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Faculty Spotlight: Jeffrey Lesser, History

We invited a few professors from Emory College to share more about themselves, their program, and what they love about their jobs as professors. Because choosing a college is about finding a community of people who will challenge you both inside and outside of the classroom! Professor Lesser, the History department chair, shared this:

What do you teach at Emory?

I teach Latin American and Brazilian history and many of my courses focus on questions of race, ethnicity and immigration. I am currently teaching a course with Uriel Kitron, Chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences, called “Mosquitos, Migration and Metropolis.” The course focuses on the past and present of health in one neighborhood of Sao Paulo Brazil called Bom Retiro that has been attracting immigrants from the 19th century until today. An Emory Interdisciplinary Faculty Fellowship will allow us to take a group of students to Bom Retiro this summer to work on the research team. Some of the students will be doing oral histories in a health clinic of the Brazilian National Health Service while others will be studying the different languages spoken in the neighborhood which include Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Hebrew, and Portuguese.

Why do you love teaching at Emory?

Even though I am a historian, I am very influenced by other disciplines including anthropology and literary and cultural studies. I love that my courses can include all of these different methods and that the students respond so enthusiastically. Many students at Emory speak multiple languages which makes my courses about immigration and Diaspora particularly exciting. Students are often surprised to find that studying the past at Emory can be very different than the way they did in high school and can include everything from reading documents to analyzing photographs to reading short stories to conducting oral histories.

What’s the coolest field trip you’ve done with a class?

The coolest field trip will be when the students in “Mosquitos, Migration and Metropolis”—an Environment Sciences class here on campus—travel with me to Bom Retiro (a neighborhood of Sao Paulo, Brazil) for the summer. There, they conduct research in an archive located in a building that used to be the Central Disinfection Authority of the city and also get to meet immigrants from around the world who live and work in the neighborhood.


What inspires you to keep teaching?

I am always learning new things, and the students are always amazing. Last year a student working with me in Bom Retiro did a photo essay about the neighborhood and created an exhibition that to this day is inside the health clinic down there.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

My office because I make strong coffee and can listen to Brazilian music! Students are welcome any time to join me!

Learn more about Jeffrey’s work and research here, or watch videos of his lectures What’s So New About the New Multicultural Brazil? and A Nation of Immigrants: Brazil and the Meanings of Permanent Foreignness.

JeffreyLesser_PortraitJeffrey Lesser
Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and Chair, Department of History
Hometown: Sao Paulo, Brazil



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