Annual Meeting Roundup: “Why Puerto Rico Matters to Historians of the United States” Session Preview

This session takes place on Friday, April 13 from 10:00 am to 11:30 am at the 2018 OAH Annual Meeting and is endorsed by the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA).
Twitter: #AM2375

Chair: Van Gosse, Franklin & Marshall College

• Lisa Materson, University of California at Davis
• Teresita Levy, Lehman College, CUNY
• Margaret Power, Illinois Institute of Technology

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Session participants are historians trained in the fields of United States, Latin American, and Caribbean history. We decided to propose this panel after noting that the history of Puerto Rico is all too often ignored. We hope to generate a conversation that will identify action items for the Organization of American Historians to pursue in support of researching and teaching the history of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora. We recognize that few scholars of U.S. history integrate Puerto Rico into their academic, teaching, or research agenda. Equally, very few students know much about Puerto Rico, not even that they are U.S. citizens. Hurricane María, the devastation it created, and the indifference of the U.S. government to the plight of Puerto Ricans, have generated increased interest in the island and in Puerto Ricans living in the United States. At the same time, they have revealed how little most people in this country know about Puerto Rican history, the historical and present dimensions of the U.S. relation with Puerto Rico, and how and why Puerto Ricans have resisted or accepted U.S. rule. We seek to generate historical tools for U.S. historians to address such topics in serving their many audiences.

Roundtable panelists will discuss research on the intersectional histories of women, gender, and race in Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora; Puerto Rico and the U.S. empire; Puerto Rico as a key transnational site; and the treatment of Puerto Rico in U.S. history textbooks and curricula.

We hope attendees will leave convinced that highlighting the history of Puerto Rico in U.S. survey courses, mentoring doctoral students researching the island’s history, and hiring experts on Puerto Rico in U.S. history positions are key avenues for illuminating foundational themes in U.S. history. Puerto Rico offers a prime example of how U.S. colonialism/imperialism has functioned in the world. The ways that Puerto Ricans have resisted U.S. rule of the island and discrimination in the U.S. mainland likewise point to the local and global connections of environmental, reproductive, and racial justice struggles. By centering Puerto Rico in their academic agendas, U.S. historians can help their audiences make sense of U.S. global power and empire, including the current debt, environmental, and demographic crisis that has moved news coverage of Puerto Rico from the margins to the front page of English mainland newspapers. They can also draw attention to the importance of diasporic Puerto Ricans to U.S. political history, to Puerto Rican and Latin American history, to concepts of nationalism, and to the multiple ways Puerto Ricans have resisted, adapted to, and accepted U.S. colonialism.

We also expect that our session will generate working groups on teaching and research. Based on surveying how leading U.S. history textbooks have (or have not) included the history of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in their coverage, we advise a working group to make recommendations to the authors and publishers of those textbooks to remedy deficiencies, and include Puerto Rico as a central representation of U.S. colonialism, domination of the Caribbean, and source for one of the most important recent migrations. We suggest a group that will develop recommendations for curriculum development on the history of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora for U.S. history courses. We also recommend the formation of a working group to enhance collaborations between U.S. historians based in the mainland and historians working in Puerto Rico. Archives in Puerto Rico face significant challenges due to the ongoing debt crisis and the post-María recovery. The session can serve as a site for generating ideas for creating long-term collaborations with academics and archivists in Puerto Rico that will support their recovery and growth without draining resources.

For readers who want to know more about our topics, we recommend César Ayala and Rafael Bernabe, Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History since 1898 (2009); Teresita A. Levy, Puerto Ricans in the Empire: Tobacco Growers and U.S. Colonialism (2014); Margaret Power and Andor Skotnes, eds. Radical History Review issue #128, Puerto Rico: A US Colony in a Postcolonial World? (2017)

Lisa G. Materson is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis, and a specialist in U.S. women's political history. She is the author of For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877–1932 (University of North Carolina Press, 2009). She is a coeditor, with Ellen Hartigan-O'Connor, of the forthcoming “Oxford Handbook in American Women's and Gender History.” She is completing a political biography of Ruth M. Reynolds, a leading activist in the Puerto Rican independence movement.

Teresita Levy is the Director of International Programs and Global Partnerships and an Associate Professor in the Department of Latin American, Latino and Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman College, and Associate Director of the Center of Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her research focuses on the economic history of the Spanish Caribbean. Professor Levy’s book, Puerto Ricans in the Empire: Tobacco Growers and U.S. Colonialism, was published by Rutgers University Press in 2014.

Professor Levy has also worked as a qualitative researcher, moderating groups and conducting in-depth interviews throughout the United States in English and Spanish for over 16 years. She has worked with government agencies such as the NYC Office of Emergency Management, the NYC Department of Health, the NYC Mayor's Office, the NYC Board of Education, Camden Board of Education, and the City of Chicago Office of the Mayor. Her clients have included non-for-profit organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, Share Our Strength, the Ford Foundation, and The Gates Foundation, as well as for-profit corporations, such as McDonald's and Citibank. Her expertise lies in moderating groups that deal with personal, sensitive issues, such as health concerns, sexuality and sexual health, education policy, or caring for elderly relatives or children with disabilities.

Margaret Power is a professor of history at Illinois Tech. She is the author of Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle against Allende, 1964-1973 and co-editor of Right-Wing Women Around the World and New Perspectives on the Transnational Right, as well a number of articles and chapters on the Right. She is a co-author of Hope in Hard Time: Norvelt and the Struggle for Community during the Great Depression (2016). She co-edited Puerto Rico: A U.S. Colony in a Post-Colonial World?, a special issue of Radical History Review forthcoming in 2017. Her current research focuses on the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, a subject on which she is writing a book. She has also published several articles on the Nationalist Party and Puerto Rican nationalism, most recently “Puerto Rican Nationalism in Chicago,” Centro Journal, December 2016. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago.


Van Gosse came to Franklin & Marshall in 2001, after a varied career in academia and the nonprofit sector, including teaching at Wellesley College and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and working for national organizations like Peace Action. His teaching and scholarship have focused on several overlapping areas: American political development and the special role that the African American struggle for citizenship has played in our history; American culture and society in the Cold War era and since. Originally, his scholarship covered the social movements of the United States after World War II, the so-called New Left. This led him to an interest in the long-term political evolution of American democracy and whether or not African Americans would ever be, or could ever be, "first-class citizens." He is now deep into a book project on antebellum black politics, seeking to recover the vibrant electoral and partisan world in which black men participated between 1790 and 1860.
From 2004 through the present, he has helped direct Franklin & Marshall's on-campus "F&M Votes" campaign, a joint student/staff/faculty effort which seeks to both register and turn-out our entire student body on Election Day. He has remained politically active, with Historians Against the War, which he co-founded in 2003 ( Also in 2009, with the help of F&M's College Communications office, he became a regular blogger on Huffington Post; he has published a large number of essays there, focusing on current politics and culture, as well as in The Boston Globe, The New York Times’ “Disunion” blog on the Civil War, in History News Network, and more.

Posted: February 28, 2018
Tagged: Previews, Conference, OAH Works