Faculty Spotlight: Jose Amador

photo of José Amador

  • associate professor of Latin American Studies in the Department of Global and Intercultural Studies
  • affiliate faculty in the Department of History
  • teaches courses on on Latin American studies and history
  • won a 2017-2018 fellowship from the National Humanities Center for his book project on the transgender history of Brazil
  • from Puerto Rico


"I went to the University of Puerto Rico and received my bachelor's degree in biology. Along the way, I had exposure to classes in history, art history, and literature, all of which allowed me to figure out that a career in medicine or science was not really for me. After finishing my BA, I headed to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and completed both my Masters and PhD in History, with a specialization in Latin American and medical history.

"While in Michigan, my research explored the impact of U.S.-sponsored public health initiatives across the Americas. Specifically, I wanted to understand how physicians and intellectuals influenced nation-building and coped with the abolition of slavery. These interests resulted in my first book, Medicine and Nation Building in the Americas, which traces the circulation of medical ideas in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil in the early 20th century.

"As a historian, I love the busy work of diving into the archive and thinking about the way the past and the present influences our current understanding of each other."


"Latin American studies courses focus on building interdisciplinary knowledge of a region that is deeply intertwined with the rest of the world, especially with the United States. In my courses, I mix history with literature and film, because there are certain things that history can do that literature and film cannot, and vice versa. History is fact-based and context-specific, and literature and film can reconstruct the past through story-telling. This interdisciplinary approach helps students become aware of the world around them in a new way by giving them an understanding of the contexts that have shaped the past and of how power operates in the telling of history.

"My cross-listed courses introduce students to interdisciplinary approaches. I regularly teach Race, Science, and Disease in the Americas (LAS/HST/BWS 385), Gender and Sexuality in Latin America (LAS/WGS 390, HST 360), and a capstone on Afro-Latin America (LAS/HST/BWS 410).

"In my teaching, I try to develop students' critical thinking and writing skills in order for them to achieve their fullest potential. This entails a lot of classroom work and discussion. I encourage an atmosphere of open dialogue that is fact-based. Students must critically engage with primary sources to come up with potential answers to a historical question. My teaching philosophy is about engaging students with critical ideas that allow them to understand the past and reflect on the present.

"I also enjoy very much working one-on-one with students because you get to know them as individuals and scholars. One of the most rewarding aspects of mentoring students is to see their intellectual growth as they develop and design their own research projects. I've been directly involved with students whose projects have ranged from understanding the politics of baseball in contemporary Venezuela, to examining the rise of sanctuary cities in the US/Mexico border, to analyzing the work of an U.N.-sponsored arts council in Cold War Brazil. This, in my view, is the student-scholar model in action!"


"Generally speaking, my research has focused on the transnational circulation of medical ideas, on the relation between medical ideas and the law, and on the ways gender, sexuality, and race have become crucial for governing life. For example, I have worked on border-crossing public health campaigns, on the influence of medical ideas on anti-Chinese immigration policies in Cuba, and on medico-juridical discourses of transsexuality in Brazil. These interests have taken me to archives in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and the United States.

"Currently, I'm working on a transgender history of Brazil with a focus medicine and the law. This book project, for which I've recently received both a National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Grant and National Humanities Center Fellowship, stems from the 2007 Federal Court ruling that ordered Brazil's public health system to offer free transition-related care to self-identifying transsexuals.

"In trying to understand the historical origins of this ruling, the central questions of my project began to emerge: How did the biomedical possibility of sex change turn an individual desire into a universal right? Given that sex-reassignment surgeries remained illegal until 1997, how did this fundamental shift take place in such a relatively short time? What goes into valuing some trans lives over others?

"Finally, I'd like to acknowledge the critical importance of the Miami University Humanities Center in supporting my research and teaching. As a 2013 Altman Fellow, I explored issues related to human and nonhuman interactions, which intersected with my interests on the impact of vector-borne diseases on societies.

"Through their research apprentice program, the Humanities Center also afforded me the opportunity to mentor an undergraduate student who helped me organize a database for my current book project. That work was crucial for writing the application that won me the National Humanities Center Fellowship last year. I was deeply honored and humbled to receive that award, which will take me to North Carolina to focus on writing my book."

Outside the Classroom

"I have a great love for travel, which can be thought as anything from driving to an unknown town near Oxford to visiting for the first time a foreign country.

"Other things that keep me motivated and grounded is jogging, reading novels, and just spending time with family and friends. I also enjoy taking my dog for walks in Hueston Woods."

[January 2018]