Susan Socolow: In Memoriam

“Socolow, center right, with a bandanna in her hair. The other people are Paraguayan campesinos who were working on clearing an overgrown farm-to-market road, and (grouped around her) students from the Universidad Catolica Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion. The students were helping the campesinos and also providing medical services. Susan was invited to join them and write an article about their work. Source: Photo provided by author.” Photo and caption from “Life, Luck, and How I Became a Historian,” The Americas 70:1 (July 2013), pp. 1-8.

The Department of History mourns the death of Dr. Susan Midgen Socolow, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor Emerita of History and a faculty member at Emory from 1977 to 2011. Socolow passed away at her home in Atlanta with her husband Daniel on July 21, 2023, “before Alzheimer’s could rob her of her identity and raison d’etre,” as noted in her obituary in The New York Times. Below, History Department faculty and two doctoral students advised by Professor Socolow reflect on her towering career as a historian and mentor.

Professor Socolow had an unusually distinguished career full of important contributions both to Emory and to the field of Latin American Studies. Professor Socolow began her career at Emory in September 1977 after receiving her PhD in Latin American history from Columbia University. Her first book, a study of the merchants of Buenos Aires, was published by Cambridge University Press in 1978, and she followed this with a second monograph, published by Duke University, nine years later. She also edited two collections of essays dealing with broad themes in Latin American history. Professor Socolow wasn’t the first historian of Latin America at Emory, but she did as much as anyone in constructing the undergraduate curriculum in Latin American history and founding what has become an enormously successful Latin American history PhD program. 

Over the course of her career Professor Socolow received three Fulbright Fellowships, two National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, a Social Science Research Council Fellowship, and a Tinker Foundation Fellowship. She served on the Executive Committee of the Conference on Latin American History, the leading professional organization in her field, from 1997 to 2003 and as Vice-President of the American Historical Association from 1989 to 1993. In 2005, Professor Socolow was inducted into the Argentine Academy of History. In 2007, the Rocky Mountain Conference of Latin American Studies honored her with the Edward Lieuwen Award for Excellence in Teaching Latin American history.

A Remembrance by Former Students Viviana Grieco (Ph.D., ’05) and Fabrício Prado (Ph.D., ’09)

Susan Socolow was a pioneering historian of Latin America. Her research examined the countries of the Southern Cone of the South American continent at a time when most U.S.-based scholars focused almost exclusively on Mexico and Central America. Trained at Columbia University, Socolow helped advance the growth of history as a doctoral discipline, emphasizing methodological innovation, evidence-based scholarship, as well as clear and elegant prose. Susan easily bridged academic communities, not only because of her ability to speak multiple languages, but also because she fostered international connections and created opportunities for scholars and students from different parts of the world. Susan’s first book, The Merchants of Viceregal Buenos Aires (1978) was a pathbreaking monograph that turned the economic and social history of colonial Rio de la Plata (especially Argentina and Uruguay) upside down. In countries where the historiography had emphasized the power and wealth of landowners as the ruling elites, Susan’s work demonstrated that the merchant elites controlled most of the wealth, credit networks, and social and political capital during the late colonial period. Such an interpretation, based on intensive research in local archives (and combining administrative, private, and ecclesiastical sources), opened new avenues of research in Argentina and Uruguay, other countries of Spanish America, and Brazil.

A decade later, Susan published The Bureaucrats of Buenos Aires, 1769 -1810 (1987) which provided a carefully researched social history of the officers appointed to this area during the Bourbon Reforms. These works established Susan’s reputation as a leader in the field not only in the United States but also in Latin America and Europe. Beyond her initial and foundational contributions to the field of Rio de la Plata studies, Susan’s works incorporated early on the history of women and family as integral parts of society and put forward innovative demographic and quantitative approaches. Her studies contended with themes such as marrying strategies, migration, sexuality, and health. Additionally, her scholarly production helped demystify the pervasive dichotomy between cities and the countryside that had dominated historiography. Susan also pioneered adopting digital techniques applied to history, from utilizing large databases to GIS.
Susan Socolow’s passion for the history of Latin America is attested by her incredible publishing record and her tireless support for academic organizations. Susan published one of the most widely read works about the history of women in Latin America (Women of Colonial Latin America, 2000, 2014), three edited volumes, and 35 articles in top journals in the field. Her extensive scholarly and service accomplishments have been noted by numerous institutions and organizations, which have granted her many awards. In 2007, the Academia Nacional de la Historia in Argentina made Susan its first female foreign member. Susan was a relentless supporter of CLAH, RMCLAS, the Tepaske Seminar, and a founder of the Rio de la Plata Workshop, which she established alongside her students and is currently in its 15th edition.
Beyond her academic production, Susan Socolow’s commitment to her students, who successfully graduated and found employment in a highly competitive job market, was extraordinary. She staunchly supported her mentees and their ideas and encouraged us not to be afraid to leave our marks in the field. She constantly reminded us that, as scholars, we had the independence and autonomy to innovate, yet she also emphasized that only rigorous scholarship would enable us to challenge paradigms. As a mentor, Susan taught us the importance of advancing our careers alongside the need to care for our families and loved ones. She taught us to be collegial and supportive of our students and peers and to build communities around them. Susan’s passing invites us to reflect on her influential career and accomplishments.  Despite this enormous loss, we are proud to continue her legacy, not only as historians of the Rio de la Plata and South America, but also as friends and colleagues whose lives she enriched. 

Dr. Viviana Grieco is Professor of History at The University of Missouri – Kansas City.
Dr. Fabrício Prado is Associate Professor of History at The College of William and Mary.

Anderson Analyzes Historical Significance of Trump Indictment

Dr. Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American History, recently appeared on the news program Democracy Now! to discuss the indictment of ex-president Donald J. Trump on charges that he interfered in the 2020 election. Anderson analyzes the indictment’s citation of the KKK Act, the Reconstruction-era law that protects citizens’ voting rights. An associated faculty member in the Department of History, Anderson is the author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy (Bloomsbury, 2018), White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Bloomsbury, 2016), and, most recently, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America (Bloomsbury, 2021). Watch the full interview here: “Trump & the KKK Act: Carol Anderson on Reconstruction-Era Voting Rights Law Cited in Trump Indictment.”

Anjuli Webster Awarded 2023 NISS Dissertation Grant

Anjuli Webster

Doctoral student Anjuli Webster has been awarded a 2023 Dissertation Grant from the National Institute of Social Sciences (NISS) to support fieldwork for her dissertation, titled “Fluid Empires: Histories of Environment and Sovereignty in Southern Africa, 1750-1900.” Webster is currently conducting research in South Africa, Eswatini, and Mozambique. The NISS funding will support additional research in Mozambique central to two chapters of her dissertation. Read a quote from Webster about her work below, along with an illuminating feature story about Webster written by Karina Antenucci for the Laney Graduate School.

“Understanding the afterlives of empire is a central concern of my work as a historian. Histories of imperialism and colonialism have not only shaped our present climate crisis, but they have also undermined indigenous modes of responding to and managing ecological emergency across the world.”

Armstrong-Partida Article in Past and Present Wins Prize

Dr. Michelle Armstrong-Partida, Associate Professor, was recently recognized for an article the she published in Past & Present with her co-author, Dr. Susan McDonough, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Titled “Singlewomen in the Late Medieval Mediterranean,” their piece won the article of the month prize from the Mediterranean Seminar. The article challenges prevailing ideas about the supposed distinct marital patterns among mediaeval women in Northern and Southern Europe, offering a persuasive, archivally-rich reinterpretation that the prize evaluator described as “rigorous and thought-provoking” as well as “theoretically sophisticated.” Read the abstract from the article below, along with the full comments from the award evaluation.

This article challenges a long-entrenched model of two discrete marital regimes in northern and southern Europe. Demographer John Hajnal argued in 1965 that a distinctive north-western European Marriage Pattern emerged post-1700 when a large population of unmarried men and women married in their early to late twenties and formed their own household rather than join a multi-generational household. The corollary to this argument is that women in southern Europe married young and universally, and thus rarely entered into domestic service. Medievalists have embraced and repeated this paradigm, shaping assumptions about the Mediterranean as less developed or ‘less European’ than the north and ignoring the experience of women enslaved throughout the region.

Notaries and judicial officials in medieval Barcelona, Valencia, Mallorca, Marseille, Palermo, Venice, Famagusta and Crete recognized singlewomen owning property, buying, selling and manumitting enslaved people, appointing procurators, committing crimes and making wills. We reintegrate the experiences of singlewomen, both enslaved and free, into the daily life of the medieval Mediterranean. Understanding how these women made community, survived economically and participated in the legal and notarial cultures of their cities reframes our understanding of women’s options outside marriage in the medieval past.

WaPo Features Research from Southern Spaces on Gravestone in Black Georgetown Cemetery

Emory’s Southern Spaces, a digital journal about the U.S. South and its global connections, recently featured an investigation by Mark Auslander (Mount Holyoke College) and Lisa Fager (Black Georgetown Foundation) titled “Nannie’s Stone: Commemoration and Resistance.” In the article the authors discuss the likely identity of a girl named Nannie, whose gravestone in a historic Black cemetery in Georgetown, D.C., has been shrouded in mystery. The Washington Post recently featured Auslander and Fager’s research in an article about the grave, which was unfortunately set on fire earlier this summer. Dr. Allen Tullos, Professor of History, is also Senior Director of ECDS. Read the Washington Post article here: “A girl’s gravestone mystified strangers. We may now know her identity.”

Welcoming New Faculty: Dr. Jinyu Liu

Dr. Jinyu Liu has joined the faculty of the Emory History Department as Acting Betty Gage Holland Professor of Roman History. Dr. Liu was previously Professor of Classical Studies at DePauw University, where she also served as Department Chair from 2013-’16. Her research interests include: social relations in Roman cities, the non-elite in the Roman Empire, Latin epigraphy, the reception of Graeco-Roman classics in China, and translating classical texts in a global context. In the Q&A below, Dr. Liu offers insights on her research and teaching as well as the factors that drew her to Emory.

Tell us about the focus of your research and principal current project.

My main research area is the socio-economic history of ancient Rome through the examination of inscriptions and other written documents, particularly those related to the lower classes, social hierarchies, social and geographical mobilities, and economy. My work engages with an ongoing effort to write Roman history “from below”, which decenters the “elite” at Rome and systematically (re)constructs the historical experiences, organizational and survival strategies, expectations, aspirations, and self-representation of those below the ruling classes in the ancient Roman World. A particular focus of my research in this area lies in the study of the associations/guilds (collegia) in the Roman Empire. I have published a monograph and a number of articles on the topic. My current and ongoing projects in the area of socio-economic history of Rome have two directions: 1) comparative studies of the associative phenomenon in ancient China and Rome; and 2) investigations into the less rosy aspect of the experiences of (im)migrants in the early Roman Empire, in reaction to a general tendency in the existing scholarship that leans towards a positive, perhaps overly positive, assessment of the interaction between the (im)migrants and the locals in the Roman World.

Another research interest of mine is the reception, translation, and dissemination of Greek and Roman antiquity in China. I have published an edited volume in English (with T. Sienkewicz, Ovid in China: Reception, Translation, and Comparison. Brill, 2022), a two-volume collective book in Chinese (New Frontiers of Research on Ovid in a Global Context. Peking University Press, 2021), and several articles in reception studies. I am also serving as the Principal Instigator for a collaborative project on “Translating the Complete Corpus of Ovid’s Poetry into Chinese with Commentaries”. Selected translations and commentaries from the project that have been published in journals are made openly available on “Dickinson Classics Online“, a platform that the Classics Department of Dickinson College helped create in 2015 to provide resources in Graeco-Roman history and Greek/Latin literature to the Sinophone users.

Was there a particularly memorable moment from archival or field research that has had a lasting impact on your work or career?

My visit to the old Roman sites such as Ostia, Pompeii, and Herculaneum many years ago left a long-lasting impact on me. Deprived of the old residents/visitors, odor, sound, and the other features of these places when they were still alive and active, they are sites for imagination and reconstruction. The ancient people did leave many clues in the form of epitaphs, honorific monuments, buildings of various types and sorts, tombs, electoral paintings on the exterior walls of the houses, graffiti, and so on. Another very interesting site is Isola Sacra, which is a large-scale cemetery from the Roman times. There you will see house-shaped tombs, burial slots saved for freedmen and freedwomen, a carving with a midwife assisting childbirth, and so on. The world of the dead has preserved the clues for the world of the living. My dissertation and later work have mostly concerned with reading and making connections of these clues in a contextualized manner.  

What sort of courses – undergraduate or graduate – are you most excited to offer at Emory?

I am excited to teach “History of Rome” and “Slavery in Ancient Rome” in the coming semester. I also greatly look forward to offering “Uncovering the Marginalized Voices”, “Being Ordinary Romans”, “The Political Culture of Ancient Rome”, “Rome and China Compared”, and “Exile in Antiquity: History, Law, Material conditions, and Literature” in the future.

What drew you to Emory?

I was impressed with how intellectually advanced the students were and appreciated their curiosities and probing questions during my visit to Emory. I have also tremendously appreciated the high morale and energy in the History Department and on campus, as well as the friendliness of the staff members. My work also intersects and overlaps with the expertise of several History Department faculty, including colleagues working on history from “bottom up”, empire, expatriates, slavery, and reception studies. It is hard to resist the prospect of working with a number of highly accomplished historians in an immensely supportive environment, where there is real potential for methodological and thematic synergy within the Department and with the Classics Department.