History Department Adds Latin American Scholars

While the overall size Faculty of Arts and Sciences has remained flat, the History Department has increased the number of professors specializing in Latin American history in the last two years. The expansion is part of the department’s larger effort to restore its faculty in Latin American history after several years with no professors specializing in the field.

“This has been a priority for the department for five years now,” History Department Chair David R. Armitage said. “Student interest in the region is enormous, and we want to make sure that its importance is understood in Harvard and beyond.”

Assistant professor of History Kirsten A. Weld was the first to join the department last year.

“The changing demographic realities of the United States means that there are more people who look around themselves and realize that knowing something about Latin America is necessary to living in the United States,” she said.

Weld, who specializes in 20th century Mexican and Central American history, also noted that her classes have had students from a wide range of backgrounds. Weld also explained that many more students at Harvard now are of Latino and Latin American descent compared to previous years.


“Most of my classes have been productive and interesting mixes of people who have a pre-existing interest in history as a discipline and people who have a pre-existing interest in Latin America as a region, and when you get those two groups of people together you have wonderful classroom discussions,” she added.

Besides geopolitical reasons, a driving force behind the recent hires of faculty specializing in Latin American history was the retirement of three professors, including John H. Coatsworth, who is now Provost at Columbia University. The History Department went several years without having a faculty member specifically devoted to Latin America.

In addition to Weld, Tamar Herzog and Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics, were also appointed as faculty members. The department is also planning to present an offer to Sidney Chalhoub from the University of Campinas in Brazil to join the senior faculty.

Herzog, who specializes in early modern Iberian history, says that she is excited about her move to Harvard.

“It’s a very dynamic place,” she said. “I was looking for a place where I could have interesting colleagues and students, and I’m hoping to learn from everyone here.”

After several years without faculty specializing in Latin American history, the newly appointed professors voiced their excitement about the prospects of rebuilding their program.

“We’ve sort of come out into the sunshine,” Weld said. “Being able to be a part of that is wonderful because you can see that there’s so much faculty interest and getting to be a part of that exciting new frontier, this new moment of history at Harvard, is wonderfully exciting.”

—Staff writer Michael Avi-Yonah can be reached at

—Staff writer Hamna M. Nazir can be reached at Follow her on twitter @HamnaMNazir.