Former Director Betsy Kuznesof Graduates to Professor Emerita

On October 14, 2022, the Latin Americanist community celebrated Elizabeth “Betsy” Kuznesof’s retirement from teaching and transition to Professor Emerita.  Betsy served as the center’s director from 1992 to 2010, during which she transformed the center, recruited many professors who are still at KU, created structures and an identity for the center that continue today.  We are all indebted to Betsy. 

Betsy always wanted to be a teacher, and a terrific high school course in history led her in that direction.  As a history major at the University of Washington, she developed a fascination with Latin America, especially the Cuban and Mexican revolutions, but was pulled towards Brazil by renowned historian Dauril Alden.  Upon graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, Betsy began graduate work in Latin American History at Cal-Berkeley.  Bill McGreevey was her dissertation advisor, and she undertook research in Brazil from 1970-76 during the military dictatorship.  When Betsy discovered censuses for Sao Paulo in 1765, 1802 and 1836, she refined her focus to demographic history and socioeconomic development.  She was particularly intrigued by the high number of female-headed households with children during the colonial period and has since become an expert on the history of childhood.   

After earning her PhD in 1976, Betsy sought an academic position at a public institution where she could guide graduate students in international research.  KU, where international visionary George Waggoner was completing two decades as Dean, was a perfect fit.  In her first three years (1977-80), Betsy had to teach at K-state and Wichita as well as KU, and despite this tremendous burden, she earned tenure by 1981 and Full Professor by 1986.  She began directing the center in 1992 and took it to another level.  She won the Title VI National Resource Center and Foreign Language Area Studies grants 5 times, won as many Tinker graduate research block grants as were available, helped procure the center’s offices in Bailey Hall, organized and won several Fulbright Group Studies Abroad, won a USIA Intra-University grant (Peru-KU), ran Hall Center seminars, and procured a CAMPUS VII-IX grant for Central American undergraduate students.  She founded the center’s academic programs, began the tradition of Merienda lunch lectures, established the annual Waggoner Research Symposium, and forged the center’s national reputation for indigenous language training.  Her overarching goal was visibility – campus, regional, and national – to create community among students, faculty, schoolteachers, community leaders, and partners in Latin America. 

As a public servant, scholar, and mentor, Betsy won 21 awards and honors.  She served on 22 professional association committees and 16 university-wide committees.   She published a book and 41 articles and chapters.  She taught 21 different courses.  Betsy is most proud and grateful to have mentored many graduate students in History and Latin American Studies – her original goal – including chairing 7 successful dissertations and 24 MA theses and serving on countless other graduate committees. 

As Professor Emerita, Betsy has begun another phase of her career focused on publishing while continuing to advise and write letters of recommendation for her students.  The book manuscript on which she is currently working is entitled The Family in Colonial Latin America: Cultural Encounter, Social Transformation and Demographic Change, 1492-1825.  She has also begun researching two other projects: "The Significance of Marriage: Women Bigamists in Colonial Mexico" and “The History of Childhood, Education and the State (1750-2010).”  We wish Betsy the best and will continue to rely on her experience and sage advice, as she is now serving on the center’s Advisory Board.