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Robin (Lauren) Derby

Professor, Dr. E. Bradford Burns Chair in Latin American Studies, and Vice Chair for Graduate Affairs

Contact Information

Office  7238 Bunche Hall
Phone  310-267-5461
Lauren (Robin) Derby’s area of research includes the French and Spanish Caribbean, especially the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Walter Benjamin has defined translation as centrally a process of explaining “foreignness,” thus making alien worlds intelligible to other publics. This has been a central motif of her research and teaching. From explicating the cultural rationale of popular rumors, explaining Haitians and Dominicans who have a history of enmity to each other, illuminating the logics of rural borderlands cultures hidden to urban elites, and elucidating post-independence Latin American historical processes as they have played out within the peripheries of empire, her research and teaching has long been occupied with translating incommensurable worlds.

Robin's work has focused on everyday life under regimes of state terror, the long durée social history of the Haitian and Dominican borderlands, and how notions of race, national identity and witchcraft have been articulated in popular media such as rumor, food and animals.

Her book, The Dictator’s Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo (Duke, 2009; published in Spanish by the Academy of History of the Dominican Republic, 2016), treated 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). It considered how the regime extended the state into civil society through incorporating quotidian practices such as gossip, gift exchange, and witchcraft into the repertoire of domination.

Her other work includes (co-editor) Activating the Past:  History and Memory in the Black Atlantic World; (co-editor) The Dominican Republic Reader and articles on the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico. Her current book project, which considers werewolf narratives in light of the ‘animal turn’ is based on oral testimony of demonic animal apparitions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and is entitled Bêtes Noires: History as Sorcery in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands (forthcoming, Duke University Press, 2024).

Honors and Awards. Her article on Dominican notions of race 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 Conference on Latin American History award from the Council on Latin American History, American Historical Association. The Dictator’s Seduction was awarded the Bolton-Johnson Prize from the Council on Latin American History, American Historical Association, co-won the Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis award from the Caribbean Studies Association, and received honorable mention for the Bryce Wood Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association. Robin has received grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Latin American Studies Association, Fulbright, Fulbright-Hays, the MacArthur Foundation, the Newcombe Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. Students have worked with her on issues related to U.S. foreign policy, ideologies of race, state violence, authoritarian and populist regimes in Latin America, and issues of memory and self-fashioning in oral narrative, among other topics. She is Senior Caribbean editor of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, serves on the Executive Committee of the Latin American Studies Association, and is the director of the Caribbean Program at the International Institute, UCLA. She is a Senior Foreign Corresponding Member of the Academy of History of the Dominican Republic, and serves on the editorial boards of Sociales (Academia de Ciencias, Dominican Republic) and The Americas, and she is affiliated with the Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, as well as the Food Studies minor, the Food and Social Justice Working Group, UC-Cuba and UC-Haiti at UCLA.

Shape-shifting and Storytelling in Hispaniola - an article by the UCLA Latin American Institute featuring Robin


History 97B: War and Revolution in Central America 

History 8b: Modern Latin America

History 8c: Latin American Cultural History

Latin American Populism: History, Culture, Identity

The Cultural History of Food in the Atlantic World

Animals in the Atlantic World

Latin American Cultural History

Debates in Caribbean History

The Cuban Revolution: History and Revolutionary Culture

Death and the Afterlife: From Eurasia and Africa to the Americas

Studies in the Black Atlantic

Haiti: Past, Present and Future

Central America: History and Culture

Witchcraft and Modernity in Latin America

Oral History: Methodology, Practices, Interpretation

Latin American Historiography: Cultural Histories of the Nation-State

Gender and Empire


Fiat Lux:

Whitelash or Working class Revolt? Making Sense of the Rise of Trump and the New Populism 

Haiti and the Dominican Republic: History and Culture



Animals R Us

Animals and Culture

Interpreting Rumor

Paul Farmer’s Haiti

Oral History: Approaches to the Life Narrative

The Devil from Europe to the New World


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.

She is currently writing up her book on werewolves and the ‘animal turn’ in Haiti and the Dominican Republic on a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Selected Publications


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.


“Zemis and Zombies: Indigenous Healing Legacies on Hispaniola,”  Medicine and Healing in the Age of Slavery, Sean Smith and Chris Willoughby, eds., University of Mississippi Press, 2021. Photo gallery of 10 companion images at https://medicineandhealingintheageofslavery.com/.

“Haitian-Dominican History and the 1937 Haitian Massacre.” In The Border of Lights Reader: Bearing Witness to Genocide in the Dominican Republic, Megan Myers and Edward Paulino, eds., Amherst College Press, 2021. Co-authored with Richard Turits, 47-70 available at https://www.fulcrum.org/concern/monographs/1v53k057r.

“An Oral History of a Massacre:  Interview with Isil Nicolas Cour, Dosmon, Ouanaminthe,  Haiti, 1988,” conducted with Richard Turits. The Haiti Reader, Laurent Dubois, et al., eds., Durham: Duke University Press, 2020, 267-276.

“Cómo hablar con cuatro ojos: reflexiones sobre la matanza desde la perspectiva fronteriza,” La masacre de 1937: 80 años despues. Reconstruyendo la memoria, Matias Bosch Carcuro, Elides Acosta Matos, and Amaury Pérez Vargas, eds., Santo Domingo: Fundación Juan Bosch, 2019, 233-250.

“Imperial Idols:  French and U.S. Revenants in Haitian Vodou,” History of Religions 54, No. 4      (May 2015): 394-422.  Special issue on the global occult edited by Nile Green.

"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.


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.