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Department of History

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Kate Spielbauer travels to Cuba to conduct archival research in Spanish

Kate Spielbauer, an exceptional AddRan sophomore traveled to Cuba in summer 2023 to conduct original archival research in Spanish with Dr. Bonnie A. Lucero, thanks to the generous support of the Regina Fund, the Penrose endowment, and the History Department. 

On arrival in Havana, Kate worked alongside Dr. Lucero and some of Cuba’s top historians in the Cuban National Archives, in Habana Vieja. There, she was able to apply her outstanding Spanish-language skills, her knowledge of Cuban history, and the paleography skills she learned in “Latin American Archives and Paleography,” an independent study course she took in Spring 2023 with Dr. Lucero to participate in a hands-on immersive research experience. In addition to the language and cultural immersion gained through living with Cuban host families, Kate also participated in academic and cultural exchanges with students from the University of Havana, and experienced first-hand many of the historical processes covered in Dr. Lucero’s History of Cuba course, which she had taken in Fall 2022. Of particular interest were visits to such important cultural and historical sites as the Morro Castle, the Cristo de la Habana in Casablanca, and the Plaza de la Revolución.  

After a week in Havana, Kate traveled to the Ciénaga de Zapata, where she received a private guided tour of the museum documenting the 1961 US Bay of Pigs invasion. From there, she continued on to the central Cuban city of Cienfuegos, where Dr. Lucero had arranged a historical tour of the city with a University of Cienfuegos professor, took the student to the area that housed the former US military base established following the War of 1898, and organized a trip to a local farm, where she was able to learn about contemporary small-scale cattle ranching, interacted with newly-born calves, and sampled home-made dairy products. From Cienfuegos, she continued eastward towards the island’s ranching district, visiting several of Cuba’s first seven original colonial villages, including Trinidad, where the student learned about the political struggles surrounding the Cuban Revolution through a private tour of the Banditry Museum, and Sancti Spíritus, where she observed the restoration of 500-year-old churches and roads, as well as more recent towns, like Ciego de Ávila, an important contributor to Cuba’s animal industries, and the birthplace of Texas Rangers outfielder, Adolis García. 

The second week of this unforgettable international experience converged in the eastern city of Camagüey, the center of Cuba’s historic ranching region. Formerly known as the colonial town of Puerto Príncipe, Camagüey is another of Cuba’s first towns, known for its serpentine streets that defied the orderly urban grids mandated for later colonial cities. Home to world-famous poets Nicolás Guillén and Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Camagüey is known for its rich cultural and intellectual life, which Kate experienced first-hand when she attended an original work of contemporary theatre, called Romeo y by the independent theatre company Teatro del Viento. In addition to assisting with archival research in the provincial historical archive of Camagüey, Kate also learned about local history, myths, and legends during guided tours by a University of Camagüey historian, and attended an original work of contemporary theatre.  

Kate’s experience in Cuba is one example of the many wonderful opportunities available to students of Latin American history at TCU. Small class sizes allow students to develop one-on-one working relationships with faculty and participate in research that resonates with their own interests and talents. In this case, Dr. Lucero’s previous research on the history of medicine and current research on the history of cattle offered a natural affinity for Kate to delve deeper into her interests in Spanish and Biology, and to apply her family experience with the cattle industry. With four full time Latin American experts on the history faculty, TCU’s Latin American history program offers students the chance to make connections with a broad range of thematic and topical interests, from cartography and archives to Afro and indigenous artistic and cultural expression to medicine and ranching. The department’s new global history minor offers even more opportunity to explore those connections across disciplines.