Associate History Professor Eric Zolov will spend the next academic year teaching a seminar at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile as a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship for professionals who already have their PhDs or equivalent degrees.
Zolov will teach a course called “The Global 60s,” that analyzes the impact of America’s mid-century counterculture movement on Latin America. Much of the professor’s work over his 30-year career, including several books he authored, has focused on the cues Mexican counterculture, in particular, taken from U.S. music and art. While his upcoming seminar focuses on a similar subject, Zolov said he is looking forward to familiarizing himself with another country.
“It’s exciting because it’s the first time I’m really living and teaching not in Mexico,” he said. “Going to Chile is a bit out of my comfort zone to some degree. I know Chile’s local history but I don’t know it as well as I know Mexico. I’m really looking forward to just learning from the students there.”
This scholarship is the third that the 53-year-old director of the university’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS) program has received from the Fulbright program. The first two, awarded to him in 1992 and 2002, respectively, were geared toward research in Mexico. Nearly two decades later, the family man’s preparations for his teaching fellowship are quite different than they were for his earlier journeys as a young academic.
“Now I have three children that are all kind of elementary, middle school age,” Zolov said. “None of them speak Spanish so they’re trying to learn Spanish now. The idea is to just throw them in there and see what comes out at the end; they’re kicking and screaming, they’re not really happy about going.”
Zolov said he hopes he can share his passion for Latin American culture with his children since the White Plains, NY native had a similarly influential experience traveling to Mexico as a child.
“I had been to Mexico when I was probably eight or nine for about a week,” Zolov said with a nostalgic smile. “It was transformative for me, that just left a very lasting impact. Whenever you’re exposed to any other kind of culture everything’s new, so that exposure to the everyday context that was so radically different forces you to look at everything in a radically different way.”
That time absorbing a culture different from his own would later alter the course of his studies, prompting him to return to Mexico for a semester as an undergraduate at Colby College in the mid-1980s. It was this experience soaking in a strangely recognizable culture that influenced his future research.
“I saw graffiti on the walls and music on the radio that was referencing rock music,” Zolov said. “And I said ‘what’s my counterculture doing in Mexico?’ It didn’t make sense, why are they listening to the Beatles? I met friends that were asking me to translate ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ To me, that basic question led to this deeper project about the emergence of the Mexican counterculture, which was a new idea academically.”
Decades later, Zolov is hoping to use the seminar in Chile as an opportunity to flesh out the latest angle of his life’s research, an exploration into what he calls “Icons of Protest.”
“The idea is to take different icons of protest, the peace sign or the dove or sandals, that kind of thing, and look at the ways in which those icons were appropriated and used in a different context internationally,” Zolov said. “Partly I’ll do a little bit of what you might call research, or really fun-search, while I’m there and get reacquainted with that part of the hemisphere I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Apart from his own academic goals, the professor hopes his still-reluctant children might get a similarly eye-opening experience as he did when he was exposed to Latin America as a child.
“We live in Queens so it’s super diverse, we’ve taken them at a very young age to France and Mexico,” Zolov said. “They have a sense of what it means to be in a different culture, I think, but I am hopeful that at this age they’re old enough to remember it and own the experience and not simply be a tourist.”