“Building Bridges Beyond Disciplines”: Graduate students’ research on Cuba

Professor Funes moderating the first panel, “Natural Resources in the Developmental Ages” featuring Charlotte Dougall (Yale University), Eric Gettig (Georgetown University), and Caroline Kuritzkes (Yale University).
Monday, May 7, 2018

On May 5, the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at the MacMillan Center hosted the “Building Bridges Beyond Disciplines: Graduate Students’ Research on Cuba” conference as a part of its Cuba Initiative. The conference showcased advanced undergraduate, graduate students, and faculty research on Cuba’s past, present, and future across the humanities and social sciences. Participants from Yale University, Harvard University, New York University, Georgetown University, Rutgers University, Princeton University, The New School, The City University of New York, The St. Louis College of Pharmacy, and the University of California/Santa Barbara joined for a day of presentations and network-building at Yale. The event was the culmination of a successful year of activities in the Cuba Initiative, which has included study visits to Cuba, a speaker series hosted at Yale, and the CLAIS film series featuring Cuban and Cuba-focused artists. 

The conference was opened by Albert Laguna, Assistant Professor of Ethnicity, Race & Migration and American Studies at Yale University. He welcomed participants and heralded the Cuba initiative of CLAIS—and this event in particular—as an important forum for sharing work-in-progress on Cuba. In particular, Professor Laguna highlighted how important the conference was for early stage scholars looking to workshop potential book chapters among fellow Cuban studies specialists. Reinaldo Funes Monzote, Henry Hart Rice Family Foundation Visiting Professor and Professor, Department of History, University of Havana, Cuba, also welcomed participants and noted the importance of sharing cutting-edge research across disciplines. Professor Funes especially thanked the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez in Cuba for being a committed and dedicated partner of the initiative and supporting the work of many participants at the conference. The fundación, Professor Funes explained, had made important research possible by providing administrative assistance and access to archives and libraries over previous years to many of the presenters participating in the conference. Additionally, the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies’ Cuba Initiative has been an important partner in this process by hosting the conference and providing an important outlet for researchers to share their work and make professional connections.

The “Building Bridges” conference featured five panels and concluded with a special roundtable on researching in Cuba, where participants gathered to informally share experiences about conducting research in the country, highlighting opportunities, challenges, and suggesting potential future strategies for effective research in Cuba.

The first panel, “Natural Resources in the Developmental Ages,” included presentations on the emergence of oil and energy politics in Cuba, the political history of nickel mining on the island, and popular politics surrounding tourism in the 1990s.  The second panel, “Land and Agriculture,” included presentations on peasant political mobilization during the revolution, the emergence of “modern” beekeeping practices in Cuba, and an exploration of agricultural practices and biodiversity in contemporary Pinar del Rio. The third panel, “History of Science,” included presentations on the aesthetics and representation of animal specimens in natural histories produced in nineteenth century Cuba, smallpox vaccination and portrayals of licensed medical practitioners in nineteenth century Cuba, and the history of primatology in early twentieth century Cuba. Panel four, “The Politics of Race and Culture,” featured papers revising the history of the Cuban communist party in the 1920s and 1930s; the origins of revolutionary housing policy, cultural policy, cultural inequality, and race/nation making; and race and documentary style in the age of reform. The final panel of the day, “Histories of the Special Period,” explored the gendered effects of economic downturn in the special period, the challenges of water management and sustainable development in contemporary Cuba, the recent histories and cultural ramifications of an influx of invasive marine species in contemporary Cuba, and the inequalities and challenges of internet access on the island.

The voluminous temporal and methodological scope of the research presented is a testament to the conference organizers and participated. The conference successfully built a platform for sharing research across institutions and disciplines and brought researchers based in the United States working on Cuba into closer conversation. Participants remarked how useful it was to learn about colleagues’ ongoing research on Cuba and to have the opportunity to build connections with others presently working on connected themes, learning more about the research being conducted in other disciplines, and areas of focus close to their own. The conference also served as an important network-building exercise for researchers based in the U.S. northeast, and promises to a lay a groundwork for future cooperation in research on and about the island.