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Office: 7238 Bunche Hall
Phone: 310-267-5461
Fax: 310-206-9630
E-mail: derby@history.ucla.edu

Mailing Address:

UCLA Department of History
6265 Bunche Hall
Box 951473
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1473

Class Websites


Modern Latin America & the Caribbean

Research Interests

Lauren(a.k.a. Robin)Derby's research interests include the Caribbean (esp. the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Cuba), Latin American political regimes, authoritarianism, state terror, U.S. imperialism, popular religion, and cultural history. Her dissertation focused on public culture and daily life during one of the longest dictatorships in Latin America, the regime of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic (1930-61). The study examined the culture of consent forged by the regime via forms of symbolic patronage and exchange, from official oratory, gifts and rumors to state rites and monuments, as well as state efforts to reshape the citizenry through ritual and urban reform. The analysis relates official projects -- such as the rebuilding of the capital city and the execution of a year long national pageant -- to their reception by various public sectors. Moreover, it interpreted local representations of the dictator through popular idioms of gender, race, honor, patronage and religion. In contrast to the literature that portrays the excessive state ceremony of the Trujillo regime as insignificant window dressing in relation to state terror, it demonstrates how public ritual played a critical role in establishing a new mestizo state elite and civic identity. The research combined archival material with oral histories as well as the analysis of novels, scrapbooks, memoirs, gossip and official propaganda.

This social and cultural history of the Trujillo regime built upon an earlier research project on racial ideology and state violence focusing on a state-sponsored massacre of some 10-20,000 Haitian border migrants on Dominican border terrain in 1937. Conducted jointly with Richard Turits, this study considered the role of anti-Haitianism in official nationalism under Trujillo and how this was interpreted at the popular level by Haitians and Dominicans, as well as questions of violence and memory during the regime. Life narratives with Haitian massacre survivors and military as well as Dominican assassins, collaborators, and eyewitnesses were combined with archival research in Washington, DC, Port-au-Prince, and Santo Domingo. Her article on Dominican racial ideology in the Haitian-Dominican borderlands entitled "Haitians, Magic and Money: Raza and Society in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands, 1900-1937," in Comparative Studies in Society and History won the 1995 Conference on Latin American History award.

Robin has also explored vampire rumors that emerged in Puerto Rico, Mexico and the US Southwest during the mid-1990s. Witnesses allege that chupacabras-blood-sucking space aliens or hybrid clones-killed over a thousand farm animals. The research considers these narratives as indicative of a popular vision of the state in an era of inflation and economic decline, in the context of a long history of U.S. direct intervention and subterfuge. The chupacabras stories, then, can be seen as condensed memories of U.S. imperial penetration which were articulated through the image of a diabolical creature which threatened to consume farm animals and thus the very livelihood of the poor. As creatures that reflect popular anxieties about the dissolving of boundaries of nation-states in the age of NAFTA, the chupacabras also embodies a history that reaches back to the late nineteenth century, when countries in the U.S. backyard first fell to U.S. direct rule.

Her current research explores rumors about demonic animals in the central frontier of Haiti and the Dominican Republic as a form of sorcery and historical memory.

Her next major project will be a cultural history of the Cuban cigar. Commencing with the British occupation of Havana in 1762, the research will trace the meanings accompanying the cigar's trajectory from Havana to London and back again as it became an emblem of masculine respectability that epitomized the figure of the bourgeois gentleman. It will also trace how the cigar brought to England a host of other images related to the Caribbean, as well as how the cigar became an important status accouterment for the emergent Cuban bourgeoisie with the rise of sugar affluence in the Nineteenth Century.

Robin has been awarded grants from Fulbright, Fulbright-Hays, the MacArthur Foundation, the Newcombe Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. Before coming to UCLA, she taught courses in social theory, Latin American history, and historical methods at the University of Chicago for five years. Students have worked with her on various topics in modern Caribbean history, U.S. foreign policy, ideologies of race, state violence, populist and authoritarian regimes in Latin America, and issues of memory and self-fashioning in oral narrative.


Robin is trying to support Haitian artists in Port au Prince through the trying postearthquake era via tisiren.org

Selected Publications

Books: The Dominican Republic Reader, co-editor, with Eric Roorda and Raymundo González (Duke, 2014).
Here is a portion of the introduction:
Activating the Past: Historical Memory in the Black Atlantic. Co-edited with Andrew Apter, (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010).

The Dominican Republic: A Reader. Co-edited with Eric Roorda and Raymundo González. Collection of primary materials with historiographic introductions. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.

The Dictator's Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009). Co-winner of the 2010 Gordon K. & Sybil Lewis Award from the Caribbean Studies Association. Honorable Mention, 2010 Bryce Wood Book Award, Latin American Studies Association. Winner of the Bolton-Johnson Prize from the Council on Latin American History, American Historical Association.


"Beyond Fugitive Speech: Rumor and Affect in Caribbean History," Small Axe 18, 2 44(2014): 123-140.

"The Devil Wears Dockers: Devil Pacts, Trade Zones and Rural –Urban Ties in the Dominican Republic,” co-authored with Marion Werner, New West Indian Guide 87, 2014 (3 & 4).

“On Revolutionary Dirt in Haiti,” Wild Things: Nature and the Social Imagination, Karen Middleton, ed., Isle of Harris, UK: White Horse Press, 2013, 239-264.

“Trujillo, the Goat. Of Beasts and Men in the Dominican Republic,” Centering Animals: Writing Animals into Latin American History, edited by Martha Few and Zeb Tortorici, Durham: Duke University Press, 2013, 302-328.

“La ciudad de los muertos: Los rumores como creadores de opinión pública en Puerto Principe, Haiti,” Istor: Revista de Historia Internacional in special issue on public opinion in Latin America ed. by Carlos Bravo Regidor, XVIII, No. 50, Fall 2012: 37-55.

2010 "Bringing the Animals Back in: Writing Quadrupeds into Caribbean History." History Compass.

2008 "Imperial Secrets: Vampires and Nationhood in Puerto Rico," Past and Present, 199: 290-312.

2005 "Temwayaj Kout Kouto, 1937: Eyewitnesses to the Genocide," reprinted with new introduction coauthored with Richard Turits in Cécile Accilien, ed., Revolutionary Freedoms: A History of Survival, Strength, and Imagination in Haiti, Caribbean Studies Press, 2006, 137-143; originally appeared in Créole Connection V, III, XVIII (Jul-Sep., 1999): 5-10.

2003 "In the Shadow of the State: The Politics of Denunciation and Panegyric during the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1940-1958,” Hispanic American Historical Review 83:2 (May 2003), 295-344.

2003 "National Identity and the Idea of Value in the Dominican Republic,” in Blacks, Coloureds and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Latin America, Nancy Priscilla Naro, ed., London: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London, 2003, 5-37.

2005 "Vampiros del imperio, o por qué el Chupacabras acecha las Américas,” Culturas Imperiales: Experiencia y representación en América, Africa y Asia, Ricardo Salvatorre ed., Buenos Aires: Beatriz Viterbo Editora, 317-344.

2000 "The Dictator's Seduction: Gender and State Spectacle during the Trujillo Regime," in William Beezley and Linda Curcio, eds., Latin American Cultural Studies: A Reader, (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources), 213-239. Other versions published in Callaloo 23, 3 (Winter, 2000) in special issue on Dominican literature and culture, 1112-1146; and Ramonina Brea, Rosario Espinal and Fernando Valerio-Holguín (eds.), La República Dominicana en el umbral del siglo XXI, 195-214, Santo Domingo: Centro Universitario de Estudios Políticos y Sociales, Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, 1999.

1999 "The Dictator's Two Bodies: Hidden Powers of State in the Dominican Republic," Etnofoor XII: 2 (1999): 92-117, (The Netherlands) in special issue on personality cults.

1998 "Gringo Chickens with Worms: Food and Nationalism in the Dominican Republic." In Gilbert M. Joseph, Catherine C. LeGrand and Ricardo D. Salvatorre, eds., Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 451-493.

1994 "Haitians, Magic and Money: Raza and Society in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands, 1900-1937." Comparative Studies in Society and History 36: 3 (July): 488-526. Abridged version appeared as "Haitianos, magia y dinero: Raza y sociedad en la frontera domínico-haitiana, 1900-1937." Carta de información sobre Haitianos y el Caribe, APROFED-CEDMA, Santo Domingo, IV, 32 (Feb.).

1993 "Historias de terror y los terrores de la historia: la masacre haitiana de 1937 en la República Dominicana." Estudios Sociales XXVI, 92 (April-June): 65-76. Co-authored with Richard Turits.


She has been awarded a Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies for 2010-1011 for her new project on demonic animals and the poetics of deforestation in the Haitian-Dominican borderlands.

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