History professor receives ACLS Fellowship to research ‘history of future’ in Mexico

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UCSC associate professor of history Matt O’Hara

UCSC associate professor of history Matt O’Hara has received a 2013-14 fellowship of $45,000 from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) to write and additionally research his upcoming book titled “The History of the Future in Mexico.”

“Historians of Latin America have spent much energy studying historical legacies,” notes O’Hara. "The notion that the past weighs heavily on the present is a standard frame for historical analysis. But I’m trying to push back on that idea and examine how Mexicans thought about, planned for, and accessed the future from the mid-colonial period into the early republic.”

“I’ll be traveling to Mexico to work in the national and church archives in Mexico City,” said O”Hara.  "I’ll also do some research in Spain at the colonial archive in Seville."

O’Hara’s previous book, A Flock Divided: Race, Religion, and Politics in Mexico, 1749-1847 (Duke University Press), was awarded the Thomas McGann Prize for “Best Book of the Year” in 2010 by the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies.

He joined the UC Santa Cruz faculty in 2006, where his research has focused on Mexico and Latin America; religion; race, ethnicity, and identity; political culture; and history of time.

“Historians often focus on the dramatic idea or radical breaks from the past,” said O’Hara. “But new things are rarely developed out of nothing—they’re usually built on traditions and everyday practices.”

“In the past, tradition has been a vehicle for change and innovation, and that’s what historians have seemed to overlook,” he added. “Innovation doesn't always mean a radical break from the past—that’s a modern notion—and it's an idea that distorts our understanding of history,” he added.