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John D. French, Professor of History and International Comparative Studies

John D. French

I am a professor of History and African and African-American Studies at Duke University in Durham North Carolina. With a B.A. from Amherst College, I received my doctorate at Yale in 1985 under Brazilian historian Emília Viotti da Costa. Since 1979, I have been studying class, race, and politics in Brazil, Latin America, and beyond with 42 refereed articles and three books: The Brazilian Workers ABC (1992/1995 in Brazil), Drowning in Laws: Labor Law and Brazilian Political Culture (2004; 2002 in Brazil), and a coedited volume The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers (1997). I have just completed the first of a multivolume biography of Brazilian trade unionist turned President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva: The Unknown Lula: The Origins of a Brazilian President, 1945-1968

I have over the years served as Director of the Duke's Latin American Center and the Carolina-Duke Consortium, Treasurer of our national interdisciplinary organization LASA, and co-editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review for a five year term that ended in June 2017.  Over the past five years, I have founder and served as co-director of the Duke Brazil Initiative, the Global Brazil Humanities Lab of the Franklin Humanities Institute (2014-17), and a leader of the Bass Connections Project om "The Cost of Opportunity: Social Mobility and Higher Education in Rio's Baixada Fluminense" 


My past grad advisees have completed dissertations on Bolivia, Brazil (2), Chile, Jamaica & Trinidad and Tobago, Peru, Venezuela, and southeastern pacific marine environmental history. My graduate teaching includes the "Modern Latin American History" colloquium, a two semester sequence on "Afro-Brazilian History and Culture," and "The Latin American Wars of Indepenedence." Over the years, I have directed numerous undergraduate theses in a variety of disciplines, eight of which won prizes. My undergraduate offerings include surveys of Brazilian, Afro-Brazilian, and Modern Latin American history and Global Protest with a new offering planned on the political and military history of the Latin American Wars of Independence.

Contact Info:
Office Location:  331 Carr Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Office Phone:  (919) 684-2536
Email Address: send me a message

Teaching (Spring 2020):

    Social Sciences 311, MW 01:25 PM-02:40 PM
    (also cross-listed as AAAS 264.01, ICS 232.01, POLSCI 257.01)
    Allen 326, M 10:05 AM-12:35 PM

Ph.D.Yale University1985
MAUniversity of Pittsburgh1978
BA (Magna cum laude)Amherst College1975

Labor and Working Class History
Legal History
Politics, Public Life and Governance
Race and Ethnicity
Latin America and the Caribbean
Global and Comparative
Research Interests:

Current projects: Since 1984, I have been co-coordinator of the Latin American Labor History Conference held in April of each year at Duke, and I served as Director of the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies from 2001 to December 2005, and as Director of the Carolina and Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies 2002-05. I also serve as Associate Editor for Latin America and the Caribbean for the journal Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas, under its new editor Leon Fink (University of Illinois-Chicago).

I am an historian of modern Latin America with a specialization in Brazil. Since 2005, I have been working on a book entitled "Lula's Politics of Cunning: From Trade Unionism to the Presidency in Brazil" which draws on a multi-year international research project on “Nurturing Hope, Deepening Democracy, and Combating Inequalities: An Assessment of Lula’s Presidency” that I co-organized (preliminary results have been published in 2012 along with a number of other articles on Lula, Latin American left turns, and working class history in Brazil. My last book entitled "Drowning in Laws: Labor Law and Brazilian Political Culture" was published in 2004.


African diaspora • Brazil • History • labor • Labor • Lula • Political science • PT • transnationalism • WTO

Curriculum Vitae
Recent Publications   (More Publications)

  1. Wolford, W; French, JD, Deconstructing the post-neoliberal state, edited by Wolford, W; French, JD, Latin American Perspectives, vol. 43 no. 2 (March, 2016), pp. 4-21, SAGE Publications [doi]  [abs]
  2. French, JD, The tessitura of rights: employers and employees in labor law, 1953-1964, The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 93 no. 4 (November, 2013), pp. 723-724, ISSN 0018-2168 [Gateway.cgi]
  3. French, JD, Review of A tessitura dos direitos: Patrões e empregados na justiça do trabalho, 1953 – 1964 by Larissa Correia, Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 93 no. 4 (2013), pp. 723-4
  4. French, JD, Política, Memória, e Vida Operaria na Cinebiografia Lula, Filho do Brasil, Perseu. História, Memória E Política [Revisa Do Centro Sérgio Buarque De Holanda Da Fundação Perseu Abramo] no. 6 (2013), pp. 259-277
  5. Fortes, A; French, J, The "Lula Era", the 2010 presidential elections and the challenges of post-neoliberalism, Tempo Social, vol. 24 no. 1 (December, 2012), pp. 201-228, FapUNIFESP (SciELO) [doi]  [abs]

I have received major fellowships from: Fulbright-Hays (1981-1982, 2000), Inter-American Foundation (1981-83), Social Science Research Council (1981-83, 1991) the National Humanities Center (1995-96), the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2005-2006), and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame (Spring 2007). In addition, my external grants include: American Philosophical Society (1998), American Council of Learned Societies (1991), National Endowment for the Humanities (1998, 1991), National Historical Publications and Records Commission (1998-2000) and North-South Center (1994)

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