I am a historian of modern Latin America, specializing in the history of U.S.-Latin American encounters and visual culture. My books and articles examine the intersection between photography, capitalist and imperial expropriations, and theorizing ways to read political subjectivities through visual archives.
In my first book, A Camera in the Garden of Eden: The Self-Forging of a Banana Republic, I argued that photographs allowed banana plantation workers, peasants, and women to represent themselves as full citizens long before the United Fruit Company or the state accorded them any such status. In making this argument, I had to break with the existing scholarship on political culture and nation-state formation in Latin America to examine two ideas.
First, I attempted to show that certain social and legal devices of political exclusion were inherently visual, as were many of the countervailing popular claims to citizenship. Second, I sought to demonstrate the ways that photographs captured and constituted processes of cross-class identity construction. When photos were not being used to denounce an injustice or to make avowedly political claims, members of all social groups tended to adopt a middlebrow aesthetic. Workers and merchants, peasants and fruit company managers: all posed in their best clothes to have pictures taken. By tracing the outlines of popular photographic practices that went beyond the nation and could not be controlled by the state, I found that the transnational circulation of photographs impinged on ideas of national membership to create broader categories of belonging and claims to the protections that full citizenship should afford.
My research has received generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation / American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Fulbright-Hayes Doctoral Research Abroad Fellowship, and several other grants.
Thinking through this intersection between capitalism and visuality also animates my teaching. I offer surveys of Latin American history and advanced undergraduate seminars organized around a variety of themes, including the development of popular political cultures and nation-state formation, religion and the region’s encounter with the United States. My graduate offerings examine the role that photography and other visual technologies have played in shaping understandings of self, nation, and race in several national and transnational contexts.
Capitalism and the Camera, edited by Kevin Coleman and Daniel James. (In-progress.)
Late Cold War Latin America: Coups d’état, Legal Infrastructures, and Cultural Processes, edited by Sebastián Carassai and Kevin Coleman. (In-progress.)
Articles and Chapters
“Photography and Work,” by Kevin Coleman, Daniel James, and Jayeeta Sharma. Radical History Review, 132 (October 2018).
“‘En uso de las facultades de que está investido’: El estado de sitio en Honduras, 1890-1956,” in Historia de las desigualdades sociales en América Central, edited by Ronny J. Viales Hurtado and David Días Arias (San José: Colección Nueva Historia Contemporánea de Centroamérica, 2016), pp. 275-304.
“The Right Not to Be Looked At.” Estudios Interdisciplinarios de América Latina y el Caribe, 25, no. 2 (2015): 43-63.
“The Photos We Don’t Get to See: Sovereignties, Archives, and the 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers in Colombia,” in Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism, edited by Daniel E. Bender and Jana K. Lipman (New York: New York University Press, 2015), pp. 104-136.
“Photographs of a Prayer: The (Neglected) Visual Archive and Latin American Labor History.” Hispanic American Historical Review, 95, no. 3 (2015): 459-492. **Awarded Honorable Mention for the James Alexander Robertson Prize for Best Article in the Hispanic American Historical Review, 2015-2016.
“A Camera in the Garden of Eden.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, 20, no. 1 (2011): 61-94.