Faculty Spotlight: Professor and Chair of History Ignacio Gallup-Díaz
Professor and Chair of History Ignacio Gallup-Diaz has been teaching at Bryn Mawr since the fall of 1999. We sat down with Gallup-Diaz to talk about his unique journey to academia and his teaching and mentorship at Bryn Mawr.
Can you take us through your journey getting to Bryn Mawr?
I often share with students I mentor that when I was in undergrad, I was pre-med trying to get into medical school. It was a common immigrant experience for my generation; so, my sister was supposed to go to law school, and I was supposed to go to med school.
I took time off after graduating from college, and in that five-year period, I got to really think about what I wanted to do, who I was, and I decided I wanted to be a historian. I had always wanted time to be contemplative, and to think, write, teach, and be with smart young people talking about ideas. So those were the elements that made me decide. I’ve always loved and still love history. I haven’t doubted myself or looked back once.
What is your area of research?
I’m interested in what is still called the “colonial history of the Americas” (1500s-1800s), but I broaden it and make very clear that it is the Americas that I’m talking about—not just colonial, British, or the precursor stage to the U.S. I'm especially interested in the experiences of enslaved people and Indigenous communities and societies. I'm trying to deepen and broaden what could be a pretty familiar story of the process of colonization and show how there are deeply embedded structures and processes that outlive the colonial era.
Can you describe your popular Pirates, Travelers, and Natural Historians: 1492-1750 course?
For a long time, I taught a pirate class as an upper-level seminar that always limited the number of people who could take it. Over the last five years, I’ve converted a version of it into a lower-level class. That has always attracted more and more students, and now there are 49 students in that class which is huge for me.
The course explores how pirates interacted with Indigenous people and peoples of African descent, and, on the flip side, examines the experiences of Indigenous and African-American pirates. I try to integrate pirates into a more complicated understanding of the Atlantic World.
What is it like teaching at Bryn Mawr?
Teaching is like nothing else in that I’m constantly being pushed. And I’m hopefully constantly, properly, pushing students. It feels like my mind is constantly being engaged and worked through by really smart students that keep me on my toes. The students are smart and self-motivated. Even though they are young, the students have deep and advanced knowledge and immersion in things.
What is the kind of classroom environment you strive to create?
I try to manage a classroom that is inclusive and open, where all feel welcome to contribute. There's an element of kinship because in any classroom, there’s going to be students who are introverted. And those are my people; I recognize them, they recognize me. So, I try to provide quiet students ramps where they can express their ideas. I’m always careful to say at the end of every class that if you didn’t feel that you could get your contributions into the flow of the conversation, there’s space for you to engage with your peers using online tools. So, I try finding what it means for us to have a class to have fully discussed a topic or a reading, and not putting that full burden on students.
Throughout your time at Bryn Mawr, many Latinx students have felt supported by your teaching and mentorship. Can you speak more about that?
I still have a letter that I keep in my desk written by a Latinx student from Idaho from my first three years of teaching. I was her advisor in the major and then after she graduated, she wrote me this wonderful letter about how meaningful it was to her to have me as the person who did her teaching and advising. But I was just doing my thing; it was just me being me, a person of color with authority in academia in a primarily white institution with a minority of faculty of color. So, students are drawn to that person. I did have all these points of contact and engagement from advising with the student, but there was also that element of representation that was important to her. I understood this in a way, but that letter made it really clear to me.
How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
I spend a lot of time walking and hiking. I live in West Philly, and I think it's one of the more beautiful parts of Philly. I know where my coffee shop is, I know where my bookstore is, or where I can get newspapers. But I can also walk in a way that’s not directed towards any of that. I really enjoy art, and one of the things I like about Philly is that it has a very vibrant local arts scene.
I make no attempt to hide the fact that I like popular culture and TV. My students have revealed to me that they’ve been making lists of TV shows and movies that I’ve referenced, and they’re trying to organize some viewing parties.
I like reading, and the other thing I make no effort to hide is that I enjoy comics. I really enjoy the fact that it’s a community of creators that's really varied, it has the energy of successive iterations of young people involved.
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