38: Miguel A. Novoa Cipriani



Program and year of study

PhD, 3rd year

Previous degrees and colleges

BA History and Economics, Texas A&M

Grad. Cert., Nonprofit Management, Texas A&M

MIA, International Development and Economic Policy, Texas A&M 

Where did you grow up?

Next to railroad tracks in Central Texas

Where do you live now?

Next to a cemetery

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

Underground in the SS&H building

How do you relax?

Collecting music videos, digitally restoring paintings, developing games, singing to my pets, cooking, joking with friends and family, researching, and falling asleep to pleasant thoughts

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

I cannot remember a book, but I recall last reading a short story by Peruvian writer Abraham Valdelomar. The story, 'El Caballero Carmelo' ('Gentleman Carmelo'), is about an old rooster that dies after a cockfight with a younger rival. It steps beyond the theme of perseverance by underscoring the honor of facing impossible situations with dignity.

What TV show are you currently binge-watching?

None at the moment, but I am currently devoted to a video game where I play as a Japanese daimyō attempting to become shōgun and unify Japan.

Research interests

I am interested in state formation, the relations among countries in the international stage, and how both formation and relations have changed over the course of time. I am intrigued by cultural history and the creation of national identities. I am also interested in economic development and the role played by state and non-state actors in improving social welfare. I am currently working on syllabi for courses on a history of the Pacific World and a comparative study of slavery, abolition, and post-abolition in the United States and Latin America.

Dissertation title or topic

My dissertation analyzes the clientelism formed between Afro-Peruvians and political parties or caudillos—military strongmen—from slavery's abolition in 1854 until electoral reforms in 1896. Clientelism is an exchange system of benefits for political support. Mainstream history presents Afro-Peruvians as chaotic agitators unfit for democracy, emphasizing their alleged ease to favor whichever candidate bribed them with alcohol and food. This pejorative view belittles the Afro-Peruvians' agency and political calculations, enabling the ongoing sociopolitical marginalization that mischaracterizes black people as contributing little to Peru beyond popular entertainment. My project revises this history by arguing that Afro-Peruvians consciously supported political projects that prevented their re-enslavement and protected their legal rights as free citizens.

Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research

Association football in Peru developed largely thanks to matches played between British sailors and Afro-Peruvian stevedores in the country’s chief seaport of Callao during the 19th century. Yet, how did these workers find enough time for leisure? In my research, I found information about irritated British captains complaining that Callao’s stevedore company purposefully delayed the loading and unloading of cargo, resulting in demurrage added to their enterprises' costs. It seems that this situation allowed plenty of leisure time for soccer practice, which caused the sport's growth and, arguably, the creation of its most iconic skill: the bicycle kick.

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

Glenn Chambers, Philip Smith, Andrew Kirkendall, David Carlson, Gabriela Thornton, and Adel Varghese encouraged my academic interests and shared their wisdom with me.

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

It has never crossed my mind to write another person's work. I admire talented scholars and appreciate their work, but it's simply not in my nature to covet another's accomplishment.

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

Professor Gregory Downs, specifically his research in the relationship between the US Civil War and the concurrent crises in Central America and Spain, and Professor Sudipta Sen, who delves into deep questions concerning perceptions of existence.  Outside of history, I am interested in Professor Giovanni Peri's work on the economics of international migration.

What’s the best thing about being a grad student?

Working with undergraduate students. It's awesome to see the moment a student's mind is illuminated by a clarification; better yet, when the student engages in research. One of the best ways to preserve and advance knowledge is by encouraging new generations of researchers.

What's the worst?

The bureaucratic requirements are bothersome at times.

If you weren't a grad student, what would you be doing?

Probably working as a microfinance analyst or as a technical writer

Finally, please ask yourself a question

Do the ends justify the means?

No. The journey is always more important than the destination. Growth occurs by overcoming hurdles and learning to stand after falling. Focusing on the end stresses an idealized conclusion that is transitory rather than permanent. At the end, all that's left is the trail left by our actions.


—February 2018


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