Staff in Classics
Dr Jacob Blanc
BA (Hons), MA, PhD
Affiliated research centres
Born and raised in San Francisco, I received my bachelors degree from the University of California-San Diego. After a year working in southern Chile—with a brief, career-altering trip to Brazil—I undertook my PhD in Latin American history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I completed my doctorate in spring 2017 and subsequently moved to Scotland to begin a lectureship at the University of Edinburgh.
Summary of research interestsPlaces:
- Latin America
- Landscapes & Monuments
- Twentieth Century & After
My research explores the social, rural, and environmental history of Latin America, with a particular focus on Brazil, showing the overlap of human rights and social movements across the 20th century.
My first book, Before the Flood: the Itaipu Dam the the Visibility of Rural Brazil (Duke University Press, 2019) traces the protest movements of farmers, peasants, and indigenous groups in Brazil who were displaced by the Itaipu hydroelectric dam in the 1970s and 1980s. In bringing together rural groups of different ethnicities and social status, my history of Itaipu reveals the complexities of politics, identity, and struggle in the countryside. The book’s central concept of visibility tethers the actions of displaced groups to the more endemic issues of repression, resistance, and representation in Latin America: how certain communities become seen as legitimate social actors while others are rendered invisible. Because the marginalization of rural groups long predated the 1964 coup and long outlasted the official return to civilian rule in 1985, the histories on display at Itaipu blur the assumed boundaries between dictatorship and democracy in Brazil.
Current research activities
I am currently working on two new book projects that continue my work on memory and political movements. My second book (under contract with Duke University Press) is on the Prestes Column rebellion in the 1920s, one of the most mythologized events in Brazilian history. From 1924 to 1927, a group of junior army officers led by Luís Carlos Prestes marched 15,000 miles across Brazil’s vast interior regions. The Prestes Column did not succeed in bringing down the government, but it captivated national attention and galvanized momentum for what would soon become the Revolution of 1930. While the Prestes Column has inspired dozens of popular and academic works, my project proposes an entirely original framework. As a corrective to the heroic narrative of the Prestes Column, and contributing to scholarship on myths more generally, I argue that the mythology of the column emerged from, and remained tethered to, the long-standing symbolism of Brazil’s interior, the so-called backlands. By reinterpreting the Prestes Column through the discourses and platforms of its mythologizing across the 20th century, my book helps reimagines the interior of Brazil as both a place and an idea.
My third book (under advance contract with the University of North Carolina Press) is a biography of Aluízio Palmar, a former political prisoner and torture victim during Brazil’s dictatorship, who became a pioneering journalist and human rights activist. Searching for Memory: Aluízio Palmar and the Shadow of Dictatorship in Brazil is a gripping tale of revolutionary politics, military violence, and the legacies of authoritarian rule. But my book will offer more than just a straightforward biography. Instead, it has two interwoven goals: first, to use Aluízio’s life as a platform for understanding Brazil’s transition into, during, and out of military rule; and second, to analyze the methodological and political implications of memory in post-dictatorship societies. It thus seeks to analyze not only what happened during the past half-century of Brazilian history, but also the contested channels through which the memories of these often traumatic events have been shaped and retold. Aluízio's life undoubtedly serves as the anchor of the book’s narrative, but rather than focus exclusively on his life story, I also explore how he has told his story. By analyzing the extensive life history interviews that I conducted within the context of his own public memory activism from the past three decades, the book examines human rights activism in the aftermath of dictatorship. Searching for Memory shows how within a pervasive culture of impunity—no perpetrators of state violence have ever gone to trial for the crimes of Brazil’s military rule—citizens like Aluízio had to forge their own pursuit of justice and truth from below.
- Beyond Dictatorship: Human Rights in Latin America
- Landscapes of Power: Brazil and its Histories
- Global Connections since 1450
- The 'Other' in Latin American History
- American Borderlands: Histories of the Western Hemisphere
- Modern Latin American history
- Introduction to Contemporary History
- Methods of Environmental History
Currently accepting research student applications : Yes
Areas accepting Research Students in:
My supervision scope includes modern Latin America (particularly Brazil), and themes of dictatorship and social movements.
Books - Authored
Blanc, J. (forthcoming) The Prestes Column and the Myth of Brazil's Interior. Duke University Press
Books - Edited
Blanc, J. (2021) The bandeirantes of freedom: The Prestes Column and the myth of Brazil's interior. Hispanic American Historical Review, 101(1), pp. 101-132DOI: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182168-8796484
Blanc, J. and Sánchez-Calderón, V. (2019) La historia ambiental latinoamericana: Cambios y permanencias de un campo en crecimiento. Historia Crítica , 74, pp. 3-18DOI: https://doi.org/10.7440/histcrit74.2019.01
Blanc, J. (2018) Itaipu’s forgotten history: The 1965 Brazil-Paraguay border crisis and the new geopolitics of the Southern Cone. Journal of Latin American Studies, 50(2), pp. 383-409DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022216X17000049
Blanc, J. (2016) The last political prisoner: Juvêncio Mazzarollo and the twilight of Brazil’s dictatorship. Luso-Brazilian Review, 53(1), pp. 153-178
Blanc, J. (2015) Enclaves of inequality: Brasiguaios and the transformation of the Brazil-Paraguay borderlands. Journal of Peasant Studies, 42(1), pp. 145-158DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2014.967685
Blanc, J. (2022) "O começo do fogo": MASTRO e as raízes hierárquicas do Movimento sem Terra. In: da Silva, M. and Koling, P. (eds.) Terra e poder: Vivências e lutas sociais no campo. Marechal Cândido Rondon, Brazil: Editora UNIOESTE, pp. 331-358
Blanc, J. (2018) A turbulent border: Geopolitics and the hydroelectric development of the Paraná River. In: Blanc, J. and Freitas, F. (eds.) Big Water: Environment, Belonging, and Development in the Borderlands of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. University of Arizona Press, pp. 211-241