New Executive Director

Bjorn Maybury-Lewis

By June Carolyn Erlick

Biorn Maybury-Lewis made his first trip to Latin America when he was only an infant. Brazilian Air Force pilots left him and his anthropologist parents in the middle of the central highlands of Brazil’s vast interior, quickly taking off in their small aircraft before the local Brazilian indigenous people—the Shavante—showed up. The baby carried on his mother’s hips in an Indian-style sling might never have dreamed that his future would lead him to his new job as executive director of Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS).

“Biorn Maybury-Lewis combines success as an academic administrator with a scholar’s deep knowledge of Latin America,” observes DRCLAS Director John H. Coatsworth, who is also Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs. “With his fluent Portuguese and Spanish—and his extensive experience living and working in Brazil—he will be especially helpful as the Center deepens its presence in the region with the opening of offices in Mexico City and São Paulo.”

Maybury-Lewis (Harvard ’80), obtained his doctorate at Columbia in political science, never forgetting Brazil. He extensively revised his Ph.D. thesis, “The Politics of the Possible: The Growth and Political Development of the Brazilian Rural Workers’ Union Movement, 1964–1985,” transforming it into a book that Temple University Press published in 1994.

He has combined a career in teaching, research, and leading expeditions into the Brazilian interior with more recent experience as a senior level college administrator in Florida. He co-founded a graduate program while serving as director of graduate programs at International Fine Arts College in Miami. He later chaired the Social Sciences Department at Miami-Dade College’s North Campus. And in the past two years, as founding dean of academic affairs at Digital Media Arts College in Boca Raton, he launched undergraduate and graduate fine arts programs in the relatively new fields of graphic design and computer animation.

“I am committed to innovative programs in higher education and diversity within the educational community. This is precisely what the David Rockefeller Center has dedicated itself to since its founding while at the same time becoming recognized as the premiere Latin American Studies institute in the country,” said Maybury-Lewis. “It will be a wonderful challenge to help Dr. Coatsworth, his excellent staff, and his distinguished colleagues make the programs at DRCLAS as creative in their second decade as they were in their first.”

Maybury-Lewis has taught at several Brazilian universities, as well as at the Boston campus of Springfield College where he taught students how to conduct research and design community programs for disadvantaged people in the Greater Boston area. He has also served as a Latin Americanist researcher at the University of Miami and as planning and development coordinator at the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Allston, helping this non-profit organization to fundraise, create an English as a Second Language Program, and to help Brazilians who walked into the Center.

He remembers especially fondly his two years as a social science professor and researcher at the University of Amazonas at its beautifully designed campus just outside of Manaus set in hundreds of acres of virgin rain forest. Maybury-Lewis remembers the monkey troupes and individual sloths that inhabited the trees surrounding his building, as well as the occasional 10 to 15 foot anaconda that would appear on the road to the campus during the rainy season. At night, moths and butterflies the size of baseball mitts would alight on the windows outside his office as he and his colleagues wrote up their research.

From Boston to Brazil, Maybury-Lewis has concerned himself with the disadvantaged and development issues. Collaborating with Brazil’s University of Amazonas, he coordinated a multi-year research project on the impact of modernization and development on peasant populations living along the Amazon River and the resulting Amazonian urbanization trends.

Maybury-Lewis is also a consultant to Cultural Survival, Inc., a non-profit organization defending the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. His parents founded Cultural Survival in 1972. Dr. David Maybury-Lewis, Edward C. Henderson Research Professor at Harvard, and his mother, Pia Maybury-Lewis, a nutritionist by training, are long time researchers specializing in Latin American studies.

Biorn Maybury-Lewis speaks English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Danish, along with a smattering of French and Japanese. He may have forgotten his Shavante, the language he first heard as a child in Central Brazil, but he has never forgotten Latin America’s hinterlands. “Brazil is where my heart is, in many ways, and Cambridge is where I grew up and went to school. As executive director of DRCLAS, I look forward to helping bring these two worlds closer together.”

June Carolyn Erlick, DRCLAS publications director, is the author of Disappeared, A Journalist Silenced (Seal Press, 2004). An earlier version of this article appeared in the Harvard Gazette.