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Empowered Women of Latin America

Faculty Summer Research Fellowship
Truman State University
Summer 2011

Project Abstract

What does it mean to be an empowered woman in Latin America, an area of the world where patriarchy and machismo have long held sway? The purpose of this research is to interrogate how, why, and under what conditions constructions of women are presented as being empowered in Latin America. An objective is to gain a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of how gendered notions of empowerment are created in a patriarchal society. These insights will be gained through a methodology of archival research into the personal and public documents of the important feminist leader Nela Martínez who struggled with patriarchal confines in the South American country of Ecuador. The timetable for the project includes a two-week research trip to Ecuador for data collection, followed by a careful analysis of the findings and subsequent drafting of an essay on the empowerment of women. The impacts of this project on the University include improving my teaching by bringing added content, concepts, and interpretations to my Women in Latin American History and other courses, as well as contributing new insights and interpretations on cross cultural gender constructions to conversations on campus. The outcome of this research will include dissemination of its findings through campus presentations, academic conference papers, and peer-reviewed publications.

Project Narrative

While teaching my Women in Latin American History class during the Spring 2011 semester, my students raised the question of what does it mean to be an empowered woman in Latin America. As Joan Scott explores in her landmark 1986 essay in the American Historical Review on the relations between gender and power, value often accrues to those with access to political and economic resources. Our conversation on empowerment emerged in the context of a discussion of Manuela Sáenz, known as the “liberator of the liberator” for having saved the life of South American independence leader Simón Bolívar during an 1828 assassination attempt. Does simply sleeping with a powerful man make a woman historically significant, they asked? Had Sáenz actually done anything memorable that would make her worthy of study almost two centuries later?

Sáenz died in 1856, almost thirty years after Bolívar, largely forgotten in northern Peru. Shortly before her death, Moby Dick author Herman Melville visited her home in Paita and was surprised to find someone with such an intimate connection to the legendary independence leader living in such a marginalized setting. Rather than questioning whether Sáenz was historically significant I wondered how and why activists resurrected her memory a century later after she was so thoroughly forgotten during her life.

The purpose of this research is to interrogate broad historiographic and pedagogical issues of how we select subjects for study, and even deeper concerns that my students’ questions raised about the purpose for doing so. Does value accrue to a person only when that person assumes male attributes and enters the public sphere? Are the only significant historical studies those that focus on power relations or powerful individuals? Are traditional political histories more important than social histories? What does it reveal about the discipline of history if values that are typically gendered as female have at most marginal significance in historical interpretations? How, why, and under what conditions are constructions of women’s empowerment forwarded in Latin America?

The Ecuadorian writer and intellectual Nela Martínez played a key role in resurrecting the memory of women such as Sáenz, and presented them as empowered individuals who challenged the constraints of a patriarchal society. A specific objective of this research is to gain a deeper and more sophisticated understanding how and why Martínez selected models for women’s empowerment. Martínez, born to an elite landholding family in southern Ecuador in 1912, took an active role in socio-political issues of her times. She was an untiring fighter for the rights of women and social justice. Together with other mostly white, upper-class women in Quito, she formed the Alianza Femenina Ecuatoriana (AFE, Ecuadorian Feminist Alliance) in 1939. Its objectives were to contribute to the cause of world peace, provide solidarity to victims of war, and promote the incorporation of women into political movements. Subsequently she was a deputy to the 1945 National Assembly, and used this position to fight for the rights of women and denounce the sexual discrimination that women faced in the political, cultural, and social realms

In addition to her work on feminist issues, Martínez used her class privileges to ally with Indigenous rights struggles. As a founding member of the Federación Ecuatoriana de Indios (FEI, Ecuadorian Federation of Indians) in 1944, she used her power to establish horizontal rather than vertical ties with Indigenous activists. She used her literary skills to edit the organization’s newspaper, Ñucanchic Allpa (Kichwa for “Our Land”). As part of these collaborations, in 1962, Martínez helped found the Unión Revolucionaria de Mujeres del Ecuador (URME, Revolutionary Union of Ecuadorian Women). In the first issue of their periodical Nuestra Palabra (“Our Word”), Martínez featured a biography of the Indigenous leader Dolores Cacuango who despite being poor and illiterate represented a new example of what it meant to be an empowered woman in Ecuador.

This project builds on two decades of historical research in Ecuador, during which time I have cultivated the relations necessary to make this project a reality. I briefly met Martínez in Quito, Ecuador, in 1996 while working on my Ph.D. dissertation. She had recently suffered a heart attack and her daughter granted me a short interview with the legendary and historic leader. As I boarded the bus for her neighborhood, the bus suddenly shot straight up in the air, or so it seemed to me. Someone had removed the sewer cover on the sidewalk (a typical pedestrian hazard in an impoverished city where the metal cover can easily be sold to recyclers to cover household expenses), and I had fallen into a storm drain. Rather than losing my appointment, I awkwardly pulled myself up into the bus and arrived at Martínez’s door with crumpled flowers and blood running down my pant leg and into my shoe. Despite my injuries and disheveled appearance, I was delighted to have the opportunity to spend a few minutes with one of the subjects of my historical studies. Since that initial meeting I have searched for ways to conduct a deeper study of this “empowered” woman that this grant funding will now allow me complete.

In December 2010, I was an outsider reader for Valeria Coronel’s dissertation at New York University on subaltern politics and nation-state formation in Ecuador. In this position, I learned that Coronel had helped Martínez’s family set up an archive with her personal and political documents. The Archivo Martínez Meriguet (AMM, Martínez Meriguet Archive), an innovative archive that was established out of a partnership between private and government support, will provide me with unequalled access to private correspondence and limited circulation periodicals such as the Indigenous newspaper Ñucanchic Allpa. My methodology of archival research opens up insights into how and why notions of women’s empowerment are constructed historically.

The timetable for this project includes three stages of development. During an initial period from May 9–22, 2011 I will make the final logistical preparations for travel to the research site. I will also use this time to familiarize myself with the broader literature and frame the proper historiographic questions on how and why certain women are empowered.

I will spend May 23 – June 4, 2011 in Quito, Ecuador working in the Martínez Meriguet Archive. My familiarity with the broader history of social movements in Ecuador will allow me work quickly and efficiently in the archive, identifying and collecting the material that will be of most use to my project. I will take digital images of the appropriate documents in order to allow a subsequent more leisurely and contemplative analysis of their contents.

From June 5 – August 19, 2011 (and onward) I will return home to enter the documents I have collected into a bibliographic database that will facilitate the retrieval and analysis of their contents. I will then proceed to draft an essay on empowered women for presentation at the American Historical Association (AHA) and Latin American Studies Association (LASA) meetings. I will subsequently use the feedback from these academic conferences to revise the essay for submission and publication in Spanish in the historical journal Procesos in Ecuador, and in English in the Hispanic American Historical Review. Finally, based on responses to my presentations and publications I will chart future possibilities and directions for this research.

Among the impacts of this project for the University will be the provision of new content, conceptual ideas and interpretations for my classes. In particular, this research and learning will allow me to explain gendered notions of empowerment in new and better ways in Women in Latin American History (HIST 369). In addition, in will contribute new understandings to my JINS seminar on Race and Ethnicity in Latin America (JINS 338) of how gender intersects with ethnic diversity and class divisions in order to understand how cultural differences are negotiated across time and space. In an increasingly globalized world, these insights will help students understand cross-cultural contacts in their own lives. The research will also add new ethnographic material for my Andean History (HIST 390) class.

I frequently present the outcomes of my travels and research in different venues on campus, including to student groups such as GlobeMed, the Historical Society, the Spanish Club, Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO), and Amnesty International. I am, of course, always more than happy to present my research in venues such as the Truman Faculty Forum, Global Issues Colloquium, and the Women’s History Month conference. Through these various venues, this project will expand understanding in the University of historical, cultural, political, and sociological aspects of intercultural contacts and organizing practices with direct relevance to the expansion of our mission to provide excellent educational opportunities for our students.

In addition to campus presentations, professional outcomes of this research include academic conference papers and publication in peer-reviewed journals. I plan to present the results of my research at the American Historical Association (AHA) annual meeting in Chicago in January 2012, and at the May 2012 Latin American Studies Association (LASA) meeting in San Francisco. Drawing on feedback from these conferences, I will revise the paper for subsequent publication in two peer-reviewed historical journals. I plan to submit a manuscript in Spanish to Procesos in Ecuador, and in English in the Hispanic American Historical Review. I have an outstanding and proven track record of following through on my publication commitments, and I will do likewise for this project.


Acción por el Movimiento de Mujeres. Homenaje a Nela Martínez Espinosa. Quito: Acción por el Movimiento de Mujeres, 1990.
Adams, Jerome R. Notable Latin American Women: Twenty-nine leaders, rebels, poets, battlers, and spies, 1500-1900. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 1995.
Becker, Marc. "Race, Gender, and Protest in Ecuador." In Work, Protest, and Identity in Twentieth-Century Latin America, ed. Vincent C. Peloso, 125-42. Wilmington, Del: Scholarly Resources, 2003.
Chambers, Sarah C. "Republican Friendship: Manuela Sáenz Writes Women into the Nation, 1835-1856." Hispanic American Historical Review 81, no. 2 (May 2001): 225-57.
Chant, Sylvia H. and Nikki Craske. Gender in Latin America. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2003.
Deutsch, Sandra McGee. "Gender and Sociopolitical Change in Twentieth Century Latin America." Hispanic American Historical Review 71, no. 2 (1991): 259-306.
Dore, Elizabeth and Maxine Molyneux, ed. Hidden Histories of Gender and the Sate in Latin America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.
González, Victoria and Karen Kampwirth, ed. Radical Women in Latin America: Left and right. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.
Hahner, June Edith. Women in Latin American History, Their Lives and Views. UCLA Latin American studies series, v. 34. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, 1976.
Jaquette, Jane S., ed. Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America. Durham N.C.: Duke University Press, 2009.
Jiménez de Vega, Mercedes. La mujer en la historia del Ecuador: Las mujeres también hacen historia. Quito, Ecuador: Comite Ecuatoriano de Cooperación con la Comisión Interamericana de Mujeres, 1998.
Kaplan, Temma. Taking Back the Streets: Women, youth, and direct democracy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
Lind, Amy. Gendered Paradoxes: Women's movements, state restructuring, and global development in Ecuador. University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005.
Maier, Elizabeth and Nathalie Lebon, ed. Women's Activism in Latin America and the Caribbean: Engendering social justice, democratizing citizenship. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2010.
Martínez, Nela. "¿Cuál rostro, cuál retrato de Manuela?" In Manuela Libertad, ed. Eugenia Viteri. Quito: Consejo Provincial de Pichincha, 1983.
________. "Dolores Cacuango: capítulo de una biografía." Nuestra Palabra (January 1963): 18-23.
________. Manuela Sáenz: Coronela de los ejércitos libertadores de América Quito, Ecuador: s.n. Distribución, Taller de Comunicación Mujer, Corporación Promoción de la Mujer, 2000.
________. Yo siempre he sido Nela Martínez Espinosa: Una autobiografía hablada. Serie Biografías de Mujeres Ecuatorianas - No. 1. Quito: CONAMU-UNIFEM, 2006.
Miller, Francesca. Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1991.
Murray, Pamela S. "‘Loca’ or ‘Libertadora’?: Manuela Sáenz in the Eyes of History and Historians, 1900–c.1990." Journal of Latin American Studies 33, no. 2 (May 2001): 291-310.
Murray, Pamela S. For Glory and Bolívar: The remarkable life of Manuela Sáenz. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.
O'Connor, Erin E. Gender, Indian, Nation: The Contradictions of Making Ecuador, 1830-1925. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007.
 Romo-Leroux, Ketty. Movimiento de mujeres en el Ecuador. Guayaquil, Ecuador: Editorial de la Universidad de Guayaquil, 1997.
Scott, Joan Wallach. Gender and the Politics of History. Gender and culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
________. "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis." American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (December 1986): 1053-75.
Smith, Bonnie G., ed. Women's History in Global Perspective. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.
Von Hagen, Victor Wolfgang. The Four Seasons of Manuela. Chur, Switzerland: Plata Publishing Ltd, 1974.
Yeager, Gertrude Matyoka, ed. Confronting Change, Challenging Tradition: Women in Latin American history. Jaguar books on Latin America, no. 7. Wilmington, Del: Scholarly Resources Inc, 1994.

Budget Plan Summary

The budget for this research project totals $4000, and will be dedicated in its entirety to direct costs for transportation, lodging, meals, registration, and other supplies. International research is critical to my ongoing development as a teacher/scholar in the field of Latin American history. Unfortunately, because we are not at a Research I institution, it has been exceedingly difficult for me to acquire highly competitive outside funding for these investigations. If I am to maintain my instruction at the highest possible level, I will have to continue to rely on internal funding for this research.

My time in Ecuador will coincide with the fifth conference of the Ecuadorian Studies section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), scheduled for June 1-3, 2011, where I will present the preliminary results of this research. Intellectually engaging my colleagues in Ecuador will help shape and focus my research, greatly enhancing the value and quality of my work. The cost for supplies in the budget include the cost of delivering copies of my recent publications to these colleagues, an important step in maintaining an active and ongoing research agenda in the country. I will also purchase books in Ecuador that are difficult or impossible to find in the United States but are essential for this research as well as the instruction of Latin American history at Truman State University. Finally, the payment for photo permissions is to reimburse the professional photographer Patricio Realpe for the images he has provided me for illustrating my books and essays, including ones for this current project.

Summary of Expenses:

Transportation $ 1500(international airfare to Ecuador: $1250; local transpo: $250)
Lodging $ 650(13 days x $50/day)
Meals$ 650(13 days x $50/day)
Registration fee(s)$ 50(Ecuatorianistas conference)
Supplies$ 650(books)
Other$ 500(photo permissions)
TOTAL$ 4000

Previous support

2010: School of Social and Cultural Studies Summer Faculty Research Grant, Truman State University, for a study of Global Indigenous Movements and Activist Research. $1500. The research resulted in conference presentations; a peer-reviewed article “The Children of 1990,” Alternatives 35, no. 3 (July-September 2010): 291-316; and enhanced pedagogical contributions to the Andean History class I taught fall 2010. Ancillary benefits of the research included being able to finish final revisions and acquire images for my book Pachakutik: Indigenous Movements and Electoral Politics in Ecuador, Critical Currents in Latin American Perspectives Series (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2011); as well as providing background information to launch a new research investigation into Indigenous responses to a September 30, 2010 coup attempt against Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

2008-2010: Innovative Academic Initiative (IAI) grant for developing a new Latin American Experience interdisciplinary course that combined on campus classes with off campus service learning, Truman State University, $10,000. Together with Chad Montgomery in Biology, we planned and implemented a new and innovative semester-long course for spring 2010 that entailed taking 23 students to Panama to undertake individual research projects that we subsequently published in the print-on-demand book The Panama Experience. Fringe benefits of this program include the essay “Victoriano Lorenzo” currently under review at the peer-reviewed journal Bulletin of Latin American Research, and rich ethnographic material that I have incorporated into my on-campus classes.

2009: Truman Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, Truman State University, for a study of international Indigenous movements and state power in South America, $4000. This summer research was an exceptionally rich and valuable experience, resulting in particularly productive outcomes including a peer-reviewed essay “Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala,” Diálogo 13 (Summer 2010): 71-77; a chapter entitled “Social Movements and the Government of Rafael Correa: Confrontation or Cooperation?” in Latin America’s Social Movements in the Face of the Region’s Progressive Governments, ed. Gary Prevost, Carlos Oliva Campos, and Harry E. Vanden (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., forthcoming); an essay "Indigenous Movement: 'For Plurinational States and Living Well!'" in Anthropology News (November 2009): 54-55; journalistic features on Free Speech Radio News and Upside Down World; as well as providing rich ethnographic material for my Latin American history classes and my JINS seminar on race and ethnicity.

2008: Truman Faculty Summer Research Fellowship, Truman State University, for a study of legal intermediaries known as tinterillos in Ecuador, $4000. I returned from Ecuador with a significant collection of archival documents on tinterillos that continues to pay rich dividends. I presented several conference papers on this research that so far have led to two peer-reviewed articles that will be published this year: “In Search of Tinterillos,” Latin American Research Review; and “Gonzalo Oleas, Defensor: Cultural Intermediation in Mid-Twentieth-Century Ecuador,” Journal of Latin American Studies.

2008: College of Arts and Sciences Grant in Support of Scholarly and Artistic Endeavors. Declined in favor of a Truman Faculty Summer Research Fellowship.

2007-2008: Civic Engagement Fellowship, The Center for Teaching and Learning, $500. Conducted oral history interviews with immigrants in Milan, Missouri, in my class Race, Class and Gender in Latin America (JINS 338). Students wrote up the results of this study and published them in the print-on-demand book Voices of Milan that was returned to the interviewees in Milan.

2006-2007: Sabbatical, Women in Latin American History, 80 percent of salary. Successfully designed a new course on women in Latin America; wrote, presented, and published numerous papers based on research of gender constructions; finished my book Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador's Modern Indigenous Movements (Durham: Duke University Press); and published the edited volume Highland Indians and the State in Modern Ecuador (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press).

2004-2005: Diversity Fellow, The Center for Teaching and Learning, $500. Developed Indigenous websites and electronic resources for instruction and research purposes as part of NativeWeb. Copies of the Indigenous newspaper Ñucanchic Allpa that I find in the Martínez Meriguet Archive will be incorporated into this ongoing project.

2004: Scholarship of Assessment Grant, Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, $2,000. Co-authored study to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching Introduction to History and Historiography (HIST 231) to first-semester students. As a result, we kept the course.

2002: Fulbright Scholar Program, Ecuador.

2000: Truman State University Funding for Results grant to design a new Junior Interdisciplinary Seminar on race and ethnicity in Latin America. I, as well as other faculty across campus, now teach this course Race and Ethnicity in Latin America (JINS 338) on a regular basis.

1997: American Historical Association (AHA) Albert J. Beveridge Grant for post-dissertation archival research in Ecuador.

1994-1996: Social Science Research Council (SSRC)-MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for Peace and Security in a Changing World for dissertation research at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley and with the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) in Quito, Ecuador.

1994-1995: Fulbright-IEE award (declined in favor of SSRC-MacArthur Fellowship).

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