Robert Franco joined Kenyon’s faculty in 2021. He is a historian of Latin America, specializing in Mexico, the Andes and the Hispanophone Caribbean. His research and teaching focus on the role of gender and sexuality in political and social movements. Franco’s current book manuscript examines the long history of homophobia, heterosexism and hostility towards sexual rights in Mexico’s leftist parties and organizations. This work has been supported by the Fulbright Program and Ford Foundation, among others. Prior to arriving in Gambier, Franco was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Born and raised in Philadelphia (but North instead of West), his familial roots stretch from Puerto Rico to Ecuador.

Areas of Expertise

LGBTQ studies, disability studies, Latin American & Latinx studies


2020 — Doctor of Philosophy from Duke University

2017 — Master of Arts from Duke University

2014 — Bachelor of Arts from University of Pennsylvania

Courses Recently Taught

This team-taught seminar explores the 20th century in global comparative perspective, through the reading, contextualization and analysis of mainly primary source texts and documents. In any given year, the seminar focuses on one of two themes: the post-war world (ca.1945-1989) or the inter-war world (1919-1939). It takes up themes of broad political, economic and social transformations; scientific and technological innovations; and the cultural shifts that occurred throughout these decades preceding and following the Second World War. The seminar sections meet jointly once a week for lectures or films and separately once a week for discussion of primary-source readings. In addition to the rich historical material that the course addresses, students begin to learn the basic skills of the historian: asking questions, finding and analyzing relevant documents or primary sources, and identifying different kinds of interpretations of those sources. This counts toward the modern requirement for the major. Open only to first-year students.

What is Latin America’s colonial legacy? How do we amend a history of death and destruction with one of cultural exchange and dynamism? How was colonialism instituted through violent and nonviolent methods? And how do the legacies of colonialism continue to impact the region? This course is an introduction to Latin America’s rich colonial history, emphasizing the roots of the region’s diversity. Using daily life as a lens to study the establishment and maintenance of Iberian colonialism, the course examines the mixed results of the encounter between European, African, Asian and Indigenous groups; the power dynamics between colony and metropole; and how the story of “conquest” has elicited debate. We begin by tracing some of the cultural backgrounds of the men and women who would go on to form the foundation of colonial society. As the course progresses, we explore how colonial subjects lived, worked, married, ate, had sex, worshiped and socialized, and how these daily rituals were influenced by the larger structures of colonial power. Lectures and reading assignments draw upon a variety of sources, including court cases, biography, travel accounts and visual sources. The course concludes with an analysis of the Age of Revolutions, a period of dramatic upheaval that forever changed the continent. Previous study of Latin America or fluency in Spanish, French and/or Portuguese is not needed. This counts toward the premodern, Americas, global medieval and early modern, and colonial and imperial requirements for the major and the premodern requirement for the minor. No prerequisite.

Are revolutions ever as revolutionary as they promise to be? When is incremental change advocated over large-scale reform? And when is revolution seen as the only option? Are the promises of a charismatic leader just a way to manipulate the masses, or are the masses shaping their leaders? And what happens when things go awry? This course asks these questions in the context of contemporary Latin America. It examines the region’s history from independence at the beginning of the 19th century to redemocratization at the end of the 20th. The central and recurring theme of the course is the narrative of reform versus revolution and the (often unintended) consequences of each. Throughout the course, we encounter debates about nationhood, modernization, imperialism and sovereignty, often from the perspectives of historical figures like Ernesto "Çhe" Guevara and Frida Kahlo. In doing so, we can begin contextualizing the circumstances of men and women’s actions, the various possibilities of freedom they envisioned, and the factors leading to their decision to rebel, accommodate or find a third path. Prior study of Latin America, or fluency in Spanish, French and/or Portuguese are not needed. This class counts toward the modern and Americas requirement for the major and the modern requirement for the minor. No prerequisite.

In this course we address the formation and evolution of Mexico from approximately 1800 to the near present, noting aspects of its history as a Spanish colony and an independent republic. The course covers issues associated with Mexico's changing, complex identity and how the inhabitants of the region have expressed different sentiments and perceptions about their communities, state and nation. We thus explore questions raised by relations between indigenous peoples and various, predominantly Hispanic, ruling groups, as well as questions about class and gender, and political and economic organization. The class alternates or mixes lectures with discussions. This counts toward the modern and colonial/imperial requirement for the major and the modern requirement for the minor. No prerequisite. Offered every other year.

Most of us have never known a world without HIV/AIDS. The potential for seroconversion has been integrated into sexual health education and popular media for over four decades. Yet, at the same time, HIV has often been portrayed in the United States as either an issue of a minority (gay men, intravenous drug users and sex workers) or as existing “over there” in the global South, overlooking the ongoing crisis within the United States. This course tackles the history of HIV/AIDS as a global history of medicine, gender and sexuality. Tracing decades of AIDS history, we consider how moral panics impacted the reactions to the initial discovery of the virus, resulting in the scapegoating of disease (“gay cancer”) and the ways in which medical research and ideas of health have been founded around ideas of sexual “cleanliness.” Drawing on queer theory and science and technology studies, we use data about HIV drawn from the Centers for Disease Control and other sources to consider questions about health policy and the stigmatization of the aberrant sexual subject, highlighting how seroconversion is part of a broader debate of public health and sexual politics. We also consider Black and feminist approaches to the penalization of sexual practices, and performativity in the activism of feminists and sexual minorities through direct-action groups like ACT UP. Throughout the course, we consider major ethical questions regarding disease and control: Who gets to be a victim, and who is labeled a culprit? What actions should be pursued amid an epidemic? And who controls the narrative about disease? Finally, we look at international biopolitical practices by tracing the downward flow of researchers and specialists from the global North to the global South and the upward flow of scientific knowledge and capital. In this way, we see how the global South has played a crucial role in perceptions, treatment and profiting of HIV/AIDS in the United States and the global North through the recent breakthrough in pre-exposure prophylaxis, sold on the market as Truvada/Descovy. This counts toward the modern, women, gender and sexuality, and science, environment, technology and health requirements for the major and the modern requirement for the minor. No prerequisite.

This seminar introduces students to the subject of the Mexican Revolution, which defies easy description. The course examines the major social and political struggles of the revolution, their origins and their implications as the country emerged from civil war in the 1920s and then underwent substantial reform in the 1930s. Further, the seminar considers the meaning(s) of the revolution and how it has been conceived and reimagined in cultural and ideological terms. We examine primary sources in class, but the assignments and reading focus on the historiography concerning the revolution and on the interpretation of its political, social and cultural significance. Students should have some historical knowledge of the late 19th and 20th centuries and be prepared to quickly gain an overview of the main events of modern Mexican history. This counts toward the modern, colonial and imperial requirements for the major and the modern requirement for the minor. No prerequisite. Sophomore standing. Offered occasionally.