Dr. Ann S. Blum, Associate Professor and former Department Chair of the Latin American and Iberian Studies Department (2007 – 2012), passed away on November 28 at her home in Arlington, MA, 16 months after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Professor Blum received her B.A. in American Studies at UMass Boston in 1986 after working many years as an archivist in the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard University, teaching writing classes, and freelance editing. While at the MCZ she wrote a first draft of what became her award-winning book, Picturing Nature: American Nineteenth-Century Zoological Illustration (Princeton University Press, 1993). She went on from UMass Boston to complete a Ph.D. in Latin American History at the University of California, Berkeley (1998), and returned to our University in 2000 as Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies in the Department of Hispanic Studies (now the Department of Latin American and Iberian Studies) where she developed and sustained an exemplary career.
She often described herself as a social historian yet Professor Blum produced a scholarly body of work of broader scope moving easily across institutional, political, and economic methodologies. Her research examined childhood and adoption, connections among the urban poor and their children, family-oriented public policies and institutions, family practices and class formation, social reform, and nation formation. Her work has been published in multiple articles, essay collections, and monographs. Results are impressive when high-level scholarship is informed by a deep compassion. This kind of fusion lent a special weight to Professor Blum’s work on working-class families and explains why it commands so much respect from her peers. Her ideas were fully developed in her second book, Domestic Economies: Family, Work, and Welfare in Mexico City, 1884-1943 (University of Nebraska Press, 2009), which received an Honorable Mention at the 2010 American Historical Association Conference on Latin American History for the Mexican History Book Prize.
Her subsequent research concerned the intersections of family life and identities with community and national narratives in Mexico. Using a rich collection of men’s life writing, she began to explore the “intimate histories” of authors’ daily work, social roles, childhood and affective lives within a world bound by family and community. She was seeking to elucidate masculine and paternal renderings of domestic space and family life.
Since 1999, Professor Blum served as a faculty member in the Oaxaca Summer Institute, a month-long graduate seminar on modern Mexican history and culture held in Oaxaca, Mexico. As her involvement with the seminar grew, she became co-director of one of the institute’s major components dedicated to gender history, history of the family, and life writing. She had a lasting impact as a role model and mentor, influencing the ways in which dozens of graduate students conceptualized their research and developed their professional identities as students and later as faculty at various universities.
At UMass Boston, Professor Blum amassed an equally stellar teaching record. Her success and dedication are reflected in the courses she taught: “Latin America: Contemporary Society and Culture,” “Food, Culture and Society in Latin America,” “Latin American Popular Cultures,” “Latin America Before 1800,” “Reform and Revolution in Latin America,” “Latin American Film,” “Hispanics in Urban America,” and “Modern Mexico,” among others. Her skills as a teacher and mentor are evident in the high value students placed on her teaching, in the labor-intensive approach to student-centered teaching and her deep commitment to student advising.
On campus and beyond, Professor Blum was an exemplary colleague, generous with her time and ideas, and a model of supportive and critical engagement with the work of peers, students, and administrators. Her service record is a model of excellence and integrity. At UMass Boston she was widely known and respected as a firm defender of faculty governance, and of students’ and workers’ rights. She was often called upon to serve on complex and crucial committees: NEASC, General Education, Salary Anomalies, administrators’ reviews, AQUAD reviews and all types of promotions. One of her major contributions was the reconceptualization and the academic and administrative transformation of the former Department of Hispanic Studies into a new and innovative Department of Latin American and Iberian Studies, where students approach the Latin American and Iberian world guided by scholars of different disciplines (history, translation, anthropology, literature, and linguistics). To help establish and support the newly created unit, Professor Blum mentored junior faculty, modeling and encouraging thoughtful service, solid teaching, sound advising, meaningful research and, above all, strict professional integrity.
Professor Blum’s generous spirit, calm demeanor, gentle tenacity, unfailing integrity, courage, compassion, and sense of humor are ingrained in the fiber of the LAIS Department and are an indelible part of our institution. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her.
Ann Blum is survived by her husband Peter Taylor, her son Vann, her sister Pamela, her brother Tom, and a wide circle of family and friends. A public event to honor Dr. Blum’s life and work will be held in spring 2016 at the University. Reflections that capture some aspects of having had Professor Blum in our lives can be viewed and contributed to at http://bit.ly/annblum.
The Department of Latin American and Iberian Studies is establishing a scholarship to honor her memory. In lieu of flowers please send a charitable gift to the University of Massachusetts Boston c/o “The Ann S. Blum Memorial Scholarship in Latin American Studies” to University Advancement, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Boston MA 02125, payable to “UMass Boston.”