University of South Florida

College of Arts & Sciences


The Club Atlético Huracán stadium, home of Novoa’s local soccer team. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Novoa)

The Club Atlético Huracán stadium, home of Novoa’s local soccer team. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Novoa)

Dr. Adriana Novoa advances research on the evolution of masculinity in 19th-century Argentina with Humanities Institute Grant

This past summer, the USF College of Arts and Sciences Humanities Institute bestowed grants to faculty members working on compelling new projects.

Local street art captured by Novoa on her recent trip to Argentina. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Novoa)

Local street art captured by Novoa on her recent trip to Argentina. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Novoa)

The Humanities Institute Summer Grant is a program comprised of awards up to $5,000, given to tenure-earning and tenured faculty who are engaged in humanities research. These funds can be used for various purposes such as research endeavors, travel expenses, archival work, equipment acquisition, publication costs, research assistance, or salaries.

A recipient of this grant is Dr. Adriana Novoa, an associate professor within the Department of History. Novoa specializes in teaching Latin American history during the modern era and, beyond her role at USF, is a cultural historian known for her expertise in the 19th century. As a cultural historian, she studies topics related to the cultural dynamics of the modern period.

Novoa was born and raised in Argentina, where she spent her formative years under a dictatorship rule. The country’s political climate at the time prevented many from accessing information that was not officially sanctioned.

In contrast to the education system in the United States, Argentina required individuals to choose a specialization immediately after high school, and there was a limit on how many students would be allowed to enter each field. This placed Novoa in a position where she had to make a difficult decision.

“I didn't know what to do. I thought about studying law, but due to the political circumstances, I thought it wouldn’t be interesting. So, I decided to choose history,” Novoa said. “My goal then was to study the medieval period, but my Latin and Greek never took off to the level required. By 1983, democracy returned, which allowed professors who had been in exile to teach again. Their return made Latin American history a much more interesting field.”

When Novoa isn’t engaged in teaching undergraduate or graduate classes, she dedicates her time to conducting research. Specifically, she focuses on the societal impacts of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and how modern science shaped gender concepts.

Poster of Argentinian soccer manager, Lionel Scaloni. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Novoa)

Poster of Argentinian soccer manager, Lionel Scaloni. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Novoa)

“I'm interested in how Darwin's theory of evolution impacted society, and I have been writing about this for a number of years. I have just finished a book that is about how the emergence of modern science transformed ideas of gender, particularly masculinity. That is the project that I have been working on and researching for 30 years,” Novoa said.

Novoa’s book, titled “From Virile to Sterile,” represents the culmination of her more than three decades of research. With the support of the Humanities Institute Summer Grant, she was able to travel back to her home country and begin the second volume of this research.

“What I'm currently working on is in the transition to the second half of the 19th century, the idea of evolution from the gendered point of view. How the Argentinian man was defined according to scientific discoveries or inventions, and how that affected politics and the conception of the country's identity” Novoa explained. “The idea with these two projects is to understand how the conception of masculinity very much was up in the air and meant very different things according to the period that you study. That is the reason I asked for the opportunity to travel to Argentina and revise what I needed to in order to make this continuation. When I wrote the first volume, I didn't consider many things that I discovered in the process of working during the first half of the 19th century. So, I need to adjust the for the second volume to be able to publish it.”

When asked why she focuses on the male gender perspective, she explains that during these time periods, women had very little authority in science and politics. This meant that the majority of those writing policies or making scientific discoveries were carried out or attributed to men.

“Obviously the building of a nation was mostly dominated by men, but that doesn't mean that there were no women. I wanted to focus on the context of a changed nation and most of that was much more focused with the figure of men rather than with women,” Novoa said.

During her trip to Argentina, Novoa pursued the research for the second volume of her work. As a cultural historian, she shared that she conducts her research in an unconventional manner. Gathering sources from all types of publications, both public and personal.

With emphasis on the elite class of the era, as they held significant power over a country’s political decisions, she concentrated on materials that would have been read or produced by these individuals. This diverse collection of material allowed Novoa to paint a picture of the political state during that time period.

“I read official materials, personal diaries, or letters. What I do is called contextual history. I try to see how the case in Argentina is inserted in a larger picture. I also use materials from the U.S. and Europe to do comparative work in terms of 19th-century discussions. This means that other countries play a role in creating a modern nation. That allows me to see how this context changes over time, sometimes changes occur just in Argentina, sometimes it changes for everybody,” Novoa said.

In addition to comparing the U.S. and Europe to Argentina, Novoa also did a comparative analysis of other Latin American countries including Cuba, Mexico, and Brazil. Her research revealed a notable discussion surrounding the feminization of masculinity, which ultimately led to the implementation of policies that have had lasting impacts on society in Argentina to this day.

“Since the 1780s you have continuous reassessment and concern about the instability of the role of men in society. What kind of jobs they should have, what kind of things they should do, how they would need to relate to each other, and so on. The models go back and forth over time, what was promoted by the state will switch in emphasis based on the period,” Novoa continued. “For example, the 18th century was much more about men of sensibility, men who are able to express feelings and be connected with subjective ideas. In the 19th century, that ideal was completely rejected. So those are the kinds of things that I explore in this work.”

The Humanities Institute Summer Grant allowed Novoa to contribute to a field of history that has been relatively understudied. She hopes her upcoming publication will leave a lasting and meaningful impact in her field.

“I expect the impact in my field will be an understanding of how gender was connected to science in the 19th century, which is something that has not received as much attention as other areas in the scholarship. Secondly, I hope that communication and exchange of scientific information will be enhanced. Lastly, I hope to expand the concept of what a man or woman is, in relation to science, by understanding how the context of the 19th century shaped these identities today,” Novoa said.

The Humanities Institute Summer Grant not only advanced Novoa’s research but also highlighted the significance of funding and collaborative networking for researchers like her at USF.

Fanfare at the Club Atlético Huracán stadium. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Novoa)

Fanfare at the Club Atlético Huracán stadium. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Novoa)

“Having the opportunity to spend two months talking to colleagues in Argentina gave me the opportunity to see how my research was received by local experts, what kind of research has been done there, and what aspects of the research I need to improve. A great component of being a researcher is establishing these lines of communication with your colleagues in other countries,” she said. “This type of scholarship allows us to ignite communication with other countries. As a member of USF, I can establish connections with students and professors who might want to come study here. This is not just about me, it also is incredibly important for the Humanities Institute as well.”

Additional recipients of the 2023 Humanities Institute Summer Grant include: Zaib un Nisa Aziz, Gil Ben-Herut, Scott Ferguson, J. Michael Francis, David Johnson, Dillion Mahoney, Alejandro Márquez, Rachel May, Adrian O’Connor, Joshua Rayman, and Nicolas Thompson.

Learn more about funding opportunities and the summer grant program offered by the Humanities Institute.

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The College of Arts and Sciences is the intellectual heart of the University of South Florida. We are a community of teachers and scholars united in the belief that broadly educated people are the basis of a just, free, and prosperous society. By focusing on the big questions facing all of humanity, we prepare students for successful, socially responsible personal and professional lives. By conducting innovative, interdisciplinary research and scholarship, we advance knowledge in ways that prepare us to address complex social and scientific problems and enhance the quality of life for people and communities.