Uncovering hidden voices of the past

By Jenna Anne Chan, '15  |  Cover photo courtesy of Guatemala Today/Flickr Creative Commons

David Carey, Jr., Ph.D., professor of history, has recently been named the Doehler Chair in History, specializing in Latin American history. Carey comes to Loyola from the University of Southern Maine, where he was Professor of History and Women and Gender Studies and Associate Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

A specialist in Central America, Carey’s teaching and research interests include immigration, ethnicity, indigenous peoples, gender, environmental change, and oral history. Through his position as the Doehler Chair, he hopes to broaden people’s understanding of marginalized populations and how they can make huge impacts on a nation’s history.

In addition to writing two dozen peer-reviewed articles and essays, Carey is the author of four books. His most recent, I Ask for Justice: Maya Women, Dictators, and Crime in Guatemala, 1898-1944 (published in 2013), received the Latin American Studies Association’s 2015 LASA Bryce Wood Book Award, given each year to an outstanding work on Latin America in the social sciences and humanities that was published in English.

Senior Jenna Anne Chan spoke with Carey about his passion in uncovering hidden voices of the past through his research, and his hope to tell their story to not only his students but the public.

When did you start teaching at Loyola, and how do you like Baltimore so far?

I started teaching in the fall of 2014. My family and I have been really enjoying it. We were happy to have a much milder winter. We came from Maine, so the winters are from November to April there.

Can you speak a little about your research?

Most of my research has been in Guatemala, and one of the things I really focused on has been oral history. I was really interested in understanding how Maya indigenous people reconstructed the past because so much of what I was reading about on Guatemala and Central American history was written from the perspective of either U.S., European, or non-indigenous Guatemalans.

To my mind,what was missing from that sense of history was the way that indigenous people had thought about the past and the way they experienced it. They are a majority of the population in Guatemala, but are still largely excluded from economic, social, and political resources. I really tried to get a sense of what they thought was important in the past—the struggles they face, their achievements, and how they were able to strategize and minimize their levels of repression. That was really my first big project.

Can you describe an “aha” moment in your research?

One of the things that fascinated me was that when I approached communities and said, “This is what I’d like to learn about your history,” was that almost inevitably leaders sent me to the elder men. Women were hardly ever included.

So I really wanted to get a sense of how gender shaped oral history.

For my second project, I worked with Maya women. It was more challenging for an outsider from the United States like me to come in and gain an entry with Maya indigenous women. I hired research assistants to help assist in conducting interviews. That just opened up a whole new world of the past! One issue, for example, that was totally absent from the men’s perspective was midwifery. Maya midwives were in the front lines of negotiating the state’s attempt to introduce bio-medicine and Western medicine versus indigenous people’s attempts to maintain their traditional healing practices.

Do you incorporate your research in the classes you teach?

Yes—in a couple different ways.

I was fortunate to have a friend who had been in Guatemala for a couple of years. He recently gave me a lot of archival material from the photocopies he made in Guatemala City. I’ve also been able to use the archival material that I’ve collected in Guatemala myself. My most recent project was looking at crime and punishment with how Maya women interacted with dictators. I have about 20 of those archival judicial cases that I use in the classroom.

What are some of the objectives in the courses you teach?

I really want to help students engage and appreciate the differences in Latin America, but also the connection between Latin America and the United States. I hope to teach the past to help students engage in a broader sense of their position as global citizens.

There’s so much to learn and teach about Latin America, and you can approach it in many different ways. One of the things I try to emphasize is trying to understand history from folks that have largely been marginalized, trying to introduce those people as central protagonists of the past.

Can you tell us about your most recent book, I Ask For Justice, which won an award from the Latin American Studies Association?

That was the book I did a little bit of oral history research on. It was a new direction for me, because most of the book was informed by archival research. Previously, I had started with oral history and gone to the archives, but this time I saw found this cache of criminal records about different aspects that you seldom hear about in history. One example was moonshine: People were making alcohol illegally and it was often times indigenous women at the center of that economy. So again we find that women were shaping local and, in some ways, even national relations that just were not written about or talked about elsewhere.

It’s stories like these that I think need to be heard.

Can you share a favorite book, movie, song, or quote that has had an impact on you?

While I was doing a two-year volunteer program in rural Chile, I heard the U2 1991 song “One.” The line “Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?” really struck me.

One of the goals of the program was to commit to an “Option for the Poor” by living simply and engaging in people’s lives on a deep level. The line made me question how one embraces an “option for the poor”and, frankly, the point of even doing so. One answer is to see common humanity in so many diverse experiences. As rural Chileans increasingly opened their homes and lives to me and my housemates, I came to see the relationship as one more akin to collaboration than service.

The line from that U2 song continues to challenge me in my scholarship, my teaching, and my community outreach.

About the Doehler Chair in History

The Doehler Chair in History was established in 1994 by the National Endowment for the Humanities and by Catherine B., M.S. ’90, and Edward A. Doehler, ’30, emeritus professor of history who was a member of Loyola’s faculty for more than 65 years.

The position was endowed to be awarded to should be someone who has demonstrated outstanding ability as a teacher, a significant record of scholarship, and a commitment to distinguished service. Following a highly competitive international search in 2013-2014, Loyola invited Professor Carey to serve as the second holder of the Doehler Chair.

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