Loyola University Chicago

Department of History


History Department Welcomes Dr. Gema Santamaría


The Loyola Department of History is delighted to welcome Dr. Gema Santamaría to the department as Assistant Professor of Latin American History! Dr. Santamaría joins us from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) where she was Assistant Professor and Director of the Undergraduate Program at the International Studies Department. She specializes in 20th and 21st century state building across Latin America with regard to crime, violence, and justice. Dr. Santamaría recently sat down for an interview with Media Assistant Alicia Zeimet to tell us more about herself and why she is excited to be at Loyola.


What is your major area of research?

My research deals with the history of violence, crime, and state formation in Latin America, a region considered to be the most violent in the world today. As a historian, I am interested in understanding how Latin America’s past has contributed to shaping the region’s contemporary challenges of insecurity, violence, and the rule of law. Far from seeing violence as an inherent characteristic of these countries, I understand violence as the result of different political, cultural, and economic factors that were neither inescapable nor irreversible but that have, nonetheless, deeply affected the ways in which violence was and continues to be weaved into these countries’ social and political fabrics. Violence itself is a changing and dynamic phenomenon, which its various manifestations – be it forced disappearances, gangs, vigilante killings, or state-sponsored assassinations – to this day play an integral part in giving shape to the region’s political and economic development.

I have carried out research on gangs, drug-related violence, and vigilante justice. My book manuscript traces the uncharted history of lynching in post-revolutionary Mexico. Based on the analysis of an array of primary sources and periodical materials, the book examines the reasons behind the occurrence of lynching during a period otherwise considered to be one of greater political stability and social pacification. In light of the persistency of lynching in Mexico and several other Latin American countries, my book explores deeper cultural and political dynamics that help explain the continuity of lynching and other forms of vigilante violence across the region.  

What is your professional background?

I hold a PhD in Sociology and Historical Studies from the New School for Social Research as well as a Masters in Gender and Social Policy from the London School of Economics. Prior to joining Loyola, I worked as an Assistant Professor and Director of the Undergraduate Program at the International Studies Department of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de Mexico (ITAM), one of Mexico’s leading private universities. I have been a Visiting Fellow at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at UCSD as well as at the Kellogg Institute for International Scholars of the University of Notre Dame. My research has been supported and made possible thanks to several fellowships, including a Fulbright-García Robles fellowship, a Matías Romero Fellowship (at UT Austin), a Women in the Humanities Fellowship (granted by the Mexican Academy of Sciences), and a Charles A. Hale Fellowship (awarded by the Latin American Studies Association).

Can you tell me a little more about your expertise in policy making?

One of the main reasons that drove me to specialize on issues of violence, crime, and justice was precisely to be able to contribute thinking about ways in which these challenges can be better addressed today in the Latin American region. From 2011-2013, I had the opportunity to serve as the main advisor of the 2014 UNDP Regional Report on Citizen Security in Latin America. The report aimed at providing specific recommendations to policy makers regarding the creation of more integral and sustainable responses to crime and violence from the viewpoint of the human security approach. Over the last five years, I have authored various specialized reports and policy-oriented papers for the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center, and the Berghof Foundation. Most recently, I participated in the academic coordination of the project ‘Co-Constructing Human Security in Mexico: A Methodology and Action Plan from the Communities to the State.’ The project, which involved scholars from ITAM and from the London School of Economics, resulted in a series of proposals to address communities’ insecurity challenges in ways that do not reproduce violence. I am also a member of the recently created U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation Task Force launched by the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at UCSD as well as of the North American Research Initiative (NARI) sponsored by the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies of American University.  

What classes are you teaching this semester as well as next?

I am teaching Introduction to Latin American History (HIST 210) and will be teaching Violence, Drugs, and Crime in Latin America the next semester.

Why are you excited to be at Loyola?

There are a number of reasons why it feels good to be here. I am excited to be part of a Department with such a number of distinguished scholars, who excel not only in their research but also in their teaching and service to the university.  I am also pleased to be able to teach students that are driven by a thirst for knowledge but also by an interest to change their social and political reality. Being part of Loyola University means being part of a community that believes in the transformative power of education as well as on the centrality that issues of social justice have for our thinking and praxis. I look forward to contributing to enlarge the school’s mission as well as to strengthen the presence of Latin American and Latino studies across the different departments of our university.