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Research

A Camera in the Garden of Eden is a thorough study of the formation of a “banana republic” against a series of acts of resistance performed by workers who insisted on their right to be recognized as co-citizens. Based on a study of a variety of photographic archives, Coleman provides a lucid and powerful account of the 1954 strike and convincingly presents the civil claims and gestures involved in the strike as no less than a declaration of independence. By joining the many who used photography as part of their struggle, the imperial camera’s shutter is reactivated—one can no longer separate the study of colonies from the study of the sovereign democracies that ran them. This continuity makes Coleman’s book a must for every scholar of imperialism.”

Ariella Azoulay, Brown University

“This is a brilliant work, an extraordinary study that will become a model for historians (and scholars from other fields) who wish to incorporate photography rigorously into their analyses. The author’s erudition and his capacity to tease out meanings make this work applicable to all of Latin America (and other neocolonial states), as well as obligatory for anyone who wishes to write intelligently about photography. Although I have worked on the question of photography and history for more than forty years, I can think of no work that is in any way comparable to this book.”

John Mraz, Universidad Autónoma de Puebla

“Kevin Coleman’s A Camera in the Garden of Eden is a pathbreaking study of the banana industry in the Americas.  Offering at once a visual as well as political history, Coleman breaks new methodological ground in revealing the imaginative dimensions of social power.  A tour de force.”

Greg Grandin, New York University

“Coleman’s study is a marvelous example of why it remains important for historians to have an ear on the ground (and their eyes on the walls) in the rooms where the stories happened. In a world in which political acts are increasingly choreographed as visual (and sonic) spectacle, Coleman’s study deserves a readership that goes beyond those who study Honduras or Central America. As teachers, we need to encourage students to encounter visual culture with a critical eye; the theoretical and methodological insights offered in this book make it an excellent starting point for rethinking how we teach students to visualize the past.”

John Soluri, Carnegie Mellon University


I am an Assistant Professor of Latin American History at the University of Toronto, where I teach undergraduate classes in the Department of Historical Studies on the Mississauga campus and graduate seminars in the Department of History on the St. George campus.

In my first book, A Camera in the Garden of Eden: The Self-Forging of a Banana Republic (University of Texas Press, 2016), I argue that the “banana republic” was an imperial constellation of images and practices that was locally checked and contested by the people of the Honduran town of El Progreso, where the United Fruit Company had one of its main divisional offices. As banana plantation workers, women, and peasants posed for pictures and, more emblematically, as they staged the General Strike of 1954, they forged new ways of being while also visually asserting their rights as citizens. Photography and visuality were thus put to use in reshaping landscapes and livelihoods, even as countervailing claims to sovereignty, belonging, and the right to make public demands of one’s employer or national state were also forcefully made through photographs and public performances that were staged for a camera and the implied spectator that it promised. For a quick introduction to the work of Rafael Platero Paz, one of the central characters in A Camera in the Garden of Eden, see: “Vintage Photographs of Banana Workers,” in this Slate Magazine article by Jordan G. Teicher.

My recent articles and book chapters examine the intersection between photography, labor history, and theorizing ways to read political subjectivities through visual archives.

For my Ph.D., I studied with an amazing group of Latin Americanists at Indiana University.


Selected Publications

Book

A Camera in the Garden of Eden: The Self-Forging of the Banana Republic (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016).

Interview on the book, by Nicolás Quiroga for the Hispanic American Historical Review online. April 2017

Articles and Chapters

‘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 Imperialismedited by Daniel E. Bender and Jana K. Lipman (New York: New York University Press, 2015), pp. 104-136.

An abbreviated version of this chapter was published as “Las fotos que no alcanzamos a ver: Soberanías, archivos y la masacre de trabajadores bananeros de 1928 en Colombia,” in Fotografía e historia en América Latina, edited by John Mraz and Ana María Mauad (Montevideo: Centro de fotografía de Montevideo, 2015), pp. 149-174, translated by Juan Pablo Bermúdez Reyes.

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.

An expanded version of this article was published as “Una óptica igualitaria_Autorretratos, construcción del ser y encuentro homo-social en una plantación bananera en Honduras” Diálogos, 15, no. 2 (2014), translated by David Díaz Arias.

Entre la Historia y la Trascendencia: El Padre Guadalupe Carney y la lucha por la reforma agraria en Honduras,” Boletín AFEHC—Asociación para el Fomento de los Estudios Históricos en Centroamérica, 44 (2010): 27 ms pages.

This article was republished in English as “Between History and Transcendence_Father Guadalupe Carney and the Struggle for Agrarian Reform in Honduras,” OPSIS, 14 (2014), 429-448.

La fotografía y la construcción del sujeto hondureño moderno.” (Photography and the Construction of the Modern Honduran Subject”). Envío-Honduras, 18 (2008): 27-35.

La pedagogía de la burla: Entre los binarios históricos en El estrecho dudoso” (The Pedagogy of Sarcasm: Between Historical Binaries in El estrecho dudoso”). Istmo, 13 (2006): 21 ms pages.


Selected Awards, Grants, and Fellowships

Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Connection Grant, 2016. Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Insight Grant, 2014-2019.

Connaught New Researcher Award, University of Toronto, 2014-2015.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Institutional Grant, 2013 – 2015.

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation / American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Completion Fellowship, 2011-2012.

Future Faculty Teaching Fellowship, Indiana University, 2010-2011.

Bernardo Mendel Fellowship, Indiana University, 2010.

Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship (DDRA). Honduras. United States Department of Education, 2008-2009

Shriver Practical Idealist Award, 2009.

John H. Edwards Fellowship, Indiana University, 2008.

Samuel F. Bemis Research Grant, The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), 2008


Public History

What Hasn’t Changed in Yesterday’s Banana Republics,” History News Network, March 20, 2016.

Vintage Photographs of Banana Farmers,” Slate Magazine, by Jordan G. Teicher, February 29, 2016.

Coordinator, Latin American Research Group, a network of Toronto-based scholars who come together on a monthly basis to discuss their work in progress, 2014-2015.

Consultant for “Immigrant America: Murder and Migration in Honduras,” VICE News, September 9, 2014.

Concert–Voices against the Coup.” Winning Photograph, Spring 2012, NACLA Photo Contest.

A Coup is Not a Coup. A Not-Coup is a Coup.” History News Network. July 7, 2009. This article was reprinted on multiple websites and referenced by many political bloggers. It was listed as “Best of the Fray” by Slate.

A Chance for Real Democracy in Honduras.” History News Network. July 28, 2009. This article was listed as “Best of the Fray” by Slate.

This article was translated by Basta de Casaca as “Honduras: Una oportunidad para la verdadera democracia.”


Invited Lectures

A Flamethrower to His Image,” Department of History, Indiana University, Bloomington, April 14, 2016.

Keynote Lecture, Navigating the MetaModern, Department of Art History Annual Symposium, York University. March 19, 2016.

“Possibility Eruption Exists,” invited lecture at Brock University, March 4, 2016.

“Fotos, archivos y violencia.” Universidad de Panamá. October 10, 2015.

Reading Images to Document the Past.” Skidmore College. Workshop sponsored by the John B. Moore Documentary Studies Colloborative. October 2015.

“Photography, Archive, Stories.” Skidmore College. September 2015.

“Las fotos que no alcanzamos a ver: Soberanías, archivos y la masacre de trabajadores bananeros de 1928 en Colombia.” Universidad de Costa Rica. June 2014.

“Transnational Family Photos: Palestinian Immigrants in Honduras.”

Oriental Club. University of Toronto. November 2013.

“The Photos that We Don’t Get to See: Sovereignties, Archives, and the 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers in Colombia.” Historical and Cultural Studies seminar series. University of Toronto Scarborough. December 2013.

“Vodevil y el imperio: La ‘República Bananera’ como una representación visual.” Open Seminar. Universidad de San Andrés, Buenos Aires, Argentina. August 2013.

“La fotografía, el “quizás”, y las memorias de la gran huelga bananera en Honduras.” Department of Sociology, Universidad de Buenos Aires. Argentina. August 2013.

Keynote Address. Photographing the Perhaps.” Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Graduate Research Conference. Boston. June 2013.

“‘The Miraculous Virgin is on Strike’: Photography, Labor, and Claims to Dignity in Cold War Honduras,” Research Roundtable, Department of Historical Studies, UTM. October 2012.

“Linking the Production and Consumption of Bananas.” University of Toronto Mississauga. November 2011.

“Transnational Imagescapes: Palestinian Honduran Family Photographs in a Banana-Company Town.” University of Toronto. November 2011.

“An Encounter with the Other—An Encounter with Ourselves: A Photographic History of Honduras,” curated exhibit of photographs and gave opening lecture, Gopalan Contemporary Art Gallery. April 2010.

“Honduras and the Catholic Movement for Social Justice,” guest lecture at Marian University. March 2010.

“A Chance for Real Democracy in Honduras,” keynote address for the Shriver Practical Idealist Alumni Award. University of Maryland, Baltimore County. November 2009.

“The Honduran Connection,” feature presentation for a panel on the 2009 Honduran coup d’état.  Indiana University, Bloomington. October 2009.


Contact

kevin.coleman@utoronto.ca