Dr. Mark Petersen wants to bring a new challenge to University of Dallas students: to look at the Core curriculum from the perspective of the Southern Hemisphere.
“I really want … to get the word out about Latin America,” Petersen said.
Petersen, who joined the UD History Department in the fall of 2015, specializes in the “Southern Cone” region of South America, which includes Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
“I’m specifically interested in inter-American history, regional cooperation and pan-Americanism . . . and how these different countries interacted with others,” Petersen said. “I do a lot of diplomatic or what’s called ‘transnational’ history.”
Originally from Tampa Bay, Fla., Petersen earned his Bachelor of Arts in history, Master of Philosophy in Latin American Studies and Doctorate of Philosophy in history from the University of Oxford.
His dissertation, completed when he received his Ph.D. in 2014, was entitled, “Argentine and Chilean approaches to modern pan-Americanism, 1888-1930,” according to the UD History Department website.
He taught as a visiting lecturer in Mexican History at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014 before coming to UD, where he teaches American Civilization I, Modern Latin America and Inter-American Relations.
Petersen said he has enjoyed being part of the UD community.
“The collegiality within the faculty especially is wonderful, [as well as] the scholarship and willingness to have discussions,” Petersen said. “There’s also just general support — not just from the administration, but from other faculty members as well.”
Petersen said he has also been impressed with the student body.
“The students are pretty darn cool,” Petersen said. “I’m very impressed by the level of discussion [among students], even in my 8 a.m. classes. There’s a level of debate and discussion here not present at other universities.”
Petersen added that he enjoys teaching at the university because of his similar background at Oxford.
“One of the greatest influences I had in my development as a student was the tutorial environment at Oxford, which offered one-on-one opportunities to learn with professors,” Petersen said. “There’s a similar scenario here with smaller classes. I’m also a firm believer in liberal education.”
One way Petersen brings Latin American culture into the classes he teaches is through music.
“I want to show the different musical traditions in the Americas,” Petersen said.
He also enjoys experiencing Latin American culture through cuisine, as he did during his time living in Argentina and Chile. “You can experience the culture through eating their food,” Petersen said.
He added that although Chile is considered the Britain of South America, they serve excellent seafood.
The other Latin Americanists within the UD faculty — Dr. Jose Espericueta in the Spanish department and Dr. Carla Pezzia in Human Sciences in the Contemporary World department—are two professors with whom Petersen hopes to work to promote the study and love of Latin America among UD students.
Espericueta said that knowledge of Latin American history and culture is important not only because of the geographical proximity between the United States and Latin American countries, but also because of the role of Latin America in the Western tradition.
“There is a long tradition [in Latin America] with the West that we don’t always recognize but that is present and important,” Espericueta said. “Colonialism shows us how the Western tradition is when it comes into contact with other diverse cultures. This contact [between the West and Latin America] lead to the first appearances of modernity. Its history is not well-known, but it is instructive to us as Catholics, Americans and human persons.”
Espericueta added that although many historians see Latin America in terms of its problems, they should instead see the continent as participating in the great conversation of the West.
“The legacy of Hispanic America is one of human rights and informed discussion of the dignity of human persons,” Espericueta said. “It’s a realization of the humanity of colonial populations and indigenous peoples.”
Both Petersen and Espericueta hope to share this new perspective on the Western tradition with UD students, regardless of their majors.
Petersen in particular welcomes any students interested in Latin America to come talk to him in his office on the second floor of the Braniff Graduate Building.