Amid Davíd Carrasco's Accomplishments, Helping Others to Realize Dreams

Last December, Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor for the Study of Latin America at Harvard Divinity School (HDS) and director of the Moses Mesoamerican Archive and Research Project, received the highest decoration the Mexican government can bestow on a foreign national, the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca (Order of the Aztec Eagle). In presenting the award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Carlos de Icaza, the Mexican Ambassador praised Carrasco for being "a man of our time, a man of enormous vitality and value."

This is an apt description for a professor who juggles multiple projects and bridges different worlds with remarkable ease. Carrasco holds a joint appointment with the Department of Anthropology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and his many interests reveal a complex thinker who is interested in the arts as well as academics, and who believes in engaging the world that he studies. His wide range of interests are apparent in the following sampling of his current and ongoing projects:

Carrasco spearheaded a two-year project bringing together an interdisciplinary group of scholars from the United States and Mexico to decipher a sixteenth-century codex from the Puebla region of Mexico called the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan. To collaborate on their discoveries, a conference was held in Mexico in the fall and a second gathering was held at Harvard May 18-22.

Alambrista and the U.S.-Mexico Border, a book co-edited by Carrasco and which includes a DVD of the film and a CD of the soundtrack, is currently being used as a teaching tool in universities across the United States. The essays provide thoughtful reflections on the film "Alambrista: The Director's Cut," directed by Robert Young and co-produced by Carrasco, which aims to put a human face on the life and struggles of undocumented Mexican farm workers in the United States.

The multimedia Alambrista teaching tool was used for a first-time collaborative teaching project "A Book and a Film," sponsored by the newly formed Latino Studies Consortium. Six academics and more than 100 students from five universities in the greater Boston area came together over the course of the fall 2004 semester to screen "Alambrista" and explore issues relating to the immigrant experience through a "virtual classroom." The project has expanded this spring to include students from universities throughout the country.

The upcoming Encyclopedia of the Aztecs, edited by Carrasco and published by Oxford University Press, is due out this month. The award-winning Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, also edited by Carrasco, was published in 2001.

Meanwhile, Carrasco continues to teach innovative courses such as his "Aztec and Maya" seminar and "Religious Dimensions in Human Experience." His courses use multimedia (art, film, and music, including an online radio show!) and are among the most popular courses at HDS.

And yet when Carrasco is asked which among his accomplishments stands out most to him, he doesn't mention any of the above, but instead refers to a book by a former student due out in April 2005, Judith Sherman's Say the Name: A Survivor's Tale in Prose and Poetry (University of New Mexico Press). Sherman was a retired student living in Princeton, New Jersey, who sat in on one of Carrasco's classes when he was a professor there. After hearing his lecture on "Religion and the Terror of History," she came up to him afterward to say she appreciated the way he talked about the Holocaust, and then gave him a poem she had written.

It turned out that Sherman was a survivor of the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was imprisoned during World War II when she was 13. She had rarely spoken about her experience, and had only recently started writing about it. Carrasco encouraged Sherman to keep writing, and invited her to come and speak to his class. She finally agreed, and since then, Sherman has spoken to Carrasco's classes many times. After yet another powerful presentation in his "Religious Dimensions in Human Experience" class in fall 2004, students were so moved that they created a website to help promote her book.

Carrasco wrote the introduction to Say the Name and, perhaps more telling, Sherman dedicated the book to him with the following line: "he gives ear to my silence." Carrasco is humble about his role, saying, "I happened to be at the right place at the right time," but indicates that he is "as grateful to be a part of this as any other projects [he has] ever been involved in." He is also quick to point out that he has perhaps learned more from Sherman than she has from him, and that her story and engagement have deepened his own thinking about history. "It is an important educational lesson, the way an older student ended up reshaping a professor's interests," he says.