Writing Puerto Rican History at UConn’s Humanities Institute

Emma Amador, Ph.D, Assistant Professor of History and Latina/o, Caribbean, and Latin American Studies

By Emma Amador 

During the 2019-2020 academic year I was a Faculty Fellow at the Humanities Institute at the University of Connecticut (UCHI). The fellowship provides a year of funding to a cohort of fellows each year that includes UConn faculty and doctoral students, as well as external faculty in residence. It also provides a lively and collegial space to work on research projects while maintaining dialogue with a group of scholars working on diverse topics within the humanities. Fellows share their research and participate in a wide range of events sponsored by the institute. While in residence I had the opportunity to share my own work in progress on Puerto Rican history.

My work focused on revising my first book, The Politics of Care: Puerto Ricans, Citizenship, and Migration after 1918. This book explores how the U.S. welfare state has long been a site where Puerto Ricans have fought for social justice, labor reform, and decolonization.  Focusing largely on the lives and work of Puerto Rican activists, it reveals how welfare and social work became important spaces where Puerto Rican grassroots activists, community organizers, and civil rights leaders have envisioned social and economic justice in their communities. While a fellow, I gave a talk on January 29th, 2020, titled “Demanding Dignity: Social Workers, Community Organizing, and Welfare Politics in the Puerto Rican Diaspora after 1948.” This presentation gave me the opportunity to share my ongoing research with my colleagues at UCHI as well as other visitors. This included faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates from a variety of disciplines.  It was exciting to get feedback from my peers and get their suggestions for revisions.

One of the other exciting aspects of the UCHI fellowship was having a space to work at UConn’s Babbidge Library, as fellows are typically given an office in the Humanities Institute, which is located inside the library. While in residence, I began a new article exploring the history of welfare rights activism in Puerto Rican communities and as a part of this research I began exploring the collection’s at UConn’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. While I only began to scratch the surface of the wealth of resources available, this was a truly valuable part of the experience of being a fellow. Both the Library and Dodd Center have important collections on both Puerto Rican history and the history of Connecticut. Moving forward, I believe this experience will help me to better integrate these resources into my research and to share them with students through my teaching.

Overall, my experience at UCHI provided a great opportunity to work on advancing my research while also collaborating with other faculty and students in the humanities. Sadly, in the second semester of the fellowship the current health crisis (brought by Covid 19) resulted in the need to stop the normal functioning of Institute events. And while it was hard to say goodbye to the physical institute early, I believe this experience also underscored just how much support fellows receive. It clearly revealed how UCHI provides a truly nurturing space for research to the community of scholars that call it home.