Intersecting Lines

Are Academic Job Ads Conflating Latino and Latin American History?

Celso Thomas Castilho and Sara Kozameh | Feb 20, 2024

A surprising development is taking place in the field of modern Latin American history. Over the last two years, one-third of the job advertisements for this field’s tenured and tenure-track positions have called for related teaching and research expertise in Latino/x history. Historically, the fields of Latin American and Latinx history have been configured separately. The two fields have different histories, as well as their own training programs, professional associations, and scholarly journals. So why is this happening, and moreover, why now?

Close up of a map of North America and South America

Job listings seem to be blurring the difference between the fields of Latin American and Latinx history. Leon Overweel/Unsplash

Curious to make sense of this trend, we began to compile lists of job ads for recent years. These ads indeed reveal broader dynamics taking place in our discipline, particularly in regard to student demographics and the projects of historical fields of study.

We culled the tenure-stream job ads based in the United States and hiring for “modern Latin America” from two of the most widely used job boards in the field: H-Net.org and the Academic Jobs Wiki. The increase in crossover announcements—ads that call for expertise in both Latin American and Latinx history—is plain when viewed over a five-year term. From 2018–20, we found no positions that bridged both fields. Then suddenly, for the 2021 and 2022 job cycles, 15 out of a total of 44 tenure-track ads called for background in both fields (Fig. 1). This is significant for our field: together these “bridge positions” represent 34 percent of the jobs listed in the last two years.

Fig. 1: Tenure-track positions in modern Latin American history, 2019–23.

We wondered, as others have, what could be driving the new spate of job ads, realizing that they raise a series of practical challenges. From the perspective of recent PhDs entering the academic job market, the coupled job ads pressure scholars to justify expertise in a field that they likely had very little to no training in. How are applicants to demonstrate an engagement in both fields when most journals and associations of Latin American history, for example, do not span into Latinx history? What about their committee members and letter writers, who also made careers in contexts where Latin American and Latino histories were considered separate and rarely intersecting projects? If these coupled job ads continue to represent the same proportion of academic positions in coming years, PhD programs and the discipline need to account for these changes.

Other concerns abound. It would be important to know, for example, if the hiring of one assistant professor in both fields—with one hire expected to cover the fields traditionally covered by two—is leading to hiring cuts or being driven by them. These ads do not appear to be capturing a movement from informal campus teaching expectations into formal requirements. While research in these fields will sometimes engage overlapping populations and geographies, the two are not interchangeable. At some level, then, we have to ask if deans, department chairs, and search committees may be seeing crossover ads as a way to recruit more Latinx applicants.

We believe a greater reckoning is due regarding the projects of Latin American and Latino histories, one that is more attuned to recent demographic changes in higher education. Latinos now represent nearly 20 percent of US college students. As two US-raised Latinx historians of Latin America, we believe this student growth represents more than just a changing face of higher education; it provides a basis from which to think critically about knowledge production and the articulation of fields.

How can applicants demonstrate engagement in both fields when most journals of Latin American history do not span into Latinx history?

One factor that deserves more attention is that this is happening at a time of historic shifts in Latinx higher education and as universities work to hire faculty who are more representative of their student bodies. One of the job ads we examined, for an assistant professor of Latinx and Latin American history at the University of California, San Diego, explicitly grounded its search in terms of the university’s growing Latinx student body and the university’s mission to obtain the status of a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI; defined as a federally recognized two- or four-year institution with at least 25 percent Latino enrollment). Created by the federal government in the 1990s, the HSI designation makes colleges eligible for extra federal funding.

In the last 40 years, the number of Hispanics in the United States has more than quadrupled. There are now over 62.1 million Latinos, who represent 18.7 percent of the total population. Latinx enrollment in US higher education has followed suit, nearly doubling over the last 15 years. This growth stands in direct contrast to what analysts predict is a looming fall in college enrollment, connected to the plunge in US birth rates that occurred after the 2008 Great Recession. In other words, even as the total number of college enrollment falls, the number and share of Latino students enrolling in higher education is projected to continue growing.

It’s not surprising, then, that institutions obtaining HSI status have exploded in recent years. As of 2021–22, there were 571 HSIs, spread across 30 states. This is almost double the 311 HSIs recognized in 2010. With another 401 schools currently characterized as “emerging HSIs” (defined as having 15–24 percent Latinx enrollment), we can anticipate the continued expansion of HSIs. Finally, a majority of Latinx college students—62 percent—are enrolled in HSIs, with new student movements invigorating the HSI mission.

The relationship between HSIs and bridge positions matter beyond a demographic analysis—they may well influence the direction of our fields and institutions. From the 15 crossover ads that we analyzed, it is striking that nine came from minority-serving institutions (MSIs), a category broader than HSI that incorporates historically Black colleges and universities, Asian American and Pacific Islander–serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities. A connection is evident: 66 percent of the crossover job ads we found came from MSIs or emerging HSIs. It is not off base to surmise, then, that the increase in Latino enrollment in higher education is influencing the creation of particular kinds of job ads.

Whether or not pairing the fields persists in job ads, they have already compelled us to reflect about the relationship between the fields. In thinking about their links, new questions emerge about the project of Latin American history, especially within the context of growing Latino college enrollment. Presumably, the demographic change is also bearing on field-level discussions in Latino history. To be clear, our end goal is not to argue that the fields have been or should be collapsed. Instead, this is a provocation for historians—within all subfields—to think about how Latinx college enrollment is changing our discipline and how we should respond.

This is a provocation for historians—within all subfields—to think about how Latinx college enrollment is changing our discipline and how to respond.

Could we be living amid the kind of sociohistorical change that in the past has produced scholarly turns in Latin American history? Fields of study are, after all, historically contingent. A century ago, joint US business and diplomatic interests gave impetus to the study of Latin America, which in its institutionalization produced a unified and geographically coherent sense of the region. Later, with the onset of the Cold War and the Cuban Revolution, state funding scaled to new heights, radically expanding the infrastructure and directions of the field. The Latin American diaspora today—estimated at 75 million people worldwide—could well mark a new turning point within the longer history of the fields.

It bears repeating that while Latin American history grew from US geopolitical interests, the field of Latino history was born from social movements and student struggles for representation. A legacy of the development of Chicano/a and Puerto Rican studies in the 1960s and ’70s, it is largely situated within the field of US history. With these different trajectories, and save perhaps for historians who focus on the US-Mexico border, the scholarship has remained largely separate.

Yet the sheer size of the Latin American diaspora—which in the aggregate would represent the third-largest country of Latin America—is expanding the geographies of Latinidades. The political, cultural, and economic relevance of Latinos in the United States is consequential in Latin America. Similarly, Latin American diasporic communities in Europe, Asia, and Africa are increasingly present in Latin American realities. Scholars of Afro-Latino and Afro–Latin American studies have explored these questions in interdisciplinary spaces. Attentive to processes of migration and diaspora, they are interrogating connections across both fields. The fast-growing Latinx section of the Latin American Studies Association represents another shift toward structural integration of the Latino and Latin American fields.

What would it mean, then, to rethink the project of Latin American history through the question of diaspora? The dynamic is one gestured toward but not fully captured in the crossover ads. Taking seriously people’s movement to, from, and within the Americas allows us to approach questions about knowledge production differently. It makes thinkable a history of Latin America beyond the geographic boundaries that have long structured the field. Fundamentally, it implies a recognition that the US Latinx experience matters to Latin American history, and that the reverse is equally true. We hope that in taking stock of student demographics and diaspora through these job ads, we can productively reengage the projects of our fields.

Celso Thomas Castilho is an associate professor of history and director of the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies at Vanderbilt University; find him on X (formerly Twitter) @celso_thomas. Sara Kozameh is an assistant professor of history at the University of California, San Diego.

Tags: Features Professional Life Latin America Latinx History

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