Biography

Héctor Pérez en su estudio
Fotografía: Marco Coronado

I was born in the town of Las Flores in the Argentinian Pampa (Province of Buenos Aires) in 1945. My family were Italian, Spanish, and Basque immigrants. I attended grammar and high school in Las Flores, obtaining my high school diploma and primary teaching degree in 1962. Although I never worked as a primary school teacher, this training made sensitive about pedagogical communication.

In 1963, I was accepted at the University of Buenos Aires to study sociology at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in December 1967. While attending college, I had the privilege of taking courses and seminars with some distinguished scholars, including Gino Germani, José Luis Romero, Tulio Halperín Donghi, Manuel Mora y Araujo, Miguel Murmis, Juan Carlos Portantiero, Gregorio Klimovsky, and Eliseo Verón, among others. In between classes I would also attend Jorge Luis Borges’ English literature classes, or the lectures of well-known musicologist Ernesto Epstein on the works of Bach.

I undoubtedly received a varied and sophisticated education in a cultural environment that was both rich and stimulating. Many years later I became fully aware that this opportunity had been a unique privilege.

In August 1968, thanks to a scholarship from the French government, I moved to Paris for postgraduate studies. In Paris, I became aware of the vastness and diversity of Latin America, far richer than the Europeanized reality of the Río de la Plata and my own family surroundings. I took courses in the Third Cycle Diploma at IEDES (Institut d’Etudes du Développement Économique et Social), and Professor Pierre Vilar, a noted historian, accepted me as his doctoral student at the École des Hautes Etudes. I also had the privilege of attending classes with Celso Furtado, a distinguished Brazilian economist, on Latin American and development economics.

In 1970, I obtained the IEDES diploma, and in 1975, I presented my doctoral thesis at the Université of Paris I. (Enlace y Titulo Tesis) Concurrently, I oriented my career toward economic and social history. I also had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of Ciro Flamarion Cardoso (enlace), a Brazilian doctoral student specializing in colonial slavery. Friendship and intellectual dialogue with Ciro accompanied me for many years and was only terminated by his death in 2013.

My professional career began in July 1970, in Central America. What started as an invitation from friends soon became a personal lifeline. In 1970–71, I was a professor at the University of El Salvador, and from 1971–73 I held a chair at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. In January 1974, I joined the teaching staff at the University of Costa Rica, first as a visiting professor and then as an associate and full professor. Thirty years later, in 2004, I was nominated professor emeritus of the School of History. From 1975, I also taught at the School of History of the National University (Heredia, Costa Rica), and in 2004 I was also appointed professor emeritus by this institution.

In 1978, I became a Costa Rican citizen, a decision that is easily explained by the warmth of its people, the opportunities provided to do impactful things, the lack of an army, and the green of its particularly generous nature. My own family was born and raised in Costa Rica.

On various occasions I have taught for short periods at universities in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, the United States, Mexico, Spain, and Germany. At the University of Costa Rica, I held various teaching–administrative positions, including the direction of the School of History and Geography and the direction of the postgraduate degree in history. I also actively dealt with the publishing of books and journals and the supervision of many graduate and postgraduate theses. I was deeply involved in the creation of the Central American Postgraduate Course in History in 1978, the Center for Historical Research in Central America in 1979, and the Central American Population Center in 1993.

Throughout my academic and civic life, my activities have always been guided by the development of a critical conscience. This, obviously, does not mean criticizing everything, but it includes having a deep respect for diversity and gender equality, and a constant search for excellence. Social and economic development have always been on my horizon. It expanded over the years to include sustainable development, always anchored in the value of having reliable economic and demographic data. These are indispensable foundations of any historical analysis, and of any prospecting towards the future. During my formative years in Buenos Aires and Paris, I learned that to achieve excellence, hard work and dedication are necessary, but so is participation in academia at the international level, without complexes or prejudice.

Between 1976 and 2020, I published 20 books (14 as an author and 6 as an editor), and more than 60 articles in books and academic journals. Some have been translated into English, French, Italian, and Portuguese. My publications include specialized monographs, texts oriented to university education, and works directed to a broad educated public interested in history.

My research, like my publications, has covered the fields of economic and social history, historical demography, historical geography, and political and cultural history. My areas of interest include Costa Rica and Central and Latin America, with a comparative approach that avoids simplification.
The great wealth and diversity of the Central American region—from biology and environment to cultures and connections with the world—constitutes a particularly significant comparative advantage in the era of globalization. The mission of intellectuals is precisely to empower others in order to build, value, and protect it. In this area, I have made a significant contribution.

My main field of study and interest has been the Central American region. Over the years I have built a recognized intellectual leadership, since my participation in the Central American Program of Social Sciences (1972-76) directed by Edelberto Torres Rivas and Ciro Flamarion Cardoso, to teaching, research and thesis supervision activities, continuously developed in the five Central American countries.

My most recent interest is oriented towards the establishment of systematic comparisons between Central America and the Caribbean Basin Region; moreover I am exploring the relationships between images and historical narrative. The notion that historical culture is essential for good decision-making, and to build a better world, is something that continues to be my source of inspiration and passion.

(April 2021)

Awards and honors

  • Fellow, 2012-2013, Kulturwissenschaftliches Kolleg Konstanz, Universität Konstanz
  • Fellow, 2008-2009. Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
  • Catedrático Humboldt 2007, Universidad de Costa Rica y DAAD
  • Premio “Ancora”del periódico La Nación en el campo del ensayo histórico, 2011.
  • Premio Nacional de Historia, 2010, Ministerio de Cultura Juventud y Deportes de Costa Rica (como autor de La Población de Costa Rica, 1750-1950).
  • Premio a la excelencia y la creatividad de la Florida Ice Farm Co. de Costa Rica, 2005.
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 2004.
  • Premio Nacional de Historia 2003, Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes de Costa Rica (como autor del Historical Atlas of Central America)
  • Tinker Chair in Latin American Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison. 1996.
  • Premio Nacional de Historia 1993, Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes de Costa Rica (como editor de la Historia General de Centroamérica)
  • Fellow, 1984. The Wilson Center, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. 1984.

Scientific Associations

  • Miembro de número. Academia de Geografía e Historia de Costa Rica.
  • Miembro correspondiente, Sociedad de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala.
  • Miembro correspondiente, Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, España.
  • Miembro honorario. Asociación de Demografía Histórica de España y Portugal.
  • Miembro de la International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP).
  • Miembro de la Asociación Latinoamericana de Población (ALAP)