William Earl French

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Inscribed in the margins: envisioning road colonization in Peru's age of development (2017)

Inscribed in the Margins chronicles the socio-ecological changes that attended the colonization of Peru’s Huallaga Valley from the 1950s through the 1980s. Focused on the project of road colonization, a style of both formal and informal colonization centered around the building of a 1,500-km highway called the Carretera Marginal de la Selva, the study examines the Huallaga’s hodgepodge of stymied development schemes in a way that transcends the terse logic of political economy to implicate development’s broader epistemological regime, one that enlisted architecture, photography, cartography and criminality as much as science and politics to impose its vision on the land. Throughout, the author develops the concept of inscription as a way of understanding how environmental imaginings effect tangible socio-ecological change, arguing that the epistemological features that undergirded nature’s (primarily visual) representation as an object of development are crucial, yet often overlooked, factors in the Huallaga’s reconfiguration as a vast matrix of eco-assemblages adapted to an amalgam of capitalism and patriarchy. The study explores how photographic rituals figured in processes of imagining development; how Cold War technoscience facilitated the Huallaga’s emergence as a developable site; and how the very gendered environmental narrative constructed around the Huallaga’s colonial project all conspired to inscribe a myopic vision of Amazonian nature into the landscape. The primary sources consulted include photographs and documents from the community development program Cooperación Popular; the writings of early climate scientist, Leslie Holdridge; aerial photography from Peru’s Servicio Aerofotográfico Nacional; feasibility studies; and criminal cases from the superior courts of Huánuco and San Martín. By emphasizing the transnational dimensions of road colonization, as well as the wide variety of professional, cultural, political and historical notions that fuelled its conception, this study complicates the phenomenon of development as much more than a projection of U.S. imperial hegemony. Moreover, it offers a challenge to the field of environmental history and the historiography of the Peruvian Amazon by arguing that culture, not just economy, effects sweeping changes in the land.

View record

Neoliberals Desires, Spectacles of Market-Nationalism, Utopian Performances: A Feminist Analysis of Gendered Cultural Narratives in Post-Dictatorship Chile (2015)

My dissertation explores neoliberalism as a gendered cultural discourse in post-dictatorship Chile. I argue that the transformation of the developmentalist narrative (characteristic of the Popular Front and the Popular Unity) into a neoliberal narrative during the Dictatorship and the Transition, depended on the staging of a series of spectacles of gender and sexuality that offered new coordinates for subjectivation. Applying a feminist reading to a variety of materials from advertising, telenovelas, and media articles, I show how these cultural artifacts work to legitimize neoliberalism, reproduce or reinterpret national memories, and shape particular forms of (social, collective) desire through a narrative of “sexual freedom.” Through this analysis I provide evidence of how what I call “the sexualized spectacles of neoliberalism” recreate the coordinates of heterosexuality, sexual respectability and gender nationalism in post-dictatorship Chile. Freemarketism in Chile then has been sustained by gendered spectacles of “sexual freedom,” while laws and policies that regulate and discipline bodies are still articulated around notions of (hetero)sexual respectability. This leads me to ask how these spectacles and the narratives they articulate are being negotiated, resisted, and transformed through embodied queer and feminist political practices. I explore how activist performance has contributed to the expansion of cultural memories and the emergence of utopian political imaginaries and subjects in post-dictatorship Chile (1990-2013). I approach these questions from an interdisciplinary approach to feminist research, informed by discourse analysis, psychoanalysis, post-colonial theory, Latin American readings of queer theories, and cultural studies. I argue that the queer and feminist activist performances analyzed in this thesis enact femininity in a strategic, rather than essentialist manner, to oppose and subvert the militarized male gaze. These performances offer clues of alternative embodiments (through the aesthetics of horror and pornography, for instance), subjectivities, political projects, and political imaginations, in which the street is seen as a public space and stage for democracy, and subjectivities are based on the “interconnection of bodies,” rather than defined by the notion of individual rights and bodily sovereignty.

View record

"Mujeres Que Se Visualizan": (En)gendering Archives and Regimes of Media and Visuality in Post-1968 Mexico (2014)

This study analyzes the fundamental role played by a group of artists and feminist activists including Ana Victoria Jiménez, Rosa Martha Fernández, Mónica Mayer, and Pola Weiss in developing and transforming regimes of media and visuality in post-1968 Mexico. It considers this process as indicative of larger and potential transformations in historically constituted fields of power and knowledge in the context of the emergence of new wave feminisms and the broad shift in Mexican intellectual sectors away from an exclusive emphasis on literate-print culture and towards an embrace of audiovisual communications. Throughout this dissertation, the concept of visual letradas is developed to describe women who by the second half of the twentieth century became more openly concerned with performing and recording audiovisual information about how their bodies were visually construed and politicized. Using recently opened archives of the Mexican secret services as well as photographic documentation on feminist demonstrations, oral testimonies, interviews, videos, performances, and films, this study shows how visual letradas transformed intellectual spheres of influence previously conceptualized as privileged masculine territory, the space of the letrado. The term visual letradas is also used to map out how the increased participation of women in Mexico's mediascapes shaped the emergence of competing political subjectivities that posited the female body, gender difference, and sexual violence at the forefront of public debates during the last decades of the twentieth century. Moreover, in contrast to the closed disciplinary focus and national parameters that have characterized the twentieth-century Mexican historiography of feminisms, media, art, and women's history, this dissertation emphasizes the interconnections between these fields by focusing on three main categories—the city, the archive, and the media. By bringing an interdisciplinary, local, and transnational lens to bear on these categories and by showing how visual letradas appropriated them as key spheres of action, this project narrates how normative representations of the female body (visually and in formal politics) were contested throughout Mexico City and how, in turn, such challenges affected and effected politics.

View record

Caminando Y Miando: A reflection on academic practice (2013)

This thesis is an exploration of academic methodologies including scholarly distance, the archive, and linear time, using the insights that I gained as a researcher and friend with Refugio Gregorio Bautista, a Nu Savi traditional food chef from Oaxaca; Mexico, Pedro Herminio Bautista Rojas, also Nu Savi from Oaxaca and an agricultural expert; and Jaalen Edenshaw, a Haida carver from Masset, B.C.. During my time with these three indigenous people and their communities, I learned about different aspects of their ancestral practices, and participated in different ways in their work, planting, cooking Oaxacan chocolate mole sauce, as well as sharing stories and experiences. In this dissertation, I use the insights that I have gained so far from my experience with them to explore ways in which the three central tools of the disciplines of history and anthropology are limiting due to a legacy of the trivialization of non-written ways of knowing. Though some scholars are increasingly focused on the embodied aspects of scholarly work that often go unacknowledged or unappreciated, my experience with Pedro, Doña Vicky and Jaalen has opened me to the possibility of ways of knowing that put embodiment and relationships to the land at the centre of knowing. Through a dialogue with academic sources and with the three participants, I traverse different facets of the construction of knowledge as it takes place in academic settings where people rely heavily on visual and textual systems for the production of truth and meaning. Supplementary video material is available at: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/44078

View record

Transpacific Mexico: Encounters with China and Japan in the Age of Steam (1867-1914) (2012)

During the nineteenth century, the transpacific world underwent profound transformation, part of the transition from sail to steam navigation that was accompanied by a concomitant reconfiguration of power. This dissertation explores the ways in which Mexican elite interests participated in this transformation, particularly during the Porfiriato (the period between 1876 and 1911), when general Porfirio Díaz was president. It argues that the travels, discussions, and exchanges across the ocean promoted by Porfirian elites—and generated in the context of these new geographies of power—contributed to the formation not only of a transpacific region but also to refashioning the Mexican national imaginary. These transformations took place between the 1860s, when regular transpacific steam passenger services started, and the 1910s, the moment when the transpacific steam system—at least when it comes to Mexico’s participation in it—begins to be dismantled in the context of a series of revolutionary changes which include the World War and the Mexican Revolution, the opening of the Panama Canal, and the introduction of a new maritime technology: vessels run by oil. With transnationalism, global and migration studies as its main framework, this dissertation utilizes varied and multiple primary sources found in over twenty personal, municipal, provincial and federal archives and libraries from San Francisco, Mazatlan, Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico City, and Oaxaca, in the Americas, to London and Hong Kong, other administrative poles of these transpacific circuits.

View record

A Todo Vapor: Mechanisation in Porfirian Mexico. Steam Power and Machine Building, 1891 to 1906 (2010)

This dissertation develops readings and interpretations about technological artifacts and machines in relation to mechanical engineering, and social, political, and material culture during the Porfiriato, that period in Mexican history associated with the rule of Porfirio Díaz between 1876 and 1910. It is argued that the Porfiriato facilitated the mechanical revolution of the country that transformed the life experience of Mexicans.To describe the process of Mexico’s mechanisation, this dissertation examines the case of an iron foundry, the Fundición de Sinaloa (The Fundición or ES), that was established in Mazatlán, State of Sinaloa, by the early 1870s. It is argued that this foundry was the site where technological adaptation of steam engineering took place leading to the development of a system for the construction of machines. As a result, from 1891 to 1906, the foundry produced diverse tools and machinery by adapting state-of-the-art thermodynamic technology and machines.The analysis of the Fundición took shape through the interpretation of original engineering drawings and photographs of steam machines built in the workshops of the foundry in Mazatlán. In addition, other archival documents and secondary sources were consulted, including the accounts of those who witnessed and experienced the socio-cultural effects of technoscientific artifacts in Mexico at the turn of the nineteenth century. In order to interpret this rich and complex body of evidence, this dissertation utilises, in combination, Actor-Network-Theory, Technological Systems, and visual analysis as theoretical frameworks. It is argued that machines are historical actors that interact with social groups through the creation of networks. In turn, these interactions establish diverse sociotechnological arrangements while shaping the ways in which machines and artifacts are understood and conceptualised across cultures and time.Finally, it is explored how, by the end of the nineteenth century, there was a favourable combination of local and international conditions that constituted the historical context for this case of technological adaptation.

View record

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

La perdida de todo: personal memory in Cuban universities during the Special Period (2021)

This thesis focuses on the remembered experiences of Cuban university students and professors who lived through the economic hardships of the Special Period, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It draws on published conversations from a roundtable discussion conducted by the University of Havana and Utrecht University, as well as entries from the dissident blog ‘The Havana Times.’ Tracing how state responses to economic hardships were experienced by students and faculty, this thesis investigates Cubans’ often complicated understandings of Revolutionary ideology and the sudden loss of imagined futures alongside the neglect of universities and the impact on the students and faculty that marked the Special Period. Despite historical scholarship exploring the Special Period, university education, a cornerstone of Cuban society and civic culture since the Revolution in 1959, has been largely ignored. Also absent from many historical narratives of the Special Period are individual voices and personal memory. By examining the remembered lived experiences of Cuban students and professors, and positioning them within the framework of improvisation, this thesis unpacks the polemical debate between Cubans who fled the country and those who stayed and committed to the ideals of the Revolution. This thesis further explores the complicated ways in which Cubans viewed the Special Period as a period not altogether that difficult or noteworthy, while simultaneously remembering it as a time of intense scarcity and uncertainty. In doing so, it argues that Cuban university students and professors navigated their realities through improvised, and at times conflicting, senses of Cuban identity, Revolutionary ideology, and economic and material realities.

View record

A bundle of gestures: personal archives, family, and history on the mexican stage (2018)

The archives of Delfina Garmendia (1877-1952) and Arturo Monroy (1865-1917) have been bypassed by historians of Mexico even though their contents suggest that they were actively involved in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and mingled with some of its key figures that appear in most history books. These private archives reveal a form of life writing in which family life is imagined and performed as a way to navigate and transact class positionality in the public sphere, but also as a way to insert oneself in the narrative of the newly defined nation. The performativity captured in these archives shows how notions of history and memory are not necessarily mutually inclusive, and how there is not much of a divide between private and public life. As is the case with the Garmendia-Monroy archive and other family archives found in institutional repositories, most of the material found in them is composed of official documentation and a large collection of photographs and letters addressed to friends and acquaintances originally intended as tokens of appreciation, known in Spanish as detalles. Honing our attention onto these type of archives reveals the epistemological processes involved in the act of archiving, and by extension how history works: for those who create the archive, for those who inherit it, and for those who come into contact with it.

View record

Practicing Violence: The War of Independence in the Mixteca (2010)

In this thesis I investigate the impact of collective violence on local political culture in the Mixteca mountains in Oaxaca during the Mexican War of Independence. I first analyze a number of stories and rumors about the war in Central Mexico that circulated in the Mixteca before the outbreak of hostilities in the region itself for what they reveal about the national imaginings that would condition the local experience of war. I then examine the anti-insurgent campaign of one particular royalist militia company and its fluid relations with local townsmen and villagers, who were the primary pool of new recruits for the company as well as its potential enemies and victims, during the summer of 1814. Coinciding with the rise of a discourse of republican citizenship in Mexico, I show how participation in the militia provided a way for Mixtecan inhabitants of experiencing the new political category ‘citizen’ in practical terms, and thereby established participation in organized violence as a privileged nexus in new articulations between local and national political processes. The overall argument is that armed bands operating in the Mixteca created new institutional spaces connecting local and higher-level political structures and activating practices of citizenship that were premised on participation in military violence.

View record


Membership Status

Member of G+PS
View explanation of statuses

Program Affiliations



If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Follow these steps to apply to UBC Graduate School!