John Bezis-Selfa

Professor of History
Latin American Studies Co-coordinator


Phone: 508-286-3639


Ph.D., M.A., University of Pennsylvania
B.A., University of California at Berkeley


I was born in Oakland, CA, in 1966. As the oldest son of a Greek immigrant father and a first-generation Hispanic mother, I spent my entire life in the Bay Area until I moved to Philly for grad school in 1989. I came to Wheaton in 1995, right after finishing my doctorate at Penn. I like New England, but I love California, Philly, and the entire Southwest and consider myself at home in any of them. Indeed, anywhere there’s a large Mexican or Mexican-American community that can support at least one good tortilleria is like home to me. I root for the 49ers and Eagles and I try to visit any of those places every chance I get. My current research interests, fortunately, give me plenty of opportunities to get to the Southwest.

Main Interests

  • Latino/a history
  • Language, politics, and identity
  • Environmental history
  • Slavery and abolition
  • History of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic world
  • Brasil

Other Interests

Brasilian music, without question.

I like nearly all popular genres except sertaneja. I have played them all on my show “Ritmo Atlântico,” which I did on Wheaton College Radio WCCS, 96.5 FM from 2002 through 2005. I usually revive the show whenever I teach Mundo Brasileiro and give students the option of appearing on air with me. I have also done guest DJ appearances on WMBR 88.1 FM, MIT’s station.

Football rivals Brasilian music and usually trumps it during football season. I adore the 49ers (my birthright team), Patriots, and Eagles.

I also enjoy:

  • Birdwatching (and collecting birding field guides)
  • Gardening (chiles and wildflowers native to North America)
  • Cooking
  • Going home to California or to Philly, and going anywhere in the Southwest


American Horizons: U.S. History in a Global Context [with Michael Schaller, Robert Schulzinger, Janette Thomas Greenwood, Andrew Kirk, Sarah J. Purcell and Aaron Sheehan-Dean], 2vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Forging America: Ironworkers, Adventurers,and the Industrious Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004)

“A Tale of Two Ironworks: Slavery, Free Labor, Work, and Resistance in the Early Republic,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Series, 56 (October 1999): 677-700.

“Slavery and the Disciplining of Free Labor in the Colonial Mid-Atlantic Iron Industry,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 64 (Special Supplemental Issue, Summer 1997): 270-286.


It’s not really a “performance,” but I don’t know where else to put this under Professional Activities.

I am part of the “leadership core” for the American Historical Association’s Tuning initiative, being funded by a three-year grant from the Lumina Foundation.

You can learn more about Tuning and my connection to it at:

Teaching Interests

Hist 198: The US in the World

This brand-new and experimental course examines the history of early North America and the United States from the arrival of humans to North America to Reconstruction. It does so by focusing on the movement of people, goods, and ideas across borders as key to explaining change. Our aim is not coverage–to ensure that we address every event, individual, or group of significance during this peiod–but rather to focus on particular events, groups, and/or individuals who help to highlight the roles that capitalism’s rise,  struggles for equality, and the movement of people, goods, and ideas across borders played in making and remaking early North America and the early US.

Hist 219: Norte y Sur: Modern Mexico and Argentina

Explores the history of the Spanish-speaking Americas since national independence by focusing on two key nation-states: Mexico and Argentina. We will concentrate on the relationship between politics, culture, and the construction of national identity. We’ll explore  nation-building and economic development, the experiences of indigenous peoples, transnational migration, industrialization, urbanization, the roles of western Europe and the US in shaping Latin America, the Mexican Revolution, the Cold War, the historical roots of current issues such as transnational migration and narcotrafficking, and recent efforts at political and economic reform as Mexicans and Argentines proceed through the early 21st century.

Hist 302: Junior Colloquium

This course, required of all history majors, has two principal goals–that you learn the fundamentals of the discipline of history and that you take to heart that history is a discipline, a mode of inquiry and a way of knowing the world. History, in short, is far more than telling stories about the past. We begin with brief introductions to the history of history as a discipline, considerations of what history is, whom it is for, what it means to practice history ethically, and several significant schools of historical thought. We devote the bulk of our time to developing and sharpening your skills as historians by teaching you how to interpret a variety of genres of primary sources, how to read historiography, and how to conceptualize and plan original research.  By mid-December, you should have in hand a proposal for a hypothetical senior seminar project or another project within the field of history in which you have chosen to concentrate.

Areas of Teaching Interest

  • early North America
  • Latin America
  • Latin@ history
  • American Indian history
  • environmental history
  • slavery

Student Projects

Emma Beaulieu (’18) and I are working on a research project focused on Mexican Americans and the Know Nothing Party in the Southwest in the 1850s.

Erika Prince (’15) completed an honors thesis under my direction on crime, women, and gender in New England in the 17th century.

Rebekah Bryer (’13) completed an independent study project under my direction on performance broadly conceived in colonial British North America and the early US.

Melissa Carter (’11) completed an independent study project under my direction on the relationship between Puritan theology and experiential religion in New England during the mid-17th century.

Sidney Reavey (’10) took an independent study with me in Spring 2010 focused on development and politics in Latin America since World War II.

Evelyn Sanders (’08) took an independent study with me on migration from Latin America to the US in the 20th century while she is interning at Centro Presente in Cambridge.

Rachel Pierre (’08), a History major who has concentrated on study of the Caribbean, took an independent study with me in Fall 2007 on Caribbean history up to c. 1850, with a special focus on the Francophone Caribbean.

Courtney Allen (’07) wrote a terrific honors thesis under my direction on New France and French efforts to acculturate indigenous peoples.

Emily Edwards (’05) and Deanna Torres (’05), both independent majors in Latin American Studies, completed thesis projects–Emily on education and national identity in early 20th century Mexico, Deanna on politics, culture, and the construction of Puerto Rican identity in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Emily presented her work at Wheaton’s Academic Festival in April 2005.

Sean Britt (Wheaton 2000 and former Davis fellow)worked with me on the history of slavery in 19th century Nevis.

Research Interests

In March 2012 Oxford University Press published American Horizons: U. S. History in a Global Context.  Press. I am one of seven co-authors and the chief author of Chapters 1-5 of Volume 1. The opportunity to work on a project that featured the movement of peoples, goods, and ideas across borders as a key way to explain change in US history lured me to the project. Collaboration with my co-authors was the best part of the project.

I’m currently at work on a new book project focused on the history of Latin@ voting rights. I’m also exploring a backburner project on an environmental history of my hometown, Livermore, CA. and am working on articles concerning Puerto Rican migrant laborers and US citizenship and another on Spanish-language television in LA in the early 1960s.

These projects are a fairly sharp departure from my first one. I published Forging America: Ironworkers, Adventurers, and the Industrious Revolution in 2004. You can learn more about it through Cornell University Press at In Forging America, I argue that a culture of industriousness which emerged in colonial British North America and the US depended on slavery, race, and the coercion of working people as much as it did on the acceptance and practice of a religiously-inspired work ethic.