Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Justin Wolfe

Associate Professor - History, Arceneaux Professorship in Latin American History

Contact Info

Department Affiliation


I am a historian of post-colonial social and cultural history, particularly focused on the construction of identity within the context of everyday politics. At the same time, my work seeks to cross back and forth over the boundaries between social scientific and cultural analysis, to explore the interconnections between structure and imagining.

In my 2007 book, The Everyday Nation-State: Community and Ethnicity in Nineteenth-Century Nicaragua (University of Nebraska Press), I analyzed how popular communities—both indigenous and non-indigenous—understood, negotiated and transformed the meaning of national identity through struggles over land, labor and ethnicity. The book’s exploration of quotidian social life and politics reveals how diverse economies, ethnicities, and geographies engendered multiple experiences of nation. These invigorated a new Nicaragua citizenry through a fragmentation of local community authority and autonomy, which laid the ground from which August Sandino and Anastasio Somoza would spring.

In 2010, I published Blacks and Blackness in Central America: Between Race and Place (Duke University Press), co-edited with Lowell Gudmundson. Based on an international conference held at Tulane University, the collection explore the history of the earliest Africans to arrive in the Americas, who came to Central America with Spanish colonists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Since then, our book shows, people of African descent have constituted substantial parts of the nonindigenous populations in the region. Yet in the development of national identities and historical consciousness, Central American nations have often countenanced widespread practices of social, political, and regional exclusion of blacks. The postcolonial development of mestizo or mixed-race ideologies of national identity have systematically downplayed African ancestry and social and political involvement in favor of Spanish and Indian heritage and contributions. In addition, a powerful sense of place and belonging has led many peoples of African descent in Central America to identify themselves as something other than African American, reinforcing the tendency of local and foreign scholars to see Central America as peripheral to the African diaspora in the Americas. The essays in this collection begin to recover the forgotten and downplayed histories of blacks in Central America, demonstrating the centrality of African Americans to the region‘€™s history from the earliest colonial times to the present. They reveal how modern nationalist attempts to define mixed-race majorities as “Indo-Hispanic,” or as anything but African American, clash with the historical record of the first region of the Americas in which African Americans not only gained the right to vote but repeatedly held high office, including the presidency, following independence from Spain in 1821.

My current project, tentatively titled On Equal Grounds: Race and Empire in the Age of Manifest Destiny, is microhistory of the port of Greytown/San Juan del Norte—the eastern terminus of the Gold Rush-era transit route across Nicaragua. For centuries, explorers, politicians, scientists, and merchants dreamed of an interoceanic canal across Nicaragua. In 1848, this dream seemed on the verge of realization, when British forces claimed sovereignty over the port town of San Juan del Norte, Nicaragua, the transit route’s Atlantic starting point, rechristening it Greytown in honor of Jamaica’s then-governor. With the discovery of gold in California in 1849, the canal seemed even more urgent. Thousands of people make the trek through the isthmus; between 1850 and 1855, more than 80,000 people flooded across Nicaragua. As steamships began to arrive, Greytown evolved from a quiet village of a few dozen huts to a bustling town of hotels, stores, billiard halls, bars, storehouses, and the like. In 1852, as Americans poured in and Greytown began to challenge the Panamanian transit route, the British converted Greytown into a free port, with a constitution that provided universal manhood suffrage. The men of African descent—from the U.S., the Caribbean, and Nicaragua—who formed the town’s electoral majority, embraced this experiment in political freedom and opportunity. For pro-slavery travelers and observers, Greytown produced fevered visions of emancipation’s prospects in the U.S. By 1854, the collision of these forces led the United States to bombard and torch the entire port. Against the scholarship’s tendency to frame this as an episode in the “Southern dream of Caribbean empire” or an expression of white “othering,” this project uses a microhistorical approach that places the residents of Greytown at the center of debates on slavery, empire and social equality.

  • B.A., Oberlin College, Economics and Latin American Studies, 1990
  • M.A., University of California-Los Angeles, History, 1993
  • Ph.D., University of California-Los Angeles, History, 1999
Academic Experience
  • Associate Professor, Tulane University, 2007-
  • Assistant Professor, Tulane University, 2000-2007
  • Visiting Fulbright Professor, Universidad Centroamericana, Nicaragua, 2005
  • Teaching Assistant, University of California-Los Angeles, 1993-1994

Research & Teaching Specializations: Post-colonial social and cultural history, nation-state formation, race and ethnicity, African Diaspora, Central America

Related Experience
  • Editor, Mesoamérica, a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal of Central American studies, 2013-2018
  • Director of Graduate Studies, Department of History, Tulane University, 2011-2014
  • Co-founder and organizer of The Seminar on Historical Change and Social Theory
  • Chair, Central American Section of the Conference on Latin American History, 2005
  • Member, James R. Scobie Memorial Award Committee, Conference on Latin American History, 2007
  • Lavin-Bernick Faculty Development Grand, Tulane University, 2016
  • CELT Faculty Development Grant, 2016
  • CELT Faculty-Student Scholarly Engagement Grant, 2016
  • Monroe Fellowship, New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, Tulane University, 2014
  • Lurcy Grant, School of Liberal Arts, Tulane University, 2014
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Stipend, 2013
  • Mayers Fellowship, Huntington Library, 2013
  • Weiss Presidential Fellow Award, Tulane University, 2009
  • Central American Visiting Scholar, Harvard University, 2008
  • Tulane Honors Professor of the Year, 2004-2005
  • Georges Lurcy Faculty Summer Research Grant, Tulane University, 2004, 2002
  • Fulbright Fellowship, 1995, 2005
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • French
Overseas Experience
  • Nicaragua
  • Costa Rica
  • Guatemala
  • Spain
  • Brazil
Selected Publications
  • Forthcoming. On Equal Grounds: Race and Empire in the Age of Manifest Destiny
  • 2019. “Conclusion: Exceptionalism and Nicaragua’s Many Revolutions,” in Hilary Francis, ed., A Nicaraguan Exceptionalism? Debating the Legacy of the Sandinista Revolution (London: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London), 185-191.
  • 2010. Blacks and Blackness in Central America: Between Race and Place. Editor with Lowell Gudmundson. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • 2010. “‘The Cruel Whip’: Race, Politics and Manifest Destinies in Nineteenth-Century Nicaragua.” In Between Race and Place: Blacks and Blackness in Central America. Edited with Lowell Gudmundson. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • 2010. “Soldiers and Statesmen: Race, Nation and the Paradoxes of Afro-Nicaraguan Military Service, 1844-1869.” In War, Protest and Identity: Military Struggle and the Formation of Race, Community and Nation in Latin America 1850-1950. Nicola Foote and René H. Horst, eds. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
  • 2009. “La ejecución de Ponciano Corral en Granada, Nicaragua/The Execution of Ponciano Corral in Granada, Nicaragua.” Mesoámerica 51.
  • 2008. “‘No nacen aquí hombres serviles’: Raza, política y filibusterismo en el siglo XIX.‘€ In Memoria del Simposio International Filibusterismo y Destino Manifiesto en las Américas. Víctor Hugo Acuña Ortega, ed. San José: Editorial del la Universidad de Costa Rica.
  • 2007. The Everyday Nation-State: Community, Ethnicity and Nation in Nineteenth-Century Nicaragua. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • 2004. “Those That Live by the Work of Their Hands: Labour, Ethnicity and Nation-State Formation in Nicaragua, 1850-1900.” Journal of Latin American Studies. 36 (1): 57-83.

Recently-Taught Latin American-Related Courses: HISL-3000-01: Historical Methods: HISL-3910, HISL-3910-01: Explorers. Liars, & Travelers

Full CV or Website
Curriculum Vitae