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Zepeda Cortez Profile

María Bárbara Zepeda Cortés

Associate Professor

Room 332 - Maginnes Hall

Ph.D., History, University of California, San Diego, 2013

M.A., C.Phil, History, University of California, San Diego, 2007

B.A. or licenciatura, International Relations, El Colegio de México, México, 2003

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Additional Interests

  • Political History, Latin America, Caribbean, Spanish Empire
  • Biography
  • Reformist movements
  • The Spanish Enlightenment

Research Statement

María Bárbara Zepeda Cortés’s research centers on the study of politics, particularly reformist movements, political culture, corruption, and biography. Her current book manuscript is the long-awaited, first biography of José de Gálvez, an eighteenth-century Spanish stateman, who directed a program of wide-reaching administrative, economic, and social reforms that transformed the lives of peoples around the globe. It is the product of rigorous research conducted in thirty-three archives and libraries in nine countries. Minister, Madman, Mastermind will become a necessary reference in future works on the Bourbon Reforms period but also in more general studies on colonial Spanish America, imperial Spain, eighteenth-century politics, and the Enlightenment. Theoretically, this book examines the dynamics of state reform, bureaucratic rationalization, and corruption. The completion of this massive work of scholarship will be funded by a year-long membership at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ during 2023–2024.

Her first book, Cambios y adaptaciones del nacionalismo puertorriqueño (UMSNH, 2015), studied how a leftist leaning populist movement with an “intermediate nationalist” formula became a more attractive political alternative for Puerto Ricans than the struggle for independence in early-twentieth century Puerto Rico. The new political formula advocated economic development through the colonial link with the United States, combined with political autonomy and a strong emphasis on the retention of national identity traits.

Her third book project provisionally entitled Toolkits for Government examines the content of the private libraries of eighteenth-century Spanish and Spanish American statesmen from a material, symbolic, and intellectual perspective. Standing at the crossroads of book history, history of reading, intellectual history, material culture studies and political history, it relies on “Thing Theory,” an approach proposed by Heidegger, Appadurai, and Brown. With a focus on the interplay between the owner, his ideas, and his book collection, this study expands book history’s geographies and will become a point of reference in works on the Global Enlightenment. This project will be funded by a John Carter Brown Library fellowship in 2024–2025.


María Bárbara Zepeda Cortés is a historian of politics in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Spanish Empire. She is currently writing a biography of eighteenth-century Spanish statesman José de Gálvez titled Minister, Madman, Mastermind: José de Gálvez and the Transformation of the Spanish Empire (under contract with Yale University Press). Her research has been funded by prestigious research institutions such as the Huntington Library, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Fulbright Scholars Program (declined), and the John Carter Brown Library. 

Born and raised in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, Professor Zepeda earned her B.A. in International Relations at El Colegio de México (Mexico City), a premier social sciences and humanities institution in Latin America. Her Ph.D. in Latin American History is from the University of California, San Diego. Since joining Lehigh in 2013, she has taught courses at the undergraduate and graduate level in colonial and modern Latin America. 

Select Recent Publications: 


Minister, Madman, Mastermind: José de Gálvez and the Transformation of the Spanish Empire, under contract with Yale University Press.

Cambios y adaptaciones del nacionalismo puertorriqueño: Del Grito de Lares al Estado Libre Asociado. Morelia, Mexico: Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, 2015; pp. 309. 

Book Chapters and Journal Articles

“Wandering Books in the Global Enlightenment: The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Library that Crisscrossed the Atlantic.” In “Charting the Future: Twentieth-Anniversary Issue of Atlantic Studies: Global Currents”, special issue, Atlantic Studies: Global Currents 21 no. 1 (2024), 163–191,

“Trumped by Politics: Pedro Antonio de Cossío, The Merchant Who Ruled New Spain,” Colonial Latin American Review 31, no. 4 (2022), 549–572, 

“El traje nuevo del visitador: una mirada al guardarropa de José de Gálvez en 1765 y lo que nos dice sobre el poder.” In Ceremonia, magnificencia y ostentación: La representación del poder de las élites en la Edad Moderna (Siglos XVI-XVIII), edited by Héctor Linares and Marina Perruca, 299–317. Madrid: Sílex, 2022.

“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, edited by Gabriel Paquette and Gonzalo M. Quintero Saravia, 77–90. New York: Routledge University Press, 2020. 
Paperback: Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2022.

Select Recent Presentations:

"José de Gálvez in His Forties: A Material, Intellectual, and Mental Exploration,” lecture presented at the School of Historical Studies Colloquia Series, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, 22 January 2024 

“Wandering Books, Weapons of Empire: The Transatlantic Life of an Eighteenth-Century Library” presented at the international symposium Charting the Future organized by the journal Atlantic Studies: Global Currents, Saint Louis University, Madrid campus, Madrid, Spain, 24 March 2023 

(with Leopoldo Martínez Ávalos) “Élites atlánticas y cultura material en el siglo XVIII: los inventarios comparados de un abogado español en Madrid y un gobernador indígena en Metztitlán” presented at the 16th Meeting of Historians of Mexico, Austin, Texas, 2 November 2022 

“The Visitor-General and the Historian are Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad: Writing the Biography of José de Gálvez (1720-1787) at The Huntington,” lecture presented at the Scholarly Sustenance Series, Society of Fellows at The Huntington, The Huntington Library, 24 May 2021 

“José de Gálvez y su ideología imperialista en la década de 1760,” lecture presented at the international seminar Hombres de estado: El reformismo ilustrado en las periferias del imperio, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain, 13 May 2021  

Chapter of Minister, Madman, Mastermind presented at the Oceanic Roots of the Atlantic Revolutions Seminar, University of Southern California-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute (USC-EMSI) and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Los Angeles, CA and Paris, France, 17 March 2021 

“Escribir la biografía de José de Gálvez: retos y descubrimientos,” keynote lecture presented at the international colloquium Yucatán y los Gálvez organized by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Unidad Peninsular (CIESAS) and the Centro INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) Yucatán, Mérida, Mexico, 14 January 2021 


At Lehigh University, María Bárbara Zepeda Cortés teaches surveys on the history of colonial and modern Latin America with an emphasis on political and economic history.  She is 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, she directs seminars on the Spanish Enlightenment and Latin American transnational history.

  • HIST/LAS/GS 049: The True Road to El Dorado: Colonial Latin America
  • HIST/LAS 050: Heroes, Dictators, and Revolutionaries: Latin America since Independence 
  • HIST/LAS 149: Narcos: The Global Drug Wars
  • HIST/LAS 395/495: Columbus on Trial: Reimagining the History of the Spanish Conquest, advanced undergraduate and graduate seminar
  • HIST 495: Readings in Transnational Latin American History: The Indigenous World, graduate seminar