Maria Barbara Zepeda Cortes

First Name: 

María Bárbara

Last Name: 

Zepeda Cortés

Full Title: 

Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies



Ph.D., University of California, San Diego


Spanish Atlantic World, Latin American History, Eighteenth Century Politics, Biography


Maginnes Hall #332


(610) 758-3366



B.A. in International Relations, El Colegio de México (2003)

Ph.D. in Latin American History, UC San Diego (2013)

At Lehigh University, I teach surveys on the history of colonial and modern Latin America with an emphasis on political and economic history. I am one of the first U.S.-based scholars to teach a (now very popular) course on the history of the war on drugs in Latin America (2014-) that has resulted in invited lectures and op-eds. At the graduate level, I direct seminars on the Spanish Enlightenment and Latin American transnational history.

As a political historian of Latin America and the Spanish world who works in both the modern and colonial eras, I study the nature of power, struggles for power, and the behavior of those who seek and occupy government offices. My research agenda has focused primarily on how public servants participate in and commit to large-scale institutional changes, and secondarily on how society reacts to such changes. Across vast geographies (from Spain to Latin America, with a strong emphasis in the Caribbean and Mexico) and swathes of time (from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries), I have explored attempts to transform society from above.

My first book, Cambios y adaptaciones del nacionalismo puertorriqueño (Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, 2015), is a history of nationalist movements in Puerto Rico from 1868 to 1952. Utilizing the three-phase model for analyzing nationalist movements proposed by Czech historian Miroslav Hroch, I explain why proponents of independence failed to attract the loyalty of the Puerto Rican people.

My current book manuscript project, Minister, Madman, Mastermind: José de Gálvez and the Transformation of the Spanish Empire (under contract with Yale University Press), is the first biography of José de Gálvez (1720-1787), a Spanish statesman responsible for conducting large-scale state reform in the Spanish Empire from the 1760s to the 1780s. Through Gálvez’s life, my book offers a novel interpretation of the Bourbon Reforms in Spanish America and a reevaluation of eighteenth-century politics and state reform on the eve of the Age of Democratic Revolutions. This project has been awarded numerous fellowships including a one-year residential fellowship at Huntington Library (2016-2017). Read more about the project here.

A recent article related to this project is Zepeda Cortés, María Bárbara, “José’s Secrets: Minister Gálvez’s Master Plan for Spain’s Participation in the American Revolution.” In Spain and the American Revolution: New Approaches and Perspectives, Gabriel Paquette and Gonzalo M. Quintero Saravia, eds. (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2022), 77–90.

Courses I am teaching in 2022-2023:

  • HIST/LAS/GS 049: The True Road to El Dorado: Colonial Latin America (Fall)
  • HIST/LAS 149: Narcos: The Global Drug Wars (Fall) 
  • HIST/LAS 050: Heroes, Dictators, and Revolutionaries: Latin America since Independence (Spring)

Courses previously taught:

  • HIST 090: Latin American Breaking Bad: A History of the Global Drug Wars, a College of Arts and Sciences first-year seminar
  • HIST 303: The History of U.S.-Latin America Relations, advanced undergraduate seminar
  • HIST/LAS 395: Columbus on Trial: Reimagining the History of the Spanish Conquest, advanced undergraduate seminar
  • HIST 421: The Spanish Atlantic World in the Age of Enlightenment, graduate
  • HIST 495: Readings in Transnational Latin American History: The Indigenous World, graduate