American collaborates with Cuban on a history of Havana

Historians in the News

For an American scholar of Cuban history and culture, one visit to Havana is a privilege. Multiple trips without incident is a blessing. Dick Cluster considers himself downright afortunado.

The University of Massachusetts at Boston professor not only has made numerous visits to the Cuban capital since 2002, he has also cleared all the hurdles to co-authoring a book with a Havana scholar — something that a few years ago would have seemed highly unlikely.

U.S. Department of State policies have made it difficult for academics from the United States and Cuba to form partnerships — particularly since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Publishers’ and authors’ organizations have filed suit over regulations of the U.S. Office of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control that the groups say effectively kept American publishers from publishing books that originate in a country that is subject to a U.S. trade embargo.

The State Department has clamped down on study abroad in Cuba, as well as scholarly visits to the country. But in 2004, the Treasury Department loosened its restrictions on publishing contracts, opening the possibility for cross-country collaboration and allowing Cluster and his co-author, Rafael Hernández, a Cuban citizen, their window of opportunity.

“When the winds are blowing right it’s possible to do these things,” Cluster said.

He and Hernández are traveling the Northeast this month in preparation for the release of their title, The History of Havana (Palgrave Macmillan), due out this week. The 320-page book covers the economic, social and cultural history of Havana. “The goal is to say: ‘What was it like to live in Havana at all these periods and why?’” Cluster said. “The ‘why’ gets into politics, economics and city planning a bit.”

The authors think their effort represents the first jointly written book between U.S. and Cuban scholars whose book was commissioned in advance by an American publisher.

comments powered by Disqus