Lara Putnam

  • Professor and Chair • History

Education & Training

  • PhD, University of Michigan, 2000

Representative Publications

With Theda Skocpol.  “Middle America Reboots Democracy.” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Summer 2018 print issue.

With Theda Skocpol. "Accentuate the Activists." The New Republic, September 2018 print issue.

“There Is No Civil War.” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, May 2018. 

“Digital Fixes Won’s Solve the Democrats’ Problems.” American Prospect, April 2018. 

“Who Really Won PA 18?” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, March 2018.

"The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast.” American Historical Review 2016 121 (2): 377-402.

Caribbean Military Encounters: A Multidisciplinary Anthology from the Humanities. Co-edited with Shalini Puri and Lara Putnam, eds.  London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

“Daily Life and Digital Reach: Place-based Research and History’s Transnational Turn.” In Debra Castillo and Shalini Puri, eds., Theorizing Fieldwork in the Humanities. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age. University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

“Borderlands and Border-Crossers: Migrants and Boundaries in the Greater Caribbean, 1840-1940.” Small Axe 42 (2014): 7-21.

“Citizenship from the Margins: Vernacular Theories of Rights and the State from the Interwar Caribbean.” Journal of British Studies 53, no. 1 (2014): 162-191.

“To Study the Fragments/Whole: Microhistory and the Atlantic World,” Journal of Social History 39, no. 3 (Spring 2006).

The Company They Kept: Migrants and the Politics of Gender in Caribbean Costa Rica, 1870–1960. University of North Carolina Press, 2002.


Research Interests

Travels and Terrains: Transnational Approaches to the History of Race and Anti-Racism in the Post-Emancipation Atlantic World

The last decade has seen an outpouring of scholarship on the international history of racism and antiracism. The digitization of ever-greater swathes of the world's printed past, too, has made new research techniques possible.  As a result, the international dimensions of struggles long studied within national frames have received new attention. We have gained vivid portraits of activists, organizations, and publications that linked far-flung sites.  Yet in the process, topics deemed central by a previous wave of scholarship—like labor dynamics, land tenure, demography, and political structures—seem to have taken the back seat.

Which aspects of the historical development of race and capital do we understand better now that we are routinely remembering to look beyond borders? What are we failing to see?  This essay traces different kinds of connections between Venezuela, Trinidad, and South Africa, and uses them as a springboard to examine the contributions and blind spots of recent work on the transnational histories of race and of capitalism.

The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast

Occurring simultaneously with the "transnational turn" has been a less-remarked but absolutely crucial shift in the accessibility of raw material at the core of all historical inquiry: sources generated in the past.  Text-searchable digitized newspapers, ancestry dot com, and Google books are suddenly at our fingertips, and with vertiginous speed are expanding their offerings outward from initial U.S.-heavy array to documents generated across the globe.  The ability to conduct instantaneous granular searches within vast arrays of secondary sources is no less revolutionary. These shifts have changed the practice of historical research in fundamental ways, yet are rarely discussed as such when folks talk about "digital history" or the "digital humanities." 

Digitized, text-searchable primary sources make visible and accessible a much wider swathe of historical actors.  But they do not make visible everyone equally. What about those who didn't move, who didn't write, and who were not written up?  We now have extraordinarily powerful tools for answering certain kinds of questions—but not for answering all questions, and not for exploring all processes that might be part of the answers.  If we are disproportionately drawn to those topics and those people whose histories are suddenly, gloriously writeable, we risk generating a generation of scholarship in which each individual account is true, illuminating, and engrossing—and yet the overall picture is fundamentally skewed.