Interview by Valerie McGinley
Professor Ginny Garrard, Emerita Professor of History and Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin recently spent a month at Tulane working on her latest book. She spent most of her time in The Latin American Library and was a regular fixture at events sponsored by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research. We asked her to reflect on her time while at Tulane.
What is your academic background?
I’m a Tulane graduate, with an M.A. in Latin American Studies and a Ph.D. in History. I was a Ralph Lee Woodward [1934-2022, Emeritus Professor of Latin American History at Tulane] student and I recently retired from the University of Texas at Austin, where I spent almost my entire professional career. I’m now Emerita Professor of History, and Latin American Studies at UT and was also Director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections until August 2020. Prior to that I was Associate Chair of the History Department for many years. I’ve published a dozen books—three monographs, two of which are also published in Spanish, one textbook, and the rest are edited volumes and co-written books.
Where do you live and/or work when not in New Orleans?
Austin, Texas, and Abiquiú, New Mexico.
Please describe your research in general.
I’m a historian of modern Central America. Most of my work has been on some aspect of religion and violence in the region. In recent years, I’ve been heavily involved in post-custodial archiving of rare and endangered Central American Collections. I am still working in both of these areas in retirement.
Why did you want to come to Tulane to be a Greenleaf Distinguished Visiting Scholar?
First, Tulane’s Central American-related resources and library holdings are unsurpassed, and the Special Collections in the Latin American Library (LAL) contain a rich trove of relevant documents that I wanted to consult for my current book project. Second, I really wanted to reengage with Tulane and its strong Latin Americanist community—Tulane is an intellectual querencia for me, and the place that launched me in ways both professional and personal. It felt like a very welcome return home to me to be there.
How did you engage with Latin Americanist faculty and students in the Tulane community?
I was on campus too short a time, honestly, but I really enjoyed reconnecting with the Stone Center faculty and staff, as well as the History faculty specifically—Justin Wolfe, Kris Lane and Felipe Cruz above all. Justin and I sketched out a proposal for a major conference on authoritarianism in Central America that we’d like to bring together in 2024.
I also met regularly with Karrie Gaspard, a doctoral student in Sociology in the City, Culture, and Community program. Karrie is writing her dissertation on Christian Nationalism in the US and had contacted me prior to my Greenleaf fellowship to ask about linkages between Christian Nationalism in the US and Latin America (which is something I’ve been writing about). Our conversations were so promising that we are planning to propose a shared presentation at the AAR (American Academy of Religion) on this topic.
What did you accomplish during your time at Tulane?
A month is not nearly as long as I’d imagined! But it was a fruitful time that I was able to use efficiently. I was able to get through all the primary materials I’d wanted to see in Special Collections, and to locate material in the library that I’d been unable to locate anywhere else. Most importantly, this fellowship gave me the time and mental space to conceptually block out the book I’m planning to write—I had been stuck, and this time to devote to it exclusively was exactly what I needed to get un-stuck.
What have you learned about Tulane and/or the Stone Center or Library that has been unexpected?
Quite honestly, it made me wonder what my career would have been like if I’d ended up teaching and researching at a private university like Tulane rather than a big public one.
I was pleasantly surprised at how dynamic the student program is. This is a hard time for area studies and liberal arts more generally and although I’m aware that LAS major numbers have dropped, the program seemed very vigorous to me. The director mentioned that there is a move to include more Latinx materials in the program, which to me seems a mistake—Latin American Studies and ethnic studies aren’t the same thing—but that’s just my opinion. I couldn’t help but be impressed with how many new graduate students the Stone Center is admitting. Bravo!
Any further observations about your time spent here?
The library staff was extraordinarily welcoming and helpful to me—I could not ask for better care! I was also elated by all the resources I could locate for my project. But I have to say, the physical plant of the LAL is decrepit. I was a student here from 1979-1986 and spent many hours in that library –and it’s JUST THE SAME AS IT WAS THEN. Tulane is a wealthy university and should be willing to invest in renovating this jewel in its crown. On the other hand, the new scanner they have on the 6th floor is PHENOMENAL.
Virginia Garrard Biography from the UT at Austin website:
Virginia Garrard is Professor Emerita of History at the University of Texas at Austin and past Director of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. She was recently the Greenleaf Distinguished Scholar in Latin American Studies at Tulane University. Her most recent monograph is Faces of God in Latin America: Emerging Forms of Vernacular Christianity (Oxford, 2020). She is the author of Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala Under General Efraín Ríos Montt, 1982-1983 (Oxford University Press, 2010); Terror en la tierra del Espiritu Santo (Guatemala: AVANCSO, 2012); Viviendo en La Nueva Jerusalem (Guatemala: Editorial Piedra Santa, 2009), and Protestantism in Guatemala: Living in the New Jerusalem (University of Texas Press, 1998). She is co-authored with Peter Henderson and Bryan McCann of Latin America and the Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2018). She co-edited with David Orique and Susan Fitzpatrick Behrens of The Oxford Handbook of Latin American Christianity (Oxford, 2020), served as co-editor with Stephen Dove and Paul Freston on The Cambridge History of Religions in Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Along with Mark Atwood Lawrence and Julio Moreno, she edited Beyond the Eagle's Shadow: New Histories of Latin America's Cold War (University of New Mexico Press, 2013). She served as single editor for On Earth as it is in Heaven: Religion and Society in Latin America (Scholarly Resources, 2000) and co-edited with David Stoll, Rethinking Protestantism in Latin America (Temple University Press, 1993). She is currently researching a new book on revolutionary Catholic priests in Central America during the 1970s and 1980s.