Inspiring Professors (continued)

“I love teaching first-years. Having them together for a year develops esprit de corps, the whole firstyear class doing the same reading. So you always have something to talk about in the dining hall.”
Photo by Leah Nash / Christopher Onstott

David Garrett [biology 1994–] Scholz Chair

By Romel Hernandez

The Richard F. Scholz Chair of History and Humanities honors Reed’s second president [1921–24], a visionary and innovator who created Reed’s rigorous core curriculum.

In a Nutshell: Prof. Garrett grew up in Pittsburgh and earned a BA in political philosophy from Yale. He was entranced by the Andes on a backpacking trip after graduating. “I was fascinated by the complexity and history of the society, and awed by the beauty. And I met such great people.” 

He later switched from European history to Latin American history, earning an MA from Harvard University before moving to Columbia University for his MPhil and PhD. Garrett joined the Reed faculty in 1998, several years before finishing his dissertation. He was attracted to the college by the intellectual climate on campus. Reed offered freedom to pursue teaching and scholarship in pretty much any direction, and Garrett has taken full advantage of the opportunity.

“The amount of faculty autonomy is fantastic,” he said. “Reed is a small village, but it’s a great village.”

A Trip to Cusco: Garrett spends most summers going back to Cusco, Peru, visiting friends and hunting through historical archives in pursuit of centuries-old records documenting life under Spanish rule. His research provides surprising insights into viceregal history in the Andes. “I think people have overly simplistic views about the period and society,” Garrett says, “when it was really enormously complicated.”

His 2005 book, Shadows of Empire, examined the complex and often contradictory social, economic, cultural, and political structures of colonial society. He has written extensively in both English and Spanish, and his book was published in Spanish as Sombras del imperio.

Garrett’s work explored the role of Peru’s indigenous nobility, the descendants of Incan rulers who continued to enjoy a privileged status in society two centuries after the conquest. These native elites were central to the colonial order, even defending it during the 18th–century Tupac Amaru rebellion. Currently, he studies how multiple space-times—indigenous, colonial, and imperial—intersected and diverged in the Andes.

A Versatile Iberianist: As the only Latin Americanist and Iberianist in Reed’s history department, Garrett’s classes have covered a wide range of topics, spanning ancient to modern history, from the Incas and the  Spanish Golden Age to the Mexican Revolution. That versatility comes in handy at a small college.

Garrett’s boundless energy and enthusiasm have made him a student favorite on the faculty. He also has lent his teaching talents to the college’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies and Humanities in Perspective programs, both aimed at nontraditional students.

Garrett takes special pleasure in teaching Humanities along with Latin American history. Where else would he get to teach Bolívar and deliver a lecture on the Code of Hammurabi?

“The mix is fascinating,” he said. “After the students, it’s the best part of teaching at Reed.”