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, challenged, and empowered me along the way, even when my writing skills and critical thinking abilities left a lot to be desired. They persisted in the face of lackluster potential and pushed me beyond my perceived limits. I would like nothing more than to do the same for my students.
My path towards a Ph.D. in history was, to say the least, quite tumultuous. As a senior in high school, I was fortunate to be awarded a full scholarship from the Posse Foundation to attend Colby College as part of the Colby Posse #2. Maine was, of course, very different from anything I had ever experienced before, but I struggled most with academics. I gave up after a little over a month and returned to New York, where I enrolled at Fordham University. After two semesters at Fordham, I transferred once again to Brooklyn College to no avail. I simply did not have the skills to complete college-level work. I, therefore, decided that I would dedicate myself to Afro-Caribbean music and avoid college altogether. To my surprise, learning how to play multiple musical instruments gave me something I lacked: discipline and grit. After a few years of complete dedication to music, I decided to give college a try once again. This time, I was successful, as I completed an A.A. at LaGuardia Community College in 2008 and a B.A. at The City College of New York in 2011.
My eventual, if initially slow-moving, academic success was propelled by the fact that I was awarded a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) at The City College of New York in 2009. In addition to providing me with financial support to conduct archival research and complete a successful senior thesis, the MMUF Program gave me access to intensive mentoring and research training, which was of particular importance for me as a student with nonexistent research skills and poor writing abilities. I particularly benefited from participating in the MMUF Summer Research Training Program at the University of Chicago, which gave me the opportunity to develop the kind of methodological and theoretical sophistication that is necessary to conduct doctoral-level research in history. The fact that I was able to defend my dissertation successfully at Princeton University's Department of History was in large part due to the research training and support I received as a Mellon Mays Fellow between 2009 and 2011.
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 innovative 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 on the island of Hispaniola. I was particularly keen on understanding why people of African descent on 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, though an admittedly eclectic one, 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, my wide-ranging curiosity also impels me to study 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 unique set of experiences and wide-ranging intellectual interests also mean that my teaching spans numerous thematic and regional foci. As a scholar of the early modern Hispanic Atlantic, I regularly teach courses on Latin American and Spanish imperial history, including surveys and more specialized courses on the Iberian Atlantic during the Age of Revolutions and the history of slavery and freedom in Latin America and the Caribbean. I also teach courses on Atlantic and global history, with a particular focus on how global interconnections shaped the local histories of smaller regions. Finally, my teaching interests also include courses on the history of knowledge and the emergence of political economy as a science of governance during the early modern period. As a matter of course, I encourage students to think both from the bottom up and from the top down.
The various institutional affiliations I have held throughout my academic career make for an eclectic mix. I currently hold an assistant professorship in history at Queens College. From 2018 to 2020, I was based in the Freie Universität Berlin, where I held a research fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. From 2016 to 2018, I held a Provost's Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Chicago. Before then, I earned a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University (2016), a B.A. in history from The City College of New York (2011), and an A.A. in social sciences and humanities from LaGuardia Community College (2008). More recently, my work has been supported by the Trierer Kolleg für Mittelalter und Neuzeit at the Universität Trier and the Institute for Citizens & Scholars. 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.
For an online interview about my research, please click here.
For a recent take on why students are abandoning the humanities and what we can do about it, please click here.