Publication Date

November 1, 2023

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam


Military, Political, Social

Francis A. Dutra

Francis A. Dutra. Courtesy Lissa Dutra.

Francis A. Dutra, a historian of early modern Portugal and Brazil at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), died in March 2021. Frank was not only a learned and careful scholar but also a superb mentor to generations of graduate students and a kind, gracious, and generous colleague.

Born in 1938 to Francis and Dorothy Dutra in New York City, Frank grew up in Warren, Rhode Island. He earned his BA at St. Bonaventure University in 1960 before entering the interdisciplinary program in Portuguese and Brazilian history at New York University. He was fascinated with early Brazil, and unusual for that time, he was interested in Brazilian Indigenous peoples.

Frank came to UCSB in 1967, shortly before completing his PhD, where he joined the distinguished historian of Mexico Philip Wayne Powell in creating a graduate field in Latin American history. The two also helped found the interdisciplinary BA and MA program in Hispanic civilization, as a collaboration between the Departments of History, and Spanish and Portuguese. When it later became the Latin American and Iberian Studies Program, with a broader interdisciplinary scope, Frank remained a stalwart member and served as interim director.

Frank’s scholarly work focused on the imperial, political, and social history of colonial Brazil and early modern Portugal. He focused particularly on the military orders, social mobility, and gender issues. The military orders were founded on the Iberian Peninsula during the lengthy Christian struggle against the Muslims, and they came to be so wealthy and powerful that in Portugal the relatively weak and less wealthy monarchy sought to gain control over them. As Portugal began its age of exploration, major players in that enterprise were members of a military order, including Prince Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama. Frank published many essays on the military orders over the years, which were collected in Military Orders in the Early Modern Portuguese World (Ashgate, 2006). Although military order membership was a roster of Portugal’s elite men, his research also examined marginalized men of color and men’s sexuality. With Harold Johnson, he co-edited Pelo Vaso Traseiro: Sodomy and Sodomites in Luso-Brazilian History (Fenestra Books, 2007). Frank contributed a number of articles to flagship journals in his field, along with many articles for reference works such as the Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, which offered basic information in short form written for a general readership in the predigital age. Editors could count on Frank to deliver succinct, well-written, signed articles that could answer many readers’ questions. He also served his fellow scholars with the publication of A Guide to the History of Brazil, 1500–1822: The Literature in English (ABC-Clio, 1980), a comprehensive report on the current scholarship.

In May 2021, an informal memorial session took place at a Zoom conference at UCSB, where many former graduate students shared remembrances of Frank’s mentorship. Especially moving were the comments by nontraditional students who earned their doctorates in history. One student recalled, “He had a sly way of asking questions that pushed my understanding without making me think I’d missed the point of something.” Another expressed initially feeling like an outsider in academia and that Frank’s encouragement in her first year as an MA student was crucial to her thriving in the program. One re-entry student had had a previous career as an electrical engineer and computer scientist. Frank saw that this South Asian man already had a deep connection to Portuguese overseas history because of his family’s links to the former Portuguese colony of Goa. Frank recognized the promise and passion in his students and encouraged perseverance and patience.

During his long career, Frank delighted in spending time in Portuguese archives, Lisbon’s cafés, and the country’s glorious historical sites. A devoted family man, he was survived by his wife, Mary Ann McIntosh (who died in 2022); daughters Barbara (also now deceased), Lissa, and Cristina Dutra; and stepchildren, Kerry, Richard, and Kyle McIntosh. His colleagues and former students are left grateful for his example as a scholar, a colleague, and a mentor.

Sarah Cline
University of California, Santa Barbara (emerita)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.