About

This two-day conference at Yale University in October of 2016 seeks to interrogate the role of experts and expertise during the Cold War in Latin America. Throughout the twentieth-century, traveling foreign experts in a variety of professional fields gained significant socio-political influence as part of broader processes of state formation and the internationalization of the region’s economy. They continued a longer tradition of foreign expertise in Latin America, dating back to colonial-era scientific expeditions. However, the global upheavals of the Depression, World War II, and then Cold War and the emergence of new transportation linkages such as the Pan-American Highway and air travel, gave new contours and urgency to foreign expertise in the region. Political ideologies and professional interests were made material through the creation of agricultural experiment stations, social science think tanks, and infrastructures such as dams, metros, defense systems, and housing projects, among others. National and foreign experts collaborated to build new institutions and economies; in the process, they forged networks that at times reinforced, and at times defied, the North-South and East-West axes imposed by international geopolitics.

The conference welcomes a diverse group of scholars from the United States, United Kingdom, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Cuba, and Puerto Rico to Yale University, where historical evaluation of Latin America’s so-called “long Cold War” has helped to rethink the region’s twentieth-century political and social history. Participants will deliver prepared papers, dialogue across thematic and regional specializations, and critique the meaning of the terms “expert” and “expertise” in the context of Latin American political and social history. Who constitutes an expert and why? Where do experts originate? How do they travel and who funds their work? How were experts and expert knowledge shaped by ideology, geopolitics, and social unrest? How were questions of race, class, and gender addressed—or silenced—by experts? To what extent did Cold War dynamics shape the circulation of expertise in Latin America?

In recent years, distinct historical subfields have reconsidered the individual actors and institutions doing the work of expertise in twentieth-century Latin America. In particular, the subfields of history of science and technology and environmental history have reinterpreted the relationship between human and nonhuman actors, examined the intersection of technology and politics, and studied the production of knowledge about the natural and built environments. Together with transnational historians and scholars of the Cold War, they have reassessed Latin American political history and offered fresh perspectives on traditional histories of this era, which often privileged business, diplomatic, and military personnel as historical actors. Along with the role of diplomats, industrialists, and the military, historians have recently added doctors, engineers, architects, agronomists, anthropologists, and even historians themselves as socially and politically significant “experts” in Latin America. These scholars have employed multi-disciplinary approaches, including but not limited to cultural histories of technological imaginaries, historical genealogies of disciplines and institutions, and sociological network studies. As a result, the production and circulation of expert knowledge in Latin America is better understood. However, historians of science and technology and environmental historians, despite these parallel interests, often conduct their work in different spaces, including here at Yale. Likewise, scholars of expertise in the urban environment and the countryside may not participate in the same conferences or conference panels. We intend to bring together representative scholars from these exciting subfields to dialogue and, self-reflectively, broaden our own networks of expertise. Some of the questions participants will address include:

  • Who constitutes an expert and why? Where do experts originate? How do they travel and who funds their work?
  • To what extent did Cold War dynamics shape domestic and foreign experts? How did networks of expertise reinforce or defy the North-South and East-West axes imposed by international geopolitics?
  • How did expertise reinforce or defy other binaries, including but not limited to urban-rural, national-international, developed-developing, first world-third world, etc.?
  • How have the growing subfields of environmental history and the history of science and technology impacted the study of experts and expertise?
  • How was expertise negotiated on the ground by local, national, and international actors?
  • How were questions of race, class, and gender addressed—or silenced—by experts? How did cultural assumptions shape expertise, and how were these assumptions received or contested on the ground?
  • How did Cold War experts continue longer traditions of foreign expertise in Latin America, reaching back to the interwar years or before? Conversely, how did the denouement of the Cold War shape expertise? More generally, to what extent does it make sense to conceptualize traveling expertise in terms of the “long Cold War”?[1]
  • How was Cold War expertise made material through infrastructures, scientific campaigns, and intellectual networks?

This conference builds on two panels that we organized at the Latin American Studies Association Congress in San Juan in 2015, which examined the role of rural and urban expertise in Cold War Latin America. It is generously sponsored by the Yale Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies (CLAIS) and the Kempf Fund, with additional support from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Yale Environmental History, the Yale Latin American Studies Speaker Series, the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Yale Graduate and Professional School Senate.


[1] Greg Grandin and Gilbert M. Joseph, eds., A Century of Revolution: Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Violence during Latin America’s Long Cold War (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).

Sponsors:

The Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies; the MacMillan Center; the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund; the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile; Yale Environmental History; the Yale Latin American Studies Speaker Series; and the GPSS (Graduate and Professional Student Senate).