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Pitt is working with international universities to expand the field of Afro-Latin American Studies

Members of a consortium for Afro-Latin American Studies including Kelia Grinberg with the University of Pittsburgh, left, discuss their work during a panel conversation.
Melissa Blackall
provided by the University of Pittsburgh
Members of a consortium for Afro-Latin American Studies including Kelia Grinberg with the University of Pittsburgh, left, discuss their work during a panel conversation.

Scholars at the University of Pittsburgh, and five other universities with programs dedicated to expanding Afro-Latin American studies, will soon collaborate to call attention to the field, and to produce materials for K-12 educators.

Pitt and Harvard University are partnering with institutions in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico to examine the contributions of African descendants to Latin American history and culture. Those involved say they want to shift the American cultural understanding of the Atlantic slave trade, and of the large percentage of enslaved people taken to Latin America.

Keila Grinberg, the director of Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies, said that although it's a relevant and important area of study, it’s relatively new.

“This is a story that people don’t know,” she said. “And even in the U.S., there are many, many descendants of those originally enslaved Africans. So this is important to understand Latin America, it’s important to understand the African diaspora, and even more than everything else, it’s very important for us to face the structural racism that still exists in our institutions.”

The consortium is led by Alejandro de la Fuente, a Pitt alum and former Pitt professor. He founded and now directs Harvard’s Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.

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When the consortium was announced in December, the director of the Hutchins Center said the focus of slavery must be widened to honor those enslaved outside of the United States. And he urged it be given the financial support needed to shape the discipline.

Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies and its Afrolatinidad Studies Initiative will be involved in the collaboration.

Each university will have a postdoctoral student researcher tasked with sharing knowledge across the network.

Grinberg says part of the plan is to hold a conference with those students to think about creating educational materials, training educators and addressing barriers to teachers who want to address Afro-Latin history and culture in their curriculum.

Grinberg, though, is most excited to bring students from the four international universities to Pittsburgh. She said that the lived experiences of students, and the connection between university and community, will help shape the field.

“This is a very community-based kind of field where we mutually learn from each other," she said. "It is really a new moment of how they integrate and how we value the knowledge that comes from the communities, the traditional knowledges that are very important for us to advance in the field, not just politically but really in academic ways."

The consortium is funded by a $1.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation.