Q&A with María Muñoz

“My research and teaching aim to excavate and understand the complexities of human systems, cultures and hierarchies.”

María Muñoz is an associate professor of history at Susquehanna University, and will be joining the UBC History Department for one year. I talked with her about her historical interests, the several exciting courses she’ll be teaching at UBC, and her outlook as a professor of history.

What is your area of expertise? Why have you chosen this area as your focus? 

While my geographical focus is Latin America, thematically I am a historian of the constructions of race, identity formation, Indigenous movements, and nation state formation. 

I chose this focus area as, on a personal level, I wanted to understand how people could be biologically related (my family) and look so different physically. I wanted to explore how national identities intersect with ethnicity and heritage. 

On an intellectual level, I want to understand the ways racial categories are constructed, and how this process has informed the ways economic, political, social hierarchies were engineered. This can help us understand how the past very much lives in the present, and the ways these categories are challenged and reinforced. 

What courses will you be teaching at UBC? 

For Winter Term 1, I will be teaching HIST 104: Killer Commodities: Coffee Sugar, and Tea, and HIST 250: Major Issues in Latin America. This course focuses on the ways government leaders and intellectuals engineered national identities in ways that silenced broader discussions on racial inequalities, structural racism, and colorism;-what in North America we have come to understand as the politics of color-blindness.  During Winter Term II, I will be teaching HIST 358: State and Society in 20th Century Cuba, along with HIST 490: Violence, Terror and Race.

Can you expand on your course, HIST 490: Violence, Terror, and Race? Will this course address current events to do with the Black Lives Matter movement?

The Violence, Terror and Race course aims to push and expand the ways we have come to understand forms of violence (often times too narrowly defined as physical forms of violence) across time and place. 

The course addresses current events, unfortunately. Every time I have taught it, we have had to deal with contemporary acts of terror and violence. The deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police in 2014, the murder of nine congregants of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston SC by a white supremacist in 2015, the election of Donald Trump in 2016, et cetera, et cetera. 

 However, the course also addresses different forms of violence. For example, understanding violence as poverty, the psychological forms of violence, cultural genocide and forced assimilation into white society and culture (such as residential schools or forced labor of Aboriginal peoples in Australia), forced sterilization, social forgetting as violence (the mentally ill and homeless), and applications of medicine and tehcnology as forms of violence. 

How would you describe your teaching style?  

I view myself as a facilitator in the classroom. As a historian, I am aware that often, the assumption is that learning about history is a passive process where a student might sit, ingest, memorize, and regurgitate facts and positions they think the professor wants to hear.  My goal is to assist students in the process of analyzing primary and secondary sources to craft informed evaluations of the past, refining arguments and cogently and cohesively present concrete evidence to support arguments. 

It is also critical to understand that not all sources of information are legitimate. The current proliferation of illegitimate “news” sources on-line and via various social media platforms calls for a renewed focus on the interrogation of sources in general, but specifically asking questions of the provenance of such sources. 

Why is your focus area important to study? What makes it unique? 

I would not go as far as to say that my research is unique.  Rather, both my research and teaching aim to excavate and understand the complexities of human systems, cultures and hierarchies (on multiple levels: labor, gender, sexuality, race etc.) that continue to shape our present. It is often a revelation to grapple with the reality that history, as a discipline and an idea, is not innate. Rather, as people, as humanity, we craft our own history. It’s just a matter of what we, individually, generationally and socially, present as history. Historically, our discipline has been a tool of imperialism, used to present a particular history, and recording select events, deeds and lives. There is still so much to learn about the past, to excavate the histories of so many, to recover the countless silenced voices. 

 What types of activities do you enjoy outside of work? 

I am a huge sports fan, primarily football (futebol, futbol, soccer) and baseball, these days more in a viewing capacity. I am working my way back from a three-year back injury and have begun to jog again, which is great stress relief. I am also a fan of comic books and graphic novels, some of which I find useful for classes. And I love music as a whole. Having grown up in L.A. during the 1990s, three genres shaped my teenage sensitivities: hip hop, rock en español and alternative rock.