ideological attitudes among both leadership and the security apparatuses overlapped with evangelical conservative religious attitudes. Drawing on archives in the US and Brazil, Cowan’s work shows how the religious Right’s entrance onto the political stage was a truly transnational phenomenon that brought Brazilian and US actors into dialogue with one another and shaped each other’s movements. View on Amazon

3. The power of their will: slaveholding women in nineteenth-century Cuba
Prados-Torreira, Teresa. Alabama, 2021

This fascinating book explores the unique circumstances of white slaveholding women in 19th-century Cuba and the enslaved peoples they controlled. The subject of women slaveholders and their interactions with their enslaved workers has been largely overlooked in broader discussions of Cuban cultural history. These complex relationships were negotiated differently between urban contexts, such as Havana, and the rural contexts of coffee and sugar plantations. The urban/rural dichotomy outlined here examines the occupational differences of enslaved workers and reveals distinct strategies slaveholding women used to navigate the patriarchal structures of 19th-century Cuban society. Unlike their male counterparts, slaveholding women were anomalous, yet they actively upheld the coercive structures of slavery. Prados-Torreira (Columbia College Chicago) skillfully investigates newspapers, travelers’ accounts, government documents, and other documentary sources to build her study. Chapter 4 is dedicated entirely to the examination of slaveholding women’s wills, which sheds new light on the dynamics of Cuban slavery and offers new avenues for illuminating the lives of slaveholding Cuban women. View on Amazon

4. Fueling Mexico: energy and environment, 1850–1950
Vergara, Germán. Cambridge, 2021

In this important study, Vergara (Georgia Institute of Technology) explains Mexico’s uneven transition from a solar energy regime to oil dependency. In 1850, Mexico’s energy came from the sun—draft animals, forests, water, and wind provided power. As the nation industrialized, these natural energies proved insufficient, and, to complicate matters, the country did not possess enough coal to mimic US or British energy practices. Mexico was nonetheless well situated to take advantage of the global transition to oil in the first half of the 20th century, enabling it to pursue economic development at unprecedented levels. Importantly, the private sector and its government allies sponsored this transition. Formerly produced mainly for kerosene and lubricants, oil dramatically transformed Mexican politics and society despite popular reluctance to use it at home. Major cities could grow only so large under the old solar energy regime, and oil-based development facilitated patchy urbanization, heightened social differences, and underlay the green revolution. Currently, the same actors who encouraged Mexico’s transition to oil largely oppose returning to renewable energies. View on Amazon

5Contact strategies: histories of native autonomy in Brazil
Roller, Heather F. Stanford, 2021

It is rare when a respected researcher revisits her work and comes to a totally different conclusion about its meaning. However, that is exactly what Roller (Colgate Univ.) has done in her important new book. She originally concluded that distinct differences existed between Indigenous groups that had been “incorporated into the colonial system … and those who were not” (p. 3). Roller now eschews that notion in favor of a view that advances Native inhabitants’ autonomy rather than their resilience. She argues that peace must be understood from a “Native perspective” (p. 88), not just a colonialist one, and that peace treaties were not fixed but “tested, renegotiated, and sometimes nearly broken” (p. 89) by Indigenous agency. The result is nothing less than a total revision in thinking about Brazilian Native groups’ colonialist/Indigenous strategies. Roller’s analysis continues through the independence period of the 19th century, with its numerous attempts to force Indigenous inhabitants off the land, to the present day in which Native groups strategize to celebrate their cultures. View on Amazon

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