Jeffrey L. Gould
Colleagues don’t hold back on the superlatives when talking about Jeffrey L. Gould as a groundbreaking historian, writer, and filmmaker whose work has transformed scholarship on social movements in Nicaragua and El Salvador. “He is the most important historian of Central America working in the United States and perhaps in the world, and he is a noted theorist of ethnicity, memory, and oral history,” says Peter Guardino, professor and chair of the Department of History at IU Bloomington. Greg Grandin, professor of history at New York University, adds that Gould “is one of the most respected historians working on Latin America today. I can’t think of a dissertation I have read in the last 15 years that doesn’t cite Jeff’s work and engage with his arguments, or a graduate readings seminar that doesn’t include at least one of his books.” But it’s arguable that Gould’s administrative accomplishments have been even more valuable to IU than his research. Associates point to his success in building the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) from an underfunded center into one of the leading research centers of its kind.
Gould became director of CLACS in 1995, even though some friends advised against it, and set about trying to attract outside funding. IU partnered first with the University of Michigan and later with the University of Notre Dame and won federal Title VI status in 1999. This was the first time that CLACS had achieved National Resource Center status.Today it is one of the few Title VI National Resource Centers in Latin American studies that are not part of a consortium. He led the center until 2008, establishing relationships and faculty-student exchanges with universities in Latin America and working to create the Cultural and Linguistic Archive of Mesoamerica, a trove of videos, photographs, and records that are being organized and made available to researchers. Gould’s work as a historian is addressed not only to U.S. and European academics but to readers in Nicaragua and El Salvador, where his major books and many articles have been published in Spanish. “In Central America,” says David Diaz-Arias, director of graduate studies in history at the University of Costa Rica, “the name of Jeff Gould is associated with first-rate research, personal charisma, oral history, strong commitment to the region’s social struggle, and professional integrity.”
Gould’s first major book, To Lead as Equals: Rural Protest and Political Consciousness in Chinandega, Nicaragua, traces relationships between a U.S.-backed dictatorship in Nicaragua and the struggles of workers and peasants. His second, To Die in This Way: Nicaraguan Indians and the Myth of Mestizaje, examines Nicaraguan mythology about the forced assimilation of Indians and their multiple forms of resistance. In 2003 he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed him to co-author his third book, To Rise in Darkness: Revolution, Repression and Memory in El Salvador, about the 1932 peasant and indigenous uprising. He turned to filmmaking a decade ago, and his documentaries have been screened in El Salvador, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Panama, as well as in the United States, Canada, and Spain. His first film, Scars of Memory: El Salvador, 1932 (2003), focuses on the uprising at the center of To Rise in Darkness and has been shown on El Salvadoran and U.S. Spanish-language television on several occasions and won awards at two film festivals. His second, La Palabra en el Bosque (The Word in the Woods), chronicles a Salvadoran social movement based on liberation theology. Completed in 2011, it has appeared on El Salvadoran television and thus far has been selected for six film festivals.
Gould is spending the current academic year as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where he is working on a book about social and political movements in El Salvador. Guardino says it may be possible to add up the IU research grants, publications, and faculty positions that can be attributed to Gould, but his principal impact has been qualitative. “All of this activity,” he says, “has made Latin American studies, with its attendant teaching and research, a much more vibrant enterprise here at IU. The experience of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty has improved because there is a lot more cross-fertilization.”