Cornell University Press

David Johnson Lee on Nicaragua and the US in the Cold War Era

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We asked author David Johnson Lee three questions about his new book, The Ends of Modernization, and his research on the relations between Nicaragua and the US in the crucial years during and after the Cold War. 

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

The first time I traveled to Nicaragua to do research, I stumbled upon an exhibition commemorating Managua’s earthquake in 1972. Dozens of people were gathered in the city’s mall around images of the old city that had been wrecked by the disaster, reminiscing about places that were still alive in popular memory. I went on to research more deeply into the process of reconstruction and discovered that the earthquake was not solely responsible for destroying the old city. The country’s dictator and international aid agencies had in fact completed the destruction, using the reconstruction process to deepen authoritarian control in the country. These themes of historical memory, disaster, and power all came to shape my thinking as I expanded my research into Nicaragua’s place in the history of international development.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

I sometimes wish that I had known the dimensions my book would take, as it expanded from an investigation of Managua’s earthquake and its aftermath, so that I could have better prepared for the work involved. It became a study of the transformation of theories and practices international development spurred by the relationship between Nicaragua and the United States, from the 1960s until the present. I am also grateful that I was unaware of these dimensions when I started, as the scope of the book grew organically from asking questions I could never have anticipated that grew out of archival research, interviews, and experiences all over Latin America and the United States.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of History?

The field of History is not alone in facing a massive crisis in academic precarity. However, living through the series of calamities that constitute our present, it is disturbing to know that we are losing a generation’s worth of scholars and scholarship that could help us understand the present and future in light of the past. I wish that more scholars had the resources and support necessary to continue the vital work that is necessary now more than ever.

*Featured Photo by Gabriella Trejoss.

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David Johnson Lee teaches US and Latin American History in Philadelphia.

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