By Guy Spriggs
UK’s Department of Hispanic Studies has added two new faculty members – Mónica Díaz and Matt Losada – to the ranks of its respected instructors and researchers. Díaz and Losada each bring a wealth of publications and teaching experience, as well as interest in Interdisciplinarity, to the department.
Díaz earned a dual doctorate in Latin American history and Hispanic literature from Indiana University Bloomington. She also received a master’s in Latin American Studies, and this combination of interests continues to propel Díaz’s cultural studies-based approach to research.
“I was always interested in indigenous peoples, in working with native cultural production and also women’s cultural production,” she explained. “When I started researching in the field of colonial studies I worked with many old documents, and from then I wanted to continue using history in my work.”
Díaz’s research focuses on historically-marginalized people, specializing in the colonial period of Mexican history. She is also published on religious cultural history, particularly the intersections of religion and politics. Her 2010 book, “Indigenous Writings from the Convent: Negotiating Ethnic Autonomy in Colonial Mexico,” was the result of Díaz’s attempt to uncover not only when native women began writing, but also what they were writing about.
“One of the biggest institutions of the colonial period was the Catholic Church. In this period, women did not usually get an education, but the convents were places where women were actually encouraging women to learn to read and write,” she said. “There are all these places we haven’t looked at where women were writing way before we thought.”
For Díaz, this line of questioning will continue when she travels to Mexico City for research on her second book – a trip supported by her recent award from the Fulbright Scholars Program. Through her research, Díaz hopes to uncover new understanding of how indigenous people in Mexico participated in the Enlightenment.
Losada is a film and literature scholar who received his doctorate in romance languages and literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. His academic background includes research in both film studies and film production, a mixture of training that continues to influence his work today.
“[That combination] is very helpful for being a film critic – it’s almost necessary in a sense,” said Losada. “The history of production and consumption is something I keep present all the time in my work. Texts are approached differently in film studies and area studies, and I’m trying to bring the two together.”
Losada’s publications reveal a wide variety of academic interests, ranging from connections between film and literature to cultural particularities in Latin American film culture to experimental or avant-garde film. While he has experience teaching and publishing on Spanish cinema, the majority of his research focuses on Argentine film.
“I came to that because I lived in Buenos Aires for a total of 8 years. It’s like a film paradise – there’s a omnivorous film culture there,” Losada explained. “Argentina has a unique national culture and a very interesting history. The various problematic governments and the mix of what happens politically at the national level with changes in technology produce moments with fascinating film history.”
His current project explores how marginal spaces are depicted in cinema. According to Losada, 19th-century Argentine literature reflects a division between civilization and “barbarism” – a politically-loaded theme that translates into cinema in complex ways. In particular, he is exploring the question of how marginal space is documented, invented and transformed into cliché.
Both Díaz and Losada express excitement about the opportunities made possible by the academic environment at UK. Díaz believes in a department with a vibrant doctoral program will sustain her motivation and bring dynamism to her research.
“I have been interested in working with graduate students for a long time,” she explained. “When you’re working on ideas in isolation you just circle the same areas, but being in dialogue with graduate students and colleagues makes your research bloom.”
For Losada, being at UK means using his unique skill set to continue expanding what the Department of Hispanic Studies can offer. “There are many good professors here working on film, but when I came there wasn’t really anybody working on Latin America cinema. And since there’s no film studies department at UK, that creates an opportunity for that learning to happen in other departments.”
Díaz says Hispanic Studies has “really good people with a really good record of what they do.” With these new hires, this trend is sure to continue.