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Meet the Historian

by | May 21, 2024 | Culture, Resident Expert, Summer 2024

Andrés Reséndez is a scholar of the world, informed by his own roots. Born and raised in Mexico City, Reséndez studied international relations at El Colegio de México. After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, he returned to Mexico, where he worked in everything from politics to historical consulting for soap operas. “I was living the semi-nomadic life of the struggling academic until I arrived at UC Davis [in 1998],” said Reséndez, professor of history at UC Davis.

Reséndez specializes in early European exploration and colonization of the Americas, the U.S.-Mexico border region, and the early history of the Pacific, with an emphasis on the pioneering voyages and biological exchanges across the largest ocean on Earth — a large and multifaceted swath of history.

“It’s all rooted in my own history,” Reséndez explained, as he initially planned to study American history, but was drawn back to his roots. That instinct led Reséndez to write many lauded books and articles, ranging from a failed 16th-century colonization attempt of Florida, in A Land So Strange, to the history of enslaved Indigenous peoples in the Americas, in The Other Slavery. “I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to write a book, you better be very invested in it because it’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. And if you are not fully invested, it’s not going to go well.”

Reséndez is currently exploring the historical significance of expeditions connecting the American and Asian continents. These expeditions led to an ongoing exchange of goods between them. The introduction of American crops, like corn and sweet potatoes, to Asian countries, namely China, by early voyages had profound effects on China’s population growth. In 1500, China represented 25% of the world’s population. By 1800, China had grown to 36% of the total world population.

Reséndez credited his exploration of the world to the United World College of the American West, an international high school he attended in New Mexico. It was there that Reséndez was immersed in an international peer community. “It was interesting to meet cultures in northern New Mexico, part of the United States, that still had a very strong Hispanic and Mexican presence, going back generations,” he explained. “As someone who grew up in Mexico City, I was quite fascinated to see other Mexicans who lived outside of Mexico and who, to me, felt both very similar and very different. That prompted my interest in identity.”

That interest has now come full circle. Reséndez teaches a number of courses at UC Davis, some of which focus on Mexican culture and others on food and history.