Since 1963, faculty, students, and staff have dedicated themselves to developing, maintaining, and adapting Latin American Studies to changing academic, political, and economic times.
This brief history of CLACS represents only a few of the key individuals who have worked with and advocated for CLACS over our 56-year history. From outreach volunteers and interim directors to graduate assistants and allies in other departments and institutions, CLACS is indebted to all of them.
The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, formerly the Latin American Studies Program (LASP), was founded in 1963 by the Latin American Studies Committee. Although Indiana University previously offered classes about Latin America, the committee’s chairman, History professor Robert E. Quirk, criticized the courses as “offer[ing] the student in the Latin American area not realism, but a candy-cotton view of the world’s problems, as though Fidel Castro, the Argentine and Peruvian militarists, and the political leaders of Brazil were in some fanciful fairyland,” instead proposing a “program anchored in the departments of History, Government, and Economics, and in the School of Business.”
Quirk served as LASP’s first director from 1963 to 1965, successfully applying for $800,000 from the Ford Foundation and hiring Emma Simonson as IU’s first Latin American bibliographer and librarian. He left the directorship to fellow historian James R. Scobie in 1965 to become the Chief Editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review. Between 1963-1967, LASP worked closely with the Latin American Music Center (founded in 1961), created and then discontinued a PhD program because it “could not be defended in academic terms," and received its first federal funding through the National Defense Foreign Language Fellowship program (now Foreign Language and Area Studies, or FLAS). In 1965, the program also proposed expanding to include an Institute in Latin American Ethnomusicology and a Latin American Arts Institute with the support of the IU Foundation.
Paul Doughty, then Assistant Professor of Anthropology, took over LASP from 1968 to 1971. Doughty reapplied for funding through the Ford Foundation and received a $5 million grant to further develop Latin American Studies at Indiana University. History professor John Lombardi replaced Doughty as director, serving from 1971-1976. As the program developed over this period, both Doughty and Lombardi focused on incentivizing faculty and students to stay at Indiana University by developing the program’s academic and library resources and directly participating in the founding of the Latin American Studies Association. Professor Lombardi stated, “Among the most important services the Latin American Studies program provided was support for and engagement with the Library. The role of Emma Simonson, Latin American bibliographer and Librarian was essential in developing a superb collection as well as assisting faculty and students with their projects.” Simonson regularly traveled to gather rare acquisitions related to Latin America, even travelling to the Soviet Union in the early 1970s to “study their research collections on Latin America” after mastering Russian. Emma Simonson retired during the 1975-1976 academic year and was replaced in 1977 by Glenn Read.
LASP faced its first crisis in 1977 when no director was named after Lombardi’s term ended. Now funded principally by National Defense Education Act (NDEA) fellowships, former director Robert E. Quirk served as interim director until 1978. Anya Peterson Royce, currently Chancellors’ Professor Emerita in Anthropology and Comparative Literature, took over the directorship in 1979. During her directorship, Peterson Royce successfully solidified LASP’s presence, pedagogy, and structure within a university administration that questioned the “viability and contribution of the Latin American Studies Program as a separate entity.” She successfully expanded LASP’s language course offerings to include Haitian Creole, previously taught by Albert Valdman in the French department. CLASP also offered FLAS funding for studying Zapotec, Quechua, and Nahuatl.
The program was further expanded by Jack Hopkins, director from 1983-1985, and Dennis Conway, director from 1985-1988. Hopkins, a Professor at the School for Public and Environmental Affairs, oversaw the creation of the Caribbean Basin Initiative in 1983 and its integration into LASP in the 1984-1985 academic year. It was during this integration that the name of the program was changed from the Latin American Studies Program to the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS). Additionally, Hopkins facilitated the relocation from 311 Lindley Hall to 313 N. Jordan Avenue. The integration of Caribbean scholarship into LASP/CLACS was a result of Professor Conway’s drive to integrate his research on the British Caribbean into the center’s academic profile along with other affiliated faculty. During this period, CLACS secured funding from the College of Arts and Sciences for academic research and graduate assistantships.
Spanish Professor Russell Salmon took over CLACS’ directorship from 1988-1994, focusing his efforts on addressing the library budgetary crisis. Starting in the 1988-1989 academic year, the decline of the “once-strong Latin American collection [had…] reached the point where the holdings [were] unable to meet our research and teaching needs.” Despite increasing course enrollment and faculty critical mass and significant accomplishments, CLACS’ library budget had been decreased from 2.23% of the library’s total budget to 0.91%. In order to save the collection, some of the CLACS’ holdings were transferred to other funding sources. However, this did not save one-third of the newspaper, magazine, and academic journal subscriptions from being cancelled in 1991.
Jeffrey Gould, Rudy Professor of History, served as director of CLACS from 1995 to 2007. During his tenure, Gould reinvigorated CLACS by strategically using outside grants to expand CLACS’ programming and course offerings, culminating in the first successful solo Title VI grant application in 2006. Gould largely attributed this success to the formalization of less commonly taught language course offerings into CLACS – creating the Minority Languages and Cultures Project and integrating direct outreach to Central American K-12 institutions into CLACS initiatives in 2002. The Brazilian Studies Program was added to CLACS’ official programming with the 2006 Title VI grant application. Another reason for his success as director was investing in connecting affiliated faculty and student research interests in order to create an academic and social community outside of official events. Another important event during his directorship was the move from 313 N. Jordan to a new location at 1125 E. Atwater Avenue, after the old location on N. Jordan Avenue was razed to build the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center.
Latin American Librarian Glenn Read retired in 1998 after 22 years on the job. He was replaced by Julie Nilson, who held the position form 1999-2002. Luis González, the current Latin American Librarian, started in 2003.
After 12 years, Jeffrey Gould passed the directorship to Bradley Levinson, Professor of Education, who served from 2007-2011. Levinson added the Sustainable Development Initiative to CLACS’ programmatic strategies, invested in capital improvements to CLACS' home on E. Atwater, created the Academic Secretary position, and restructured the core graduate course to introduce M.A. students and Ph.D. minors to Latin American Studies research and resources at IU. Finally, under his administration, CLACS successfully reapplied for Title VI funding for 2010-2014.
Shane Greene, Associate Professor of Anthropology, started his tenure as Director in 2011. He further increased the interdisciplinary presence of CLACS by emphasizing working across academic departments and programs. He also empowered CLACS graduate assistants to start the Graduate Student Conference in 2011. The conference reaches across disciplines and allows M.A. and Ph.D. students from all over the country to present their research. Most significantly for the long term, he helped lead the integration of CLACS into the School of Global and International Studies, a school within the College of Arts and Sciences that brings together global and area studies centers, language resource centers and flagship programs, and the majority of IU's language departments.
After serving from 2011-2015, Shane Greene ended his directorship and passed the torch to Anke Birkenmaier, of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Along with the change in leadership came a change in location. CLACS moved from its house on E. Atwater Avenue into the new Global and International Studies Building at 355 N. Eagleson Avenue. In August 2015, Katherine Cashman was hired as the new Academic Secretary.
As director, Professor Birkenmaier spearheaded the development of a new 4+1 combined B.A./M.A. She also oversaw the creation of the Cuba Initiative, in collaboration with Gerardo Gonzalez, Dean Emeritus of the School of Education. CLACS also ensured its ability to offer less-commonly-taught languages for years to come, with the promotion of Queztil Castañeda (Maya) to senior lecturer and the hiring of David Tezil (Haitian Creole) as visiting lecturer. Finally, the Center began to develop new outreach initiatives, including the Globally Ready Digital Toolbox, a joint project with the African Studies Program and the Institute for European Studies.
In 2018, CLACS welcomed a new Associate Director, Bryan Pitts. Thanks in no small part to Pitts’ efforts, CLACS was selected as a Title VI National Resource Center and Foreign Language and Area Studies grantee by the United States Department of Education for the 2018-2022 cycle. Birkenmaier’s directorship ended in 2019, and the directorship passed, on an interim basis, to J. César Félix-Brasdefer, of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Félix-Brasdefer continued with the implementation of the CLACS Lending Library and promoting outreach initiatives such as the Digital Toolbox.
In the spring of 2020 Pitts left CLACS to take a position at UCLA and the covid-19 pandemic forced CLACS to transition to remote work and teaching. Félix-Brasdefer guided the Center through this unprecedented crisis and organized CLACS’ first ever webinar, a panel discussion about Covid-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean that featured speakers from five different countries.
In July 2020 Daniel Suslak, from the Department of Anthropology, began his directorship (2020-2023) and then in September 2021, Sonia Manriquez became CLACS’s newest Associate Director. Manriquez earned an MA in Latin American Studies from IU in 2018 and had previously served as the center's Program Manager for the past three years. Under Suslak and Manriquez' leadership, CLACS earned another Title VI National Resource Center and Foreign Language and Area Studies for the 2022-2026, reinvigorated the Brazil Studies group, helped to organize a Caribbean Studies group, and partnered with other IU area studies programs on a variety of joint initiatives including on topics ranging from global indigeneity to America's role in the world.
In July 2023, Serafín Colonel-Molina, from the IU School of Education, became the newest director of CLACS. Colonel-Molina is a specialist in Educational Linguistics, a native speaker of Quechua, and the first indigenous scholar to lead the center.
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