LACS recently launched a highly anticipated “Central American Contexts” lecture series at U-M. With the media and public fascinated by debates over walls and national security, migrant caravans and US asylum law, families separated in detention centers, and the future of US immigration policy, our series takes a unique look at the debate beyond the US/Mexico border. This series serves as an effort to more deeply contextualize the lived experience of diverse Central Americans and the geographic, social, and political relationship between Central America and southern Mexico.
“This lecture series is critically important for all of us right now,” says LACS Director Victoria Langland, “as we need to connect what we know about the history of Central America and of US-Central American relations with a better understanding of the ongoing plight of asylum-seeking families and individuals.”
LACS kicked off the series on Thursday, October 3, 2019 with the visit of Dr. Casey Lurtz, Assistant Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Lurtz, a historian of Modern Latin America, gave the first lecture of the series titled A Fixed but Porous Border: Nineteenth Century Negotiations over the Guatemala-Mexico Frontier.
Dr. Lurtz’s presentation on the history of Mexico's other border, the southern border with Guatemala, was especially timely as the US turns attention to security forces along Mexico’s southern borders in order to curb migration from Central America. Her lecture expanded on the research for her recent book, “From the Grounds Up: Building an Export Economy in Southern Mexico” (Stanford University Press, 2019), as well as her recent piece on the Stanford University Press blog, What we talk about when we talk about borders: How the Soconusco became a space for migrants, political organizers, and economic opportunity.
Another characteristic that makes the series unique is that five of six speakers are early-career scholars, an intentional choice made to feature the innovative work of recent Ph.D.s, doctoral candidates, and new tenure-track professors whose work has increasingly shifted towards this, until quite recently, understudied region. These voices complement the visit of our featured speaker, Dr. Victoria Gonzalez-Rivera, Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State University and the first woman of Nicaraguan ancestry to obtain a Ph.D. in Latin American History from a U.S. university. Gonzalez-Rivera is a pioneer in the fields of Nicaraguan women’s and LGBTQ history and will participate in class visits and graduate student seminars in addition to her public lecture.
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This event series was made possible with support from a Title VI National Resource Center grant from the US Department of Education as well as with generous contributions from the following University of Michigan units: Department of History, Women’s Studies Department, Institute for Research on Women and Gender: Colonialism, Race, and Sexualities Initiative, Institute for the Humanities, Rackham Graduate School Dean’s Strategic Initiatives Fund, Latina/o Studies Program, and the Department of American Culture.