Department of History

Lara Putnam

  • Professor


Latin American History
Atlantic History
Power and Inequality


Rethinking the Black Atlantic
Transnational Labor History of the Americas
Women in Latin America

Education & Training

  • PhD, University of Michigan, 2000

Representative Publications

Rust Belt in Transition: What has happened in Pennsylvania’s, and the entire Rust Belt’s, “Middle Suburb” counties, and can it be reversed?” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. Summer 2020 print edition (no. 57) 

With Jeremy Pressman and Erica Chenoweth. " Black Lives Matter beyond America’s big cities: Here’s the new geography of youth activism." Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post, July 8, 2020, 

With Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman. "The Floyd protests are the broadest in U.S. history — and are spreading to white, small-town America." Monkey Cage Blog, Washington Post, June 6, 2020.

With Theda Skocpol and Caroline Tervo, "Citizen Activism and the Democratic Party," In Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance (Oxford University Press, 2020).

"‘Resistance’ Women Loved Elizabeth Warren. Here’s Why Their Groups Didn’t Fight for Her." The American Prospect, March 6, 2020.

"Iowa and Democratic Funders’ Delusions," Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, February 6, 2020.

With Gabriel Perez-Putnam. “Grassroots Blossom Across America, Reshaping Country’s Political Geography.” American Communities Project, September 13, 2019. 

In Pennsylvania’s Exurbs and Urban Suburbs, Political Organizing Has Been Intense Since 2016. What Could It Mean for 2020?” American Communities Project, August 06, 2019. 

With Gabriel Perez Putnam. “How Today’s Anti-Trump Protests Will Shape the 2020 Election.” Washington Monthly, July 12, 2019

"The progressive base is more pragmatic than you might think." Vox, March 25, 2019

With Gabriel Perez-Putnam. "What Dollar Stores Tell Us About Electoral Politics." Washington Monthly, March 9, 2019

With Hahrie Han. “The best way for Democrats to win in 2020? By ignoring the candidates for now.” Washington Post, April 29, 2019 

"On Not Teaching Fast Enough, Far Enough." Association for Political and Legal Anthropology special series Speaking Justice to Power: Local Pittsburgh Scholars Respond to the Tree of Life Shooting, edited by Heath Cabot and Michal Rose Friedman.

With Theda Skocpol. "Accentuate the Activists." The New Republic, September 2018 print issue.

With Theda Skocpol.  “Middle America Reboots Democracy.” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Summer 2018 print issue.

There Is No Civil War.” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, May 2018. 

Digital Fixes Won’s Solve the Democrats’ Problems.” American Prospect, April 2018. 

Who Really Won PA 18?Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, March 2018.

"The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast.” American Historical Review 2016 121 (2): 377-402.

Caribbean Military Encounters: A Multidisciplinary Anthology from the Humanities. Co-edited with Shalini Puri and Lara Putnam, eds.  London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

“Daily Life and Digital Reach: Place-based Research and History’s Transnational Turn.” In Debra Castillo and Shalini Puri, eds., Theorizing Fieldwork in the Humanities. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age. University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

“Borderlands and Border-Crossers: Migrants and Boundaries in the Greater Caribbean, 1840-1940.” Small Axe 42 (2014): 7-21.

“Citizenship from the Margins: Vernacular Theories of Rights and the State from the Interwar Caribbean.” Journal of British Studies 53, no. 1 (2014): 162-191.

“To Study the Fragments/Whole: Microhistory and the Atlantic World,” Journal of Social History 39, no. 3 (Spring 2006).

The Company They Kept: Migrants and the Politics of Gender in Caribbean Costa Rica, 1870–1960University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Research Interests

Information Ecosystems: Creating Data (and Absence) From the Quantitative to the Digital Age

Across the humanities and social sciences, methods of knowledge production are being transformed by an extraordinary expansion of digitized information. This Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded Sawyer Seminar brings fourteen field-leading international scholars to Pitt over the course of the 2019-20 academic year, to set the present moment within a century-long history of information supply and its power-laden consequences.

We trace the interlinked processes through which the creation of data (and its absence) has played out both within society as a whole, and within the academic disciplines to which we turn for our understandings of societies, cultures, and individuals. How are information sources generated, to what end, and with what results for our collective ability to see—or to ignore? This in an inquiry into the social and political life of data, both within the academy and in the wider world.

The seminar reflects our conviction that for scholars across the humanities and social sciences, critical analysis of the factors shaping information supply is not an alternative, but rather a crucial complement, to advanced training in the application of quantitative, computational, and digital methods. Indeed, critical knowledge of context is fundamental to our ability to use tools mindfully for maximum leverage on our research questions.

Travels and Terrains: Transnational Approaches to the History of Race and Anti-Racism in the Post-Emancipation Atlantic World

The last decade has seen an outpouring of scholarship on the international history of racism and antiracism. The digitization of ever-greater swathes of the world's printed past, too, has made new research techniques possible.  As a result, the international dimensions of struggles long studied within national frames have received new attention. We have gained vivid portraits of activists, organizations, and publications that linked far-flung sites.  Yet in the process, topics deemed central by a previous wave of scholarship—like labor dynamics, land tenure, demography, and political structures—seem to have taken the back seat.

Which aspects of the historical development of race and capital do we understand better now that we are routinely remembering to look beyond borders? What are we failing to see?  This essay traces different kinds of connections between Venezuela, Trinidad, and South Africa, and uses them as a springboard to examine the contributions and blind spots of recent work on the transnational histories of race and of capitalism.