New historians bring insight to ASU students
The intersection of religion and economics has made a significant impact on the development of cultures throughout the world. The New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University’s West campus has recruited two historians who possess expertise in different facets of this compelling topic and its effects on South American and European history.
Julia Sarreal and Stefan Stantchev are newly minted Ph.D. recipients from Harvard University and the University of Michigan, respectively. Both are now assistant professors of history in New College’s Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies (HArCS).
Sarreal’s academic interests focus on Latin America’s social and economic history. Her doctoral dissertation challenged traditional theories about causes of the 18th-century collapse of Spanish Jesuit missions in the heart of South America. Stantchev, meanwhile, focuses on the religious and economic factors that shaped power relations within Europe and throughout the Mediterranean in medieval times. He used his dissertation to advance his assertion that papal embargoes were less about foreign policy objectives than they were a tool of the papacy to maximize its control over Christians.
“We are fortunate to have attracted these two outstanding scholars to the HArCS division,” says Monica Casper, HArCS director. “Julia adds important regional and temporal expertise, and she will expand our teaching resources with courses focusing on Mexico, colonial Latin America, conquests and encounters, and world history since 1500. Stefan’s appointment will help us to staff our popular Western Civilization courses, as well as bring new offerings such as a course about the Crusades.”
Both Sarreal and Stantchev speak multiple languages. Sarreal took a year off during her undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College to volunteer at a homeless shelter in Mexico City, which helped spark her interest in Latin America. “I was impressed by the warmth and generosity of the people, and fascinated by the history,” Sarreal says.
Later, after a stint working in the financial industry in New York City, Sarreal moved with her husband to a remote, rural area of Paraguay to work for the Peace Corps. The couple assisted small farmers. “It was a simple life; we had bicycles, but no car or TV set,” she says. This general region of Latin America would become the focus of Sarreal’s doctoral dissertation.
In her dissertation, she focused on the collapse of the formerly successful Jesuit missions in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, which traditionally has been attributed to the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spanish territories in 1767. “I view the collapse as being more influenced by globalization and modernization trends, set in motion by Spain’s 18th century efforts to reinvigorate its crumbling empire," she says. "The indigenous Guaraní people played an active role in this process, deciding for themselves to leave the missions due to expanding economic opportunities."
Sarreal plans to spend the summer of 2010 in the Buenos Aires area, tracing the activities of the Guaraní people as they were leaving and after they left the missions.
Stantchev, meanwhile, plans to focus next summer on completing a paper expanding on a portion of his dissertation. Stantchev’s study examined the origins and assessed the results of an important foreign policy tool: the embargo. Among his conclusions was that the papal embargo, used against many targets within and outside Latin Christendom, served less as a means of achieving immediate political goals than as a way to solidify the allegiance of the Christian faithful.
Stantchev’s dissertation project also examined an embargo imposed by Venice against the Ottoman Empire during the 1400s. “The papacy may have used embargoes primarily to maximize its grip over its own ‘spiritual flock,’ but for Venice the embargo was above all an economic tool for the attainment of foreign policy goals,” he says.
A native of Bulgaria, Stantchev moved to Rome with his family as a teenager. He returned to Bulgaria to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, and then earned an additional master’s in medieval studies in Budapest, Hungary.
“I believe the experience of living in different countries has helped me actually understand what it means that different people and cultures have different tastes,” Stantchev says. “This of course is very valuable for a historian.”
“Early in their academic careers, both Julia and Stefan have demonstrated an ability to make connections among disciplines and cultures that often are considered separately. This type of interdisciplinary thinking is a hallmark of New College, and we are excited to offer our students the chance to work with these two talented new faculty members,” says Elizabeth Langland, New College dean and vice president for ASU’s West campus.
“It’s rewarding to see students adopt an active mode of learning and realize that work even with material that appears disconnected from their personal realities can help them foster their critical-thinking skills, enabling them to succeed in any career path,” Stantchev says.
ASU’s New College prepares students to take their place as independent thinkers and active participants in a rapidly changing world. In addition to the HArCS division, New College divisions include Mathematical and Natural Sciences, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. The college offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees.