Elizabeth Manley is an associate professor of history at Xavier University of Louisiana. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and has been a member since 2001.
Alma maters: BA, University of Pennsylvania, 1998; MA, Tulane University, 2002; PhD, Tulane University, 2008
Fields of interest: Caribbean and Latin America, gender and women’s studies, sexuality, transnational politics
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? After working several years in a criminal justice research center in Philadelphia post-graduation from Penn, I enrolled in an MA/PhD program at Tulane University. I regularly encourage my students to take some time after getting their BA to determine their own career path as it made a big difference in my ability to succeed as a graduate student. While I was still a bit unprepared, I was blessed with several wonderful mentors that helped shepherd me through coursework, and, most importantly, research in the field. After completing my PhD, I was fortunate enough to secure a position at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans where I have been since 2008. Being able to stay in the city I had come to love, and work at an HBCU, has proved incredibly fulfilling.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? New Orleans is a rich, vibrant, and historic city that provides infinite inspiration and enrichment and Xavier University, steeped in its own incredible traditions, is a wonderful place to teach and learn. I have been able to introduce my students to incredible archives like the Historic New Orleans Collection and the Amistad Research Center to direct their own research projects, as well as experience a deeply rooted and Caribbean culture on a daily basis. I struggle to imagine living and working anywhere else.
What projects are you currently working on? I just started a new project on the history of tourism in the Caribbean and its connection to the modern phenomenon of female sex tourism and contemporary understandings of Caribbean masculinity.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? I recently completed a book based on my dissertation research, The Paradox of Paternalism: Women and Authoritarian Politics in the Dominican Republic (University Press of Florida, 2017), that focuses on the role of women in the dictatorial politics of Rafael Trujillo and Joaquín Balaguer. As I shift out of a strictly Dominican context, transition into discussions of sexuality and masculinity, and move solidly into the second half of the 20th century for my next project, I am both excited and nervous. I find it liberating to be able to work across the linguistic boundaries that have separated the region historically even as I lose some of the comfort of working in an archive with which I have become intimately familiar.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?When I first started conducting research for my dissertation on women in politics during the regimes of Trujillo and Balaguer, many Dominican scholars and archivists were convinced that there would be little to find. After months of near begging in the Dominican National Archive, I finally got my hands on the correspondence of the all-female governors Balaguer had appointed during his 12-year presidency (1966–78). Not only did these files stack up to about four feet of paper, they demonstrated that these women, working in the highly masculinist world of male politics, managed capably to advocate for their constituents, settle significant political disputes, and serve as mediators in a highly charged world. It was a lesson in perseverance and a highly gratifying demonstration that the silences of the archives are not always so silent when we look hard enough.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History and Kristen Weld’s Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala are two of my favorite reflections on the making of historical knowledge and archives that I also love introducing to my students. For encouragement in research and writing, I regularly check in on Tanya Golash-Boza’s blog Get A Life, PhD and have found Joli Jensen’s Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics extraordinarily helpful in being a more productive scholar.
What do you value most about the history discipline? Helping students understand the relevance of history to their lives is my most constant and pressing concern. Many of my students come to me hating history because they have never seen themselves reflected in it. I strive to show them a history of those lives often meant to go unrecorded, and demonstrate that we all have a place in the historical narrative. I feel most fulfilled when I am able to accomplish that goal.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? My AHA membership helps keep me current with the conversations and debates across the discipline and reminds me of the larger community in which I think and work.
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.