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Pinto-Handler Wins Boston College’s AADS Dissertation Fellowship

Sergio Pinto-Handler

STONY BROOK, NY -- Sergio Pinto-Handler, a PhD candidate in Stony Brook’s Department of History, will spend the 2017-18 academic year at Boston College as the African & African Diaspora Studies (AADS) Program Dissertation Fellow. 

Pinto-Handler received his BA in anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and a MA in international development at the university’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. At Stony Brook, his focus has been on the transnational history of abolition. He is hard at work on his doctoral dissertation, The Last Emancipation: Rio de Janeiro and the History of Atlantic Slavery & Abolition, 1879-1900 , which has been supported by the Turner Fellowship and a grant from the Tinker Foundation.  

In this interview with recent Stony Brook graduate Dr. Francisco Delgado, Pinto-Handler discusses his research and upcoming work at Boston College. 

Delgado: Let’s begin with your dissertation topic. What inspired it?    

Pinto-Handler: This dissertation grew out of a long-standing interest I’ve had in the history of nineteenth-century Brazil and in the abolition of slavery. Because Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish the institution, I thought that looking at how the Atlantic-wide history of slavery and emancipation was debated and publicly used by abolitionists in Brazil’s capital city would raise a number of interesting questions about the popularization of antislavery politics, the various reform programs created by abolitionists, and the broader transnational way in which emancipation was remembered in the first decade after the end of slavery in Brazil.  

Delgado: What are some things that you learned over the course of working on this project? Perhaps some things that surprised you? 

Pinto-Handler: I’m continually surprised by slavery’s vitality in the late nineteenth century. This was a form of labor that had no real reason to disappear, in the sense that there was no structural weakness in slavery as an institution. And while we like to think that after the US Civil War there was “global consensus” that slavery was a backward and immoral form of labor, I’m finding that that’s actually not the case. 

I’m continually struck by how the consequences of abolition across the Atlantic world really captivated the attention of Brazil’s conservative elite, and how effectively and strategically they used that history to ward off the abolitionist challenge over the course of the 1880s. And as a consequence, I’m always surprised and excited by the creativity and dedication of abolitionists and slaves who ultimately destroyed the last and oldest slave system in the hemisphere. 

Delgado: What compelled you to apply for the African and African Diaspora Studies Dissertation Fellowship at Boston College? How do you feel the scope of the fellowship will shape your project going forward? 

Pinto-Handler: My motivation in applying for this fellowship came from an interest in African Diaspora studies and a determination to connect what I’m working on to some of the larger debates in that field while also using its insights to shape my own project. I have a very interdisciplinary background, and I felt this fellowship would push me to look at a set of themes woven through my dissertation project – issues such as slave resistance, political citizenship and social mobility– through a new lens. I would like it to be a comparative or transnational survey of emancipations in the Atlantic world. That is yet to be decided, however. 

I also am very excited about teaching a seminar at BC! 

Delgado: Was this your first experience applying for an outside fellowship?  

Pinto-Handler: Oh no, not at all! I’ve been applying for outside fellowships since my second year at Stony Brook. It’s been a very challenging but rewarding experience. 

Delgado: Could you offer some advise to other graduate students looking to apply for a fellowship in the near future? 

Pinto-Handler: I would say that the most important thing with grants and fellowships is to keep trying. I’ve been very fortunate to have a supportive and insightful dissertation committee, and they have really helped me use the grant application process to organize my project and sharpen the questions that I’m asking. So my advice would be to treat the process of applying as a vitally important intellectual and professional exercise. I’m glad I did it! 

Delgado: Thank you so much for your time, Sergio!

Francisco Delgado graduated with his PhD in English in May 2017. His dissertation examines how multi-ethnic American writers use the dystopian genre to address racism, classism, and misogyny. He is also a 2016-17 New York Public Humanities Fellow.

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