Submitted by Solsiree Del Moral on Thursday, 9/28/2023, at 10:54 AM


Ph.D., History, University of Wisconsin
M.A., History, Columbia University
B.A., International Relations, Latin American Studies, and Spanish, University of Wisconsin


I am a historian of modern Latin America and the Caribbean, with a focus on Puerto Rico, the circum-Caribbean, and U.S. Colonialism.

#1. Race, Education and Empire

In 2013 I published my first book, Negotiating Empire: The Cultural Politics of Schools in Puerto Rico (University of Wisconsin Press). As the subtitle suggests, I was inspired by the work of Mexicanist Mary Kay Vaughn and other historians who have explored the local politics of schools in relation to Latin American nation-building projects. I focused on the ways in which Puerto Rican teachers – a group that changed dramatically from 1900 to 1950 – tried to fulfill teaching philosophies informed by local history and politics, given the constraints of the aggressive Americanization campaign waged by the US colonial government and its American and Puerto Rican representatives on the island.

My focus on teachers required new historical sources. History of education scholarship in Puerto Rico has often relied on the exceptionally biased Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Education to provide a historical framework and narrative about the colonial school system. Instead, I focused on the writings of teachers, and especially of members of their labor union, to explore their vision for citizenship-building and holistic education in the early twentieth century. I also highlighted the voices of some public-school students. My analysis of teachers and students in the book, however, could not encompass the full diversity of teacher and student voices in public and private spheres.

I concluded that those who spoke through the teachers’ union shared many progressive and modernizing ideas with US colonial administrators, such as the value of home economics and physical education in contributing to the formation of strong and healthy bodies. On other topics, Puerto Rican teachers clashed with US colonial educators. They disagreed sharply about the types of history and language instruction required to cultivate well-rounded citizens of a future Puerto Rican nation, rather than US colonial subjects. Race, class, and gender hierarchies of local as well as US origin combined and reproduced in ways that often created a sense of distance between teachers and their public-school students.

Negotiating Empire forms part of the new critical empire scholarship that highlights how local actors confronted U.S. colonialism in the Caribbean and the Pacific. This scholarship is critical of a U.S. historiography that dismissed local histories and narrowly focused on U.S. ideology and policies, as well as Caribbean and Pacific histories that homogenized resistance and minimized historical tensions within colonial societies.

#2. Childhood, Crime, and Punishment

My second book, “Street Children, Crime and Punishment,” is a history of the criminalization and incarceration of Puerto Rico’s urban street children – a heterogeneous group including the homeless children who worked and slept in the streets as well as the housed poor and working-class children who earned wages in public spaces – in the first half of the twentieth century. Like other Caribbean and Latin American countries, Puerto Rico underwent processes of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and modernization from the 1940s to the 1960s. These trends generated a Great Migration of families from the countryside to cities such as San Juan, Ponce, and Mayagüez. Newly arrived migrant families struggled to secure safe housing, stable employment, and access to public schools and health care. Like all members of the household, children contributed wages to support their families. Poor children spent their days working in public streets as newspaper boys, messengers, itinerant vendors, and in restaurants and bars. In addition, adolescent and teenage runaways gathered in port cities and worked alongside others in public streets. I examine how the Puerto Rican colonial state criminalized this heterogeneous community through legislation that led to the incarceration of Black and brown children in adult jails and prisons.

I follow the street children through this process by examining their stories of arrest and incarceration in the galeras de menores (children’s wards) of adult jails, among the general adult inmate population in municipal and district jails and the island’s penitentiary, and the boys' reformatory. Crucially, I focus on the varied ways in which children, adolescents, young adults, and allies such as parents and social workers challenged their incarceration. Some were imprisoned without due process, and all were subjected to inhumane and dangerous living conditions. The archival materials that inform this history – correspondence, government reports, police logs, legislation, newspapers, and censuses – allow me to situate the history of Puerto Rico’s incarcerated children in the broader scholarship of childhood and of the carceral state in Latin America and the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Amherst College Faculty Research Award Program (FRAP) have provided funding to support the project. It is under contract at the University of North Carolina Press.

#3. Puerto Rico Census Project

The Puerto Rico Census Project is a collection of all data available on public and private institutions and their inmates from Puerto Rico’s federal censuses from 1910 to 1940. Initially, the goal of this project was to collect information on all children under the age of eighteen who were institutionalized in state-run correctional institutions, welfare institutions, and orphanages. Research revealed, however, that children were institutionalized in all types of public and private institutions and that the legal age of majority varied between 18 and 21 years throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Accordingly, we expanded the project to include all institutionalized persons (regardless of age) in public welfare-oriented, correctional, and medical institutions, as well as private institutions of any type. Private clinics and hospitals were not included.

We collected all available information on interned individuals from microfilmed copies handwritten census manuscripts from the 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses, as well as the special 1935-1936 census. The data is rich. We collected information about the staff and inmates of each institution, including their names, gender, sex, age, citizenship, literacy, occupation, and industry. All the data will be made available to the public. I serve as the principal investigator of this project, but carried out the collection, cleaning, and analysis of the census data with the support of several Amherst College Gregory S. Call Academic Interns, Mathematics and Statistics Interns, and with the guidance of Professor Nicholas J. Horton. 



Del Moral, Solsiree. Negotiating Empire: The Cultural Politics of Schools in Puerto Rico, 1898-1952. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.

Refereed Articles and Book Chapters

Del Moral, Solsiree. “Modern Family, Modern Colonial Childhoods: Representations of Childhood and the U.S. Military in Colonial School Literature.” In Literary Cultures and Twentieth-Century Childhoods, Rachel Conrad and L. Brown Kennedy, eds., Palgrave, 2020, 113-128.

Del Moral, Solsiree. “‘Una niña humilde y de color’: Sources for the History of an Afro-Puerto Rican Childhood.” Journal of Caribbean History 53:2 (December 2019): 192-222. (available below)

Del Moral, Solsiree. “Language and Empire: Elizabeth Kneipple’s Colonial History of Puerto Rico.” CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies 31:1 (Spring 2019): 56-86. (available below)

Del Moral, Solsiree. “Colonial Lessons: The Politics of Education in Puerto Rico, 1898-1930.” The American Historian (May 2018): 40-44.

Del Moral, Solsiree. “Modern Puerto Rico: A First Reading List.” Radical History Review 128 (May 2017): 13-25.

Del Moral, Solsiree. “Rescuing the Jíbaro: Renewing the Puerto Rican Patria through School Reform.” Caribbean Studies 41 (July-December 2013): 91-135.

Del Moral, Solsiree. “Colonial Citizens of a Modern Empire: War, Illiteracy, and Physical Education in Puerto Rico, 1917-1930.” New West Indian Guide 87 (2013): 30-61.

Fellowships and Awards

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS), the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE), as well as Amherst College, Columbia University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Wisconsin, have supported my research and teaching.


I offer courses on the modern history of the Spanish Caribbean, U.S. Empire, and Afro-Latinos, with a focus on race, diasporas, and nation. Recent courses include:

Afro-Latinos/Afro-Latin America (American Studies 216/Black Studies 240)

BIPOC Children: Targets of the State (American Studies/Education Studies 312)

Black Latinas (American Studies 349/Black Studies 350/LLAS 350) 

The Hispanic Caribbean (American Studies 310)

History of Puerto Rico (American Studies 317)

Race and Nation: History of Hispaniola (American Studies 311/Black Studies 361)

Race and Revolution in Cuban History (American Studies/Black Studies 371)

Race and US Empire: 1898 in the Caribbean and Pacific (American Studies 315)