Ed Pompeian came to William & Mary to study Early American and U.S. History but his experience at the College took an unexpected turn southward, to South America that is. “One of my favorite experiences was seeing the Festival of San Juan celebrated by the Afro-Venezuelan ancestors of ex-slaves in a small village called Chuao that is still devoted to cacao cultivation,” Pompeian says. He also enjoyed hikes up the Ávila mountain chain.
Now a doctoral candidate, Pompeian used a Fulbright Fellowship this past Winter and Spring to fund his research in Caracas, Venezuela at the Archivo General de la Nación and studies at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. “The classes I enrolled in during my first two years [at William & Mary] really encouraged me to think more internationally about the history of early America.”
With an interest in the early United States and its hemispheric connections in the first half century of independence, Pompeian explores the role of non-state actors in influencing the cultural exchange between the United States and Latin America in the Napoleonic Era. “For many Venezuelan historians,” Pompeian says, “it’s simply natural to study the history of the country in a global context because of how European imperialism, immigration, and foreign oil companies influenced Venezuela.” While using this global approach from an American point of view, he plans on completing his dissertation and earning his Ph.D. in Early American and U.S. History from the Lyon G. Tyler Department of History in May of 2012.
As Pompeian discovered, Venezuelans view the role of the U.S. “in very mixed ways.” Recently, he says, “Marxist critiques of U.S. imperialism are back in vogue,” with books such as Francisco Pividal’s 1977 biography of Simón Bolívar endorsed by Hugo Chávez. In the past, however, “historians explored the influence of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Federalist Papers, and the U.S. Constitution on Venezuela's ‘founding fathers’ and also researched the link between early Venezuelan print culture and the book publishers of Philadelphia.” Pompeian is now trying to step outside that Cold War dialectic by pursuing topics ignored in past scholarship. He is currently a Dissertation Fellow in the Program in Early American Economy and Society at the Library Company of Philadelphia and will continue his work in January with an Advisory Council Dissertation Fellowship at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Pompeian’s forthcoming dissertation is entitled “Spirited Enterprises: The U.S., Venezuela, and the Independence of Spanish America, 1790-1823.” His thesis will discuss America’s attempt to spread the ideals of the revolutionary age to Latin America and what happened when republican universalism collided with the political and economic realities of Spain’s former colonies, specifically Venezuela. Pompeian’s work writes: “freedom and free trade were supposed to bring justice, peace, enlightenment, and solidarity to the hemisphere. An analysis of U.S.-Venezuelan relations can explain why they did not.” In a time of strained relations between the United States and the Bolivarian Republic, Edward Pompeian’s research seems particularly pertinent and useful in understanding the source of dissension between the two nations.