- Epitaph of a Small Winner:My First 50 Years in Academe. An Interview with Judith Ewell
Judith Ewell has been a major figure in modern Latin American history, both as a research scholar and as a teacher. Just before receiving her PhD at the University of New Mexico in 1972, Ewell began teaching at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, from which she retired in 2004. Ewell's books include The Indictment of a Dictator: The Extradition and Trial of Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1981); Venezuela: A Century of Change (1984); and Venezuela and the United States: From Monroe's Hemisphere to Petroleum's Empire (1996, Spanish ed. 1998). Ewell has also published numerous articles and book chapters on modern Latin American history and women's history. She is co-editor of the much-loved biographical essay collection, The Human Tradition in Latin America (Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries) with WilliamH. Beezley, with whom she served on the editorial board of Scholarly Resources Press (now Rowman & Littlefield). Most importantly, Ewell served as chief editor of this journal, The Americas, from 1998 to 2003. The Judith Ewell Prize is now awarded annually for the best Americas article in nineteenth- or twentieth-century history.1—Kris Lane, Tulane University
This may be diving a bit deep at the start, but how would you assess your professional trajectory? And what was it like entering the academic world as a woman in the 1960s?JE:
Although my career has proceeded more through serendipitous accidents than from a carefully laid-out plan, I have emerged a small winner. I was somewhat oblivious to many of the obstacles that academic women faced over much of the last half century. When I entered graduate school in 1967, men dominated faculty positions, editing and publication, professional associations, and educational administration. There were very few women in any of these [End Page 381] branches of academe, aside from those at some of the women's colleges.2 Having received a doctorate in 1972, I was one of a small but growing cohort of women who pursued an academic career. The odds were not great that I would become a tenured full professor at a good school, a published scholar, an officer in professional associations, an editor, and an administrator. Helped by luck and generous mentors and sponsors, I have been able to enjoy modest success in my academic career.KL:
What drew you to history, and specifically, to Latin American history? Did you have female mentors?JE:
Women were relatively rare on university faculties when I began my career. As an undergraduate at Duke University (1961–65), aside from language teachers, I had three women professors, in botany, in history, and in political science. As a graduate student at the University of New Mexico in 1967, I do not recall any women on the History faculty. There were certainly none who taught any Latin American courses. At Duke, I did have my first taste of Latin American history by taking two courses from John Tate Lanning. I enjoyed the courses and appreciated the overlap that my concurrent study of Spanish provided. My goals, however, were to earn my certificate to teach high school social studies, so my work in US and European history seemed more relevant. Upon graduation from Duke, I did teach high school history in Bakersfield, California, for two years. California required a MA degree to receive a full teaching certificate, and I began to take some courses at night.
Impatient with studying at night after teaching all day, I decided to go to graduate school full time to earn my MA. Through a series of not especially well thought-out decisions, I found myself driving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to begin graduate work. On the way, I concluded that I would concentrate in Latin American history as a more specialized field that might offer other career opportunities if I chose to leave teaching. I fully intended, however, to return [End Page 382] to high school teaching. A university position fell outside my imagination at the time.
For any of us at Duke who might have looked to...