The Weatherhead Initiative on Afro-Latin American Studies was launched in 2016 to support research in the new academic field of Afro-Latin American studies. This field centers on the study of people of African ancestry in Latin America and on the larger societies of which those people form a part. The field has developed in tandem with a variety of racially defined social, cultural, and political movements that, taking advantage of democratization processes since the 1980s, have transformed how Latin Americans think about their region, culture, and history.
We implemented this research agenda through the Afro-Latin American Research Institute (ALARI) at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, working with a variety of actors—scholars, activists, artists, government officials, policy makers—involved in racial justice initiatives and in the production of knowledge about Afrodescendants. Our research agenda is based on providing an outlet for our community members to discuss ideas that shape the development of this new field.
Since inception, we have hosted twenty-five speakers in the ALARI Seminar Series; supported twenty-eight research projects by graduate students; and sponsored dozens of special events and workshops. One of our notable events this year was the Sacred Groves/Secret Parks symposium, cohosted with the Harvard Graduate School of Design. This well-attended symposium held panel discussions and an art exhibition centered around Brazilian and West African landscapes of devotion to orisha, or deities.
In addition, since 2016 we have hosted four meetings of the Mark Claster Mamolen Dissertation Workshop, an annual event that brings to Harvard the best graduate students writing doctoral dissertations on Afro-Latin American studies anywhere in the world. The classes of 2016–2019 (fifty-seven students in all) were selected from a pool of 775 applicants from twenty-one countries. Students can apply in English, Spanish, or Portuguese.
Some of our other accomplishments over the past few years include forming a continental network of government officials who work on racial equity issues, RIAFRO, in cooperation with the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Development Bank; launching an online certificate program on Afro-Latin American studies; and most recently, hosting the first ALARI Continental Conference on Afro-Latin American Studies, which brought over 200 scholars, artists, and activists to Harvard from all over the world. Please continue to follow our progress at the ALARI website!
Opening of the ALARI First Continental Encounter of Afro-Latin American Studies, Harvard University, December 11, 2019. Credit: Melissa Blackall