AHA Member Spotlight: Cristina Soriano
Cristina Soriano is an associate professor at Villanova University. She lives in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and has been a member since 2010.
Alma maters: BA (anthropology), Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1999; MA (history), New York University, 2004; PhD (history), New York University, 2011
Fields of Interest: communication, literacy, information networks, inter-imperial relations, Age of Revolutions, Spanish and British Caribbean
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
As an undergraduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, I specialized in linguistics. I was interested in analyzing the interface between written and oral media in semi-literate societies, and how literacy was used as an instrument of power. I also worked as a research assistant in a project developing discourse analysis methodology to study 18th-century colonial documents. The more I looked into these documents, the more curious I became about literacy dynamics in colonial societies. My undergrad thesis focused on the history of books and reading practices in 18th-century Caracas.
After I graduated, I searched for different PhD programs in anthropology; a professor at NYU’s Department of Anthropology encouraged me to apply to the history department where, he argued, “you will find more people interested in your research project.” This was, with no doubt, the best advice I have received in my career; it was a game changer. I learned to look into the common spaces both disciplines share, and the ways their methodologies intersect and complement each other. Today, I see myself as an interdisciplinary scholar who, centered on the perceptions and experiences of the historical “other,” continues exploring anthropological questions about power, communication dynamics, and social networks in past societies.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
I live in a small town 30 minutes away from Philadelphia. Moving from a big and vibrant city like Caracas to the quiet town of Wayne required some adjustment. One of the things I enjoy the most about living here is how green it is. I particularly enjoy my walks to Valley Forge Park. At Villanova, I have found a welcoming and supporting community, I feel particularly fortunate for my colleagues at the Department of History.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently co-editing the Cambridge Companion to Latin American Independence and I am working on a new project on the effects of imperial transition and colonial experimentation in the Island of Trinidad.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
My interests have expanded geographically and chronologically, but I am still fascinated with the study of communication strategies and knowledge transmission in the colonial world. These days, I am exploring inter-imperial information networks, intelligentsia-sharing, and colonial experimentation in the Caribbean during the Age of Revolutions.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
I have had many exciting findings at the archives, but these two are memorable: an early 1800s notebook in which an agent of the Inquisition kept all his notes about people in Caracas suspected of owning prohibited books, and a letter from José Leonardo Chirino (the leader of the 1795 Black Rebellion of Coro) addressed to the chief of the Indigenous town of Pecaya, asking him to join forces to confront the colonial government. Chirino was illiterate, but he dictated the letter to a soldier who had been apprehended by the rebels.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
Many books have shaped my approach to the study of the past. Venezuelan anthropologist Miguel Acosta Saigne’s book Vida de Esclavos Negros, Michel Trouillot’s Silencing the Past, Emilia Viotti da Costa’s Crowns of Glory, and Ann Laura Stoler’s Along the Archival Grain opened new paths for exploration and reflection. I enjoy listening to Liz Covart’s podcast Ben Frankin’s World.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
History is a discipline that requires both risky creativity and balance. Doing history is a fascinating exercise of letting our imagination go wild while keeping our interpretation grounded on the evidence. It is a practice that keeps you constantly curious and eager to dig deeper.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
AHA is an information community that connects all sort of people (historians, teachers, students, storytellers, political activists, publishers, and community leaders) seeking to understand the complex forces that produce change. I value the knowledge that this community shares and the generosity of its members.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
My most memorable AHA meeting anecdote is from 2019, when my book Tides of Revolution received the Bolton-Johnson Award at the CLAH lunch meeting. Receiving this award in NYC, in the company of my advisor and some of my great NYU colleagues, made me feel that “the wheel has come full circle.”
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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