¡Viva la historia!

History department’s recent expansion a positive step

After several years without any professors specializing in Latin American history, Harvard has seen a significant expansion of the field with the addition of three new specialized faculty members within the history department over the past two years. We applaud the recent decisions of the history department to develop the field of Latin American history as way to diversify the education made available to students, as well as the culture of the university as a whole.

The field of Latin American studies has generally been an overlooked one at Harvard, as evidenced not only by its dearth of faculty members, but also by its absence in the catalogue of primary concentrations. African and African American Studies, East Asian Studies, Germanic Language and Literatures, Romance Language and Literatures, Slavic Literatures and Cultures, South Asian Studies, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations all exist as concentrations at the college, spread out across several departments, while none exist that pertain specifically to Latin America.


This has not been for lack of student attention or interest. Indeed, two Undergraduate Council tickets last semester advocated for the establishment of a new degree program in Latino and Latin American studies. Former UC President Tara Raghuveer ’14 and Vice President Jen Q. Zhu ’14 also supported the same policy more than a year ago when the pair ran for office, with little to no progress made on the issue.

From 2009 to 2020, there will be a 46 percent increase in Latino students in the U.S., compared to a 25 percent increase for both African Americans and Asians/Pacific Islanders. Harvard has been following such a trend for years, as Latinos made up 12 percent of admitted students last year versus 8.5 percent in 2003. This growth in current Harvard Latino students, along with the future growth to come, highlights an increase in demand as well as the University’s efforts to increase diversity through programs such as affirmative action. However, this goal is compromised if Harvard’s education cannot parallel its own professed ideology. The History Department’s recent faculty additions offer congruence with the University’s pursuit of diversity—along with its commitment to excellence in scholarship—and should be commended.

Former President of Harvard University Abbott Lawrence Lowell said that “a well-educated man must know a little bit of everything and one thing well.” Mastering one area of study is no problem for students at Harvard, but knowing “a little bit of everything” certainly can be when our own college leaves a Latin American void on the world map. The History Department is taking a much-needed step to fill this void by hiring three scholars in Latin American history, and we hope other departments will take similar steps.


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