School of Politics and International Relations

Professor James Dunkerley, OBE, BA (York), MPhil, DPhil (Oxford)



Telephone: 020 7882 8598
Room Number: Arts One, 2.13
Office Hours: Tuesday 4-5pm & Thursday 11am-12pm


James Dunkerley studied modern history at the University of York, where his outlook was strongly influenced by Gwyn A.Williams. It was for Williams’s final year seminar on guerrilla movements in history that he prepared a paper on the failed campaign of Ernesto Che Guevara in Bolivia, making a counter-intuitive argument that the Bolivian armed forces had prevailed not simply through CIA intelligence and logistical support but also because they retained significant popularity as a result of the revolution of 1952 and the Pacto-Militar Campesino.

Bolivian Rangers in Valledgrande, 1967 (Presna Latina)
Bolivian Rangers in Valledgrande, 1967 (Presna Latina)

Dunkerley pursued his postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford. He took an MPhil in Latin American Studies at the Latin American Centre whilst a student at Hertford College, and then a DPhil at Nuffield College, where he was supervised by Laurence Whitehead. His doctoral thesis sought to apply the techniques of social science to military history, surveying the institutional and political arrangements of the Bolivian armed forces between the War of the Pacific (1879-83) and the Chaco War (1932-35). The thesis was defended in 1979, and Spanish editions of the work were later published by Quipus (in 1988) and by Plural (in 2003). Although, following the example of his other supervisor Malcolm Deas, the dissertation sought to provide a sober scholarly account, some of its tone and approach were inevitably affected by the political atmosphere in the sub-continent following the overthrow of the Unidad Popular government in Chile.

Guerrilla attack on coastal highway, Usulután, El Salvador, 1980 (from El Salvador. Work of Thirty Photographers, 1981)
Guerrilla attack on coastal highway, Usulután, El Salvador, 1980 (from El Salvador. Work of Thirty Photographers, 1981)

The original intention of the DPhil was to provide an analytical survey of the Bolivian military up to the period of Guevara’s guerrilla, but this proved exceptionally difficult in 1977-78, when popular mobilisation against the military dictatorship of General Banzer interrupted even research in the Archivo Nacional and certainly made interviews with contemporary political actors problematic and sometimes risky. Accordingly, the more contemporary features proposed for the work were held back, developed whilst James Dunkerley was a Research Fellow at the Institutes of Latin American Studies at the Universities of London (1980-1) and Liverpool (1981-2), and subsequently appeared in Rebellion in the Veins. Political Struggle in Bolivia, 1952-1982, [new window], published in the 1984 by Verso. The book was issued in Spanish in 1998 (by Quipus) and again in 2003 by Plural.

At the end of the 1970s and through most of the 1980s Dunkerley deepened his interest in Central America, where some saw the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979 as the start of a process reversing the bureaucratic authoritarian regimes in South America. As a writer-editor at the Latin America Bureau (LAB) [new window], he contributed to a number of publications itemising the violation of human rights in the region as well as analysing the political systems of the countries of Central America, which were then poorly known in the English-speaking world.

20 July 1979 in the Plaza de la Revolución, Managua (from Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua Jane 1978-July 1979, 1981)
20 July 1979 in the Plaza de la Revolución, Managua (from Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua Jane 1978-July 1979, 1981)

Although during the Reagan presidency (1981-89) it was not at all hard to find evidence of aggressive US intromission in and influence over these small and impoverished states, that in itself seemed an insufficient cause of the social conflicts experienced almost everywhere and of the civil wars suffered by several of the countries. Focusing particularly on El Salvador, Dunkerley’s work sought both to engage with the analysis of local intellectuals and to give proper weighting to the national and regional, as well as international, factors and causes of bitter strife. The Long War [new window] was, in fact, first published less than three years after the Nicaraguan Revolution, but its title proved to be justified and seven more years would elapse before the country’s conflict would be brought to a negotiated end.

Again, the harsh realities on the ground made it exceptionally difficult to conduct primary research. Equally, as particularly evident in the sad experience of Grenada in 1983 (in which LAB took a close and not uncontroversial interest), no honest observer could deny the fact that some of the forces of the regional left were often narrow in outlook and divisive in attitude even as they sought with appreciable valour to secure social justice.

Palacio de la Moneda, 27 September 1973 (from Memorias en Blanco y Negro, LOM Ediciones 1993)
Palacio de la Moneda, 27 September 1973 (from Memorias en Blanco y Negro, LOM Ediciones 1993)

In 1985 Dunkerley took up a position as Faculty Fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame, where he taught the university’s first course on Central American politics and, over one of the coldest of winters, drafted a long script that endeavoured to place the ongoing Central American crisis in national and regional historical context: Power in the Isthmus [new window].

Shortly thereafter, and very much influenced by his continuing work on the origins and course of the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, Dunkerley participated in a collective project organised by his colleagues and friends, Leslie Bethell and Ian Roxborough, who had designed an exciting reappraisal of the socio-political conjuncture of Latin America in the late 1940s. This enabled him to consider in more precise form the political condition of Guatemala in the period 1945-54, one outcome of which was a renewed recognition that forward movement in time does not always bring about social progress.

Passengers on an Aviateca flight from Guatemala City to Flores, 1949 (from CIRMA, Guatemala ante la Lente, 1870-1977, 1998)
Passengers on an Aviateca flight from Guatemala City to Flores, 1949 (from CIRMA, Guatemala ante la Lente, 1870-1977, 1998)

From 1986 James Dunkerley has been a member of SPIR at Queen Mary, where he has held a personal chair since 1990. During the late 1980s and early 1990s his intellectual concerns primarily lay in developing analysis of the political condition of Central America and Bolivia as well as writing the chapters on El Salvador and Guatemala since 1930 for the Cambridge History of Latin America, which he served for a while as assistant editor to Leslie Bethell.

However, his research was also affected by the experience of teaching broad introductory courses, interaction with his talented theorist and comparativist colleagues, and a growing curiosity about the intellectual consequences of the end of the Cold War from an historical perspective. The result was a five-year project that sought to retrieve in a vivid and detailed historical manner the state of the Americas as a whole around the year 1850, before Karl Marx was very influential or the “manifest destiny” of the USA very far developed. Published in 2000 as Americana, [new window], this study purposefully broke several rules to do with length and scholarly protocols at a time when such matters had become more vital than ever as a result of the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise.

Lincoln’s First Inauguration, 4 March 1861, with the new dome of the Capitol still under construction (from R.Reed, Old Washington DC in Early Photos 1846-1932, 1980)
Lincoln’s First Inauguration, 4 March 1861, with the new dome of the Capitol still under construction (from R.Reed, Old Washington DC in Early Photos 1846-1932, 1980)

The outcome was not a great success on either commercial or critical criteria, but it did receive occasional reviews from colleagues, such as Felipe Fernández Armesto in the Hispanic American Historical Review, who similarly argued that continued restriction of analysis to the parameters of the actually-existing nation states of the western hemisphere could seriously impede understanding of the human condition in the past. In any event, it was a fascinating experience to survey such a swathe of international history, not least by following the fortunes of individuals such as Francisco Burdett O’Connor or feeling the fatal fissures in the fabric of the USA on the cusp of the Civil War.

Moreover, the pleasures of engaging in a fresh and exciting comparative context were redoubled by working in Latin America at a time when constitutional democracy had been restored and many of the simple joys of civil society restored.

Boca Juniors play San Lorenzo, April 1990 (Dylan Martínez)
Boca Juniors play San Lorenzo, April 1990 (Dylan Martínez)

James Dunkerley began teaching Central American Politics on the MA in Area Studies (Latin America) at the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) in 1988 whilst continuing to provide his undergraduate classes and to supervise doctoral students at Queen Mary. From 1994 he was officially seconded to ILAS from QM. From 1994 to 1998 he coordinated the ILAS master’s programmes, teaching Latin American Politics and the International Politics of Latin America, and in 1998 he succeeded Victor Bulmer-Thomas as Director of the Institute. James Dunkerley became Director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas (ISA) in 2004 and returned to Queen Mary as Professor of Latin American Politics in 2008.

Undergraduate Teaching

Postgraduate Teaching


Research Interests:

The politics, international relations and political history of the Americas.

James Dunkerley is currently working on three projects – an appraisal of the impact of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations; a comparative study of the stabilization plans of 1956 and 1985 in Bolivia; and a politico-intellectual history of four “quiet state-builders” of the early 19th century: Andrés Bello; Albert Gallatin, and Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt.



Bolivia: Revolution and the Power of History in the Present, ISA, London 2007, 224 pp.

(co-edited with Maria D’Alva Kinzo), Brazil since 1985: Economics, Politics and Society, ILAS 2003, 346 pp.

(edited) Studies in the Formation of the Nation-State in Latin America, ILAS 2002, 298 pp.

Warriors and Scribes. Essays in the Political History of Latin America, Verso, 2000, 212 pp.

Americana. The Americas in the World, around 1850 (or “seeing the elephant” as the theme for an imaginary western), Verso, London 2000, 642 pp.

(co-edited with Victor Bulmer-Thomas), The United States and Latin America. The New Agenda, ILAS, The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and Harvard UP, 1999, 359 pp.

The Pacification of Central America. Political Change in the Isthmus, 1987-93, Verso, London 1994  150pp

Political Suicide in Latin America and Other Essays, Verso, London 1992  252pp

Power in the Isthmus. A Political History of Modern Central America, Verso, London 1988 (Second impression, 1990) 690pp.

Orígenes del Poder Militar en Bolivia. Historia del Ejército, 1879-1935, Quipus Editores/Plural, La Paz 1987/2003   275pp

(with Jenny Pearce), Grenada. Whose Freedom? Latin America Bureau, London 1984, 128 pp. (Dutch edition published in 1984 under the title Grenada Bevrijd of Bezet, Masusa, Nijmegen)

Rebellion in the Veins. Political Struggle in Bolivia, 1952-1982, Verso, London 1984   356 pp
(Spanish editions published in 1988 and 2003 under the title Rebelión en las Venas. Lucha Política en Bolivia, Quipus Editores/Plural, La Paz.)

The Long War. Dictatorship and Revolution in El Salvador, Junction Books, London 1982; 2nd ed. Verso 1985,  318pp
(German edition was published in 1986 under the title Der Lange Krieg. Diktatur und Revolution in El Salvador, ISP Verlag, Frankfurt)



‘”Wo ist Carlos Montúfar?” Scenes of sensibility in the scientific life of Alexander von Humboldt’, in Claire Lindsay (ed.), Traslados/Translations. Essays on Latin America in honour of Jason Wilson, ISA, 2012, 1-18

‘Pachakuti in Bolivia, 2008-10: a personal diary’, in Adrian J.Pearce (ed.), Evo Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo in Bolivia. The First Term in Context, 2006-2010, ISA 2011, 175-212
(‘Pachakuti en Bolivia (2008-2010); un diario personal’, in Bolivian Studies Journal/ Revista de Estudios Bolivianos, 2008-2010, Vol.15-17, 9-63).

‘Caamaño and his circumstances: a personal and political portrait in parts’, Forward to Fred Halliday (ed.), Caamaño in London. The Exile of a Latin American Revolutionary, ISA 2010, vii-xiii.

‘US-Latin American Relations’, in M.Cox and D.Stokes (eds.), US Foreign Policy, OUP  2008 (revised edition 2011).

‘Latin America since Independence’, in John King (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Latin American Culture, CUP 2003, 28-59 (published in Spanish in A.Soto and A. San Francisco (eds.), Estudios sobre América Latina en el Cambio del Siglo, Santiago 2004).

`The Origins of the Bolivian Revolution in the 20th Century: Some Reflections’, in M.Grindle and P.Domingo (eds), Proclaiming Revolution. Bolivia in Comparative Perspective, ILAS and DRCLAS 2003, 135-163

‘The Study of Latin American History and politics in the UK, 1965-95’: An Interpretative Sketch’, in V.Bulmer-Thomas (ed.), Latin American Studies in the United Kingdom, 1965-95, ILAS, London 1996, 13-61.

`The Military in Central America: The Challenge of Transition' (with Rachel Sieder), in Rachel Sieder (ed.), Central America: Fragile Transition, Macmillan, Basingstoke 1996, 55-102

`The Crisis of Bolivian Radicalism', in Barry Carr and Steve Ellner (eds.), The Latin American Left. From the Fall of Allende to Perestroika, Westview Press, Boulder and Oxford 1993, 121-138

`Guatemala', in Leslie Bethell and Ian Roxborough (eds.), Latin America between The Second World War and the Cold War, 1944-48, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1992, 300-326

`El Salvador since 1930', in Leslie Bethell (ed.), Cambridge History of Latin America, Vol. VII,  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1990, 211-250

`Guatemala since 1930', in Leslie Bethell (ed.), Cambridge History of Latin America, Vol. VII, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1990, 251-266.

‘Central America: Collapse of the Military System’, in Christopher Clapham and George Philip (eds.), The political dilemmas of Military Regimes, Croom Helm, London 1985, 171-200.

‘Class Structure and Socialist Strategy in El Salvador’, in Fitzroy Ambursley and Robin Cohen (eds.), Crisis in the Caribbean, Heinemann, London 1983, 125-147.


Articles and papers

‘Andrés Bello and the Challenge of Spanish American Liberalism’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, XXIV,  Nov. 2014, 105-125

‘Bolivia en ese entonces: Bolivia, hoy revisitado 30 años después’, Revista Boliviana de Investigación, 10:1, August 2013, 191-212.

‘The Bolivian Revolution at 60: Politics and Historiography’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 45:2, August 2013, 325-350.

‘The Civilized Detective: Tomás Eloy Martínez and the Massacre of Trelew’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 31:4, Oct.2012, 445-459.

‘Latin Lessons’ (Review article), Government and Opposition, 45:4, Oct.2010.

‘Victor Kiernan’ (Obituary), History Workshop Journal, 69, 2010.

‘London and Latin America: 200 Years of Shared History’, 2007 Simón Bolívar Lecture, House of Commons, 22 March 2007, published by ISA and the Anglo-Venezuelan Society.

‘Evo Morales, “the Two Bolivias”, and the Third Bolivian Revolution’, commissioned commentary, Journal of Latin American Studies, 39:1, Feb. 2007.

‘Americas Plural: Old Wine in New Bottles?’Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 27:3, 2007.

‘Dreaming of Freedom in America: Four Minds and a Name’, Inaugural lecture, Institute for the Study of the Americas, Oct. 2004 (published in Spanish as Sueños de libertad en las Américas. Cuatro cerebros y un nombre, Plural, La Paz 2007).

‘Utopia Disarmed?’ New Left Review, No.206, July/August 1994

`Balance Historiográfico sobre la Revolución de 1952', Data, No.3, Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar, Chuquisaca, Bolivia 1993

‘Reflections on the Nicaraguan Revolution’, New Left Review, No.182, July/August 1990.

`Mario Vargas Llosa: Parables and Deceits', New Left Review, No.162, March 1987

`Central American Impasse', review article, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 5/1, 1986.

‘Bolivia at the Crossroads', Third World Quarterly, 8/1, Jan. 1986

‘Writing on Revolutions', review article, Journal of Latin American Studies, 15/2, Nov. 1983

`Reassessing Caudillismo in Bolivia, 1825-1879', Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol.I, No.1, Oct. 1981. (A revised Spanish version appeared in Historia Boliviana, No.1,Cochabamba, 1981; this article was reprinted in the BLAR 30th Special Anniversary Issue, 2011).


I specialise in Latin American politics and modern history. I am available for the supervision of research degrees in the areas of:

  • Modern History and politics of the Americas, particularly the USA, Bolivia and the Southern Cone;
  • Comparative political thought and history


Current PhD students

Sandra Carvalho, ‘The Politics of Nuclear Power in Brazil under the Lula Administration’

Saskia Fischer, ‘Mass Media and Social Movements in Contemporary Argentina: the case of El Maitén (jointly supervised with School of Business and Management)

Sue Serra Iamamoto, ‘Popular Memory and “War” in Bolivian Social Conflict, 2000-10’

María Isabel Díaz Hernández, ‘The Church and Political Transition in Mexico’

Tania Gómez Zapata, ‘Cultural Diplomacy in Mexico’

Public Engagement

James Dunkerley has been editor of the Journal of Latin American Studies and currently sits on the editorial boards of Government and Opposition and Norteamérica.  From 1998 to 2008 he was Director of the University of London’s Institute for the Study of the Americas.  James Dunkerley was a panellist in the Research Assessment Exercises of 1996 and 2008 and the Research Excellence Framework of 2014. In 2009 he served as Andrés Bello Professor Latin America and Civilization at New York University, and in 2010 he was appointed OBE for services to UK-Latin American relations. In 2001 he was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and 2002 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.