AHA Member Spotlight: Edward Polanco

Edward Polanco is a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona. He lives in Tucson, Arizona, and has been a member since 2013. 

Edward Polanco is a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona.

Website: www.eapolanco.com

Twitter: @eapolanco

Alma maters: BA, University of California, Riverside, 2007; MA, University of California, Riverside, 2011

Fields of interest: Latin America, gender, indigenous peoples, medicine, religion

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? I developed a strong affinity for history in middle school. In high school, a couple of school field trips to local universities made it clear to me that I wanted to be a history professor. After I graduated from high school, I went to the University of California, Riverside, as a history major.

Though I took courses in Latin American history, at the time I had a deeper attraction to US history. I was particularly interested in women’s experiences in the antebellum period. I returned to my alma mater for my MA degree in history, this time opting to focus on Latin America with a minor in 19th-century US history. During my MA studies, I was fortunate to receive funding to conduct research in Mexico City for a month. I instantly fell in love with Mexico and its archives. This experience along with an indigenous religions course shaped my future research interests. When I applied to the University of Arizona I knew I wanted to get a PhD in colonial Mexican history. In 2015, I spent the academic year in Mexico on a Fulbright Research Grant, which further solidified my passion, devotion, and interest in Mexico’s culture and history. As I approach the final stretch of my doctoral research my goal of becoming a history professor seems to be within reach.

What do you like the most about where you live and work? Tucson, Arizona, embraces its Spanish and Mexican roots through cuisine and historical landmarks. The San Xavier del Bac and Tumacacari missions, along with the Presidio San Agustin, provide fantastic opportunities for students to see Spanish colonial efforts in a local setting. Indigenous communities such as the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe continue to shape southern Arizona. Sonoran and Tucsonan food is wonderfully complex, and a fabulous starting point for historical discussions.

What projects are you currently working on? I am completing my dissertation and writing an article on female healing ritual specialists among Nahua people in 16th- and 17th-century central Mexico.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? My focus during my undergraduate studies was on US history. My PhD research is on 16th- and 17th-century New Spain and Spain. I find that my knowledge on colonial North America and the early Republic has informed my investigations on Latin America during the same period.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?While conducting research in Mexico City in the Archivo General de la Nación, I came across a tome created in the silver mines of San Luis Potosí in the late 16th century. The document contains extraction records for well-known mines in the town. Though this document does not pertain to my research, I marveled in the ornate, gilded frontispiece that showcased the wealth emerging from the local mines. I use a picture of said item in classroom settings as an example of the riches that flowed from New Spain to Spain, bankrolling Charles V and Phillip II’s war efforts in continental Europe.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President (2016) by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler

What do you value most about the history discipline? I value history because it encourages students to evaluate and consider how human decisions and uncontrollable circumstances have shaped human (and nonhuman) experiences. More importantly, how we can learn from these lessons to make better choices in the present and future.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you? Membership in the AHA gives me tangible (Perspectives on History, Interfolio, and the AHA forums) and intangible (a sense of community) resources that I could not obtain elsewhere. In these trying times, not everyone seems to appreciate the value of history. It is important for me to have access to a network of people that believe in the importance of history, and its merit as a profession.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? During the bitter storm that overlapped with the 2017 meeting in Denver, Colorado, I found myself bartering for snow accessories with other AHA members. Walks from one AHA hotel to another led to slippery lessons in ice-walking as we warmed our minds with anecdotes from the archives.


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, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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