Historian; Educator; Researcher; Thinker; Former Percussionist; Enthusiast of Afro-Caribbean Music; Committed Husband; Immigrant; Traveler
An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, I came of age in Brooklyn, NY. Although I did well in high school, my inadequate academic preparation—primarily because I attended schools that failed to provide me with a rigorous education—became a significant hindrance in college, where I initially struggled to stay afloat. After a few unsuccessful attempts to earn a B.A. degree, I dropped out of college and spent many years in New York playing Afro-Caribbean music from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. Given my obsession with Afro-Caribbean music, it was not exactly obvious to me that I would eventually become a scholar. However, I was lucky enough to encounter many outstanding teachers who inspired and empowered me along the way. I would like nothing more than to do the same for my students.
While my story is anomalous and labyrinthine, I often use my unique set of experiences in productive and proactive ways. In particular, I harness my background as an immigrant and former musician to develop compelling scholarship, effective teaching, and empowering mentoring. As an educator, I focus on teaching students how to ask important questions and how to build persuasive arguments. As a mentor, I teach students how to develop discipline, grit, and commitment, while also pushing them to become compelling thinkers. As a researcher, I endeavor to use my position as an academic “outsider” to ask new questions and develop compelling scholarship. Consequently, I remain thoroughly convinced that my alterity in relation to the academy is not a weakness but rather a major strength.
Although my current research focuses on the early modern Spanish Empire, I started graduate school intending to study the history of Afro-descendants in the island of Hispaniola. I was particularly keen on understanding why people of African descent in the Spanish-speaking portion of the island decided to support the independence of the Dominican Republic in 1844, in spite of 22 years of collaboration under the Haitian Republic. I switched focus during my second year of graduate school, in large part because I wanted to develop a more ambitious research agenda. Serendipitously, I became fascinated by the history of capitalism and subsequently endeavored to study issues of political economy and trade in the eighteenth-century Spanish Empire. While I still consider myself a Latin Americanist, my work is also centrally concerned with the history of European imperial governance and economic policy in the Americas.
Why, one might ask, would a Dominican immigrant choose to study a group of imperial administrators who designed economic policy from the court in Madrid? Why not study Afro-descendants during the process of Dominican independence as I had originally intended to do? My answer to this question is simple: My background and life experiences should not limit the kinds of questions I can ask. I am, of course, still very much interested in the original question with which I started graduate school. However, given my eclectic curiosity, I am also deeply interested in understanding broader questions concerning the history of imperialism, globalization, and capitalism. My migrant background and tortuous academic trajectory do not make me any less equipped to tackle these larger issues. Quite the contrary, this combination puts me in a unique position to ask new questions and address old questions in innovative ways.
My current book project in progress, The Imperial Machine: Assembling the Spanish Commercial Empire in the Age of Enlightenment, traces how an ambitious group of Spanish statesmen re-imagined Spain's vast territories as a well-ordered machine and devised a comprehensive plan to erect an integrated commercial empire that reaped the economic rewards of the first age of globalization while avoiding its pitfalls. My second book project, Empirical Statecraft: The Emergence of an Information Empire in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Atlantic, reconstructs the emergence of an empirical logic of government centered on harnessing economic, administrative, and botanical information to design imperial policy, a development that transformed the Spanish Atlantic into a vast laboratory of the modern information age, with both its promises and perils. For an interview about my research, please click here.
The various institutional affiliations I have held throughout my academic career make for an eclectic mix. I currently hold a research fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, for which I am based in the Freie Universität Berlin. As a Humboldt research fellow, I am working to complete my first book and will begin to develop my second project. From 2016 to 2018, I held a Provost's Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Chicago, where I conducted research, wrote journal articles, and taught two courses. Before then, I earned a Ph.D. from Princeton University (2016), a B.A. from The City College of New York (2011), and an A.A. from LaGuardia Community College (2008). Undoubtedly, my experiences in this wide spectrum of institutions have shaped the kind of scholar I am striving to become: a rigorous and creative historian, a compelling thinker, and a committed, challenging, inclusive, and empathetic educator.