Skip Navigation
Edmon Low Library

Sarah Foss

Author of "On Our Own Terms: Development and Indigeneity in Cold War Guatemala"

February 6, 2023

Dr. Sarah Foss is an Assistant Professor of History at Oklahoma State University. Her research focuses on histories of development, Indigeneity, and international diplomacy in modern Central America. "On Our Own Terms: Development and Indigeneity in Cold War Guatemala" (UNC Press, 2022), focuses on the ways that Guatemalans interacted with, and often appropriated Cold War-era development projects. Foss focused not only on the actions and motivations of policymakers but also emphasized the ways that Indigenous people actively participated in these processes, creating alternate versions of development and Indigenous citizenship. Foss has also published chapters in two edited volumes, "Latin America and the Global Cold War" (UNC Press, 2020) and "Out of the Shadow: Revisiting the Revolution from Post-Peace Guatemala" (U. Texas Press, 2020). She also co-edited a special journal issue for the Journal of Social History titled “Interpretative Challenges in the Archive: Rumor, Forgery, and Denunciation in Latin America.” Her article, which appeared in the issue, “Rumors of Insurgency and Assassination in the Ixcán, Guatemala” won the 2021 Sturgis Leavitt Award from the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies. Foss's current projects include the development of an oral history archive called Latino Oklahoma Oral History Project and a research project on a social history of the Belizean borderlands.

During the Cold War, U.S. intervention in Latin American politics, economics, and society grew in scope and complexity, with diplomatic legacies evident in today's hemispheric policies. Development became a key form of intervention as government officials and experts from the United States and Latin America believed that development could foster hemispheric solidarity and security. In parts of Latin America, its implementation was especially intricate because recipients of these programs were diverse Indigenous people with their own politics, economics, and cultures. Contrary to project planners' expectations, Indigenous beneficiaries were not passive recipients but actively engaged with development interventions and, in the process, redefined racialized ideas about Indigeneity.

Sarah Foss illustrates how this process transpired in Cold War Guatemala, spanning democratic revolution, military coups, and genocidal civil war. Drawing on previously unused sources such as oral histories, anthropologists' field notes, military records, municipal and personal archives, and a private photograph collection, Foss analyzes the uses and consequences of development and its relationship to ideas about race from multiple perspectives, emphasizing its historical significance as a form of intervention during the Cold War.


Last Updated: 6 February 2023