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Professor of Spanish

Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Professor

Chair of the Publications Advisory Committee | Dey 328 At UNC since 2003

Other Appointments

Editor of the North Carolina Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures books series
Adjunct Professor of Comparative Literature


Ph.D. Cornell University, 2002
B.A. Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1995
B.A. Universidad Externado de Colombia, 1994


Juan Carlos González Espitia is Associate Professor of Spanish and affiliated faculty in Comparative Literature. From a literary and historical perspective, his work is a diachronic approach to Latin American and Spanish literary production in dialogue with critical medical humanities and questions of public health from the eighteenth century to the present, with a strong focus on the associations between the discourses of disease, literature, and public policy. He is the editor of the established North Carolina Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures book series as well as the editor of the journal Hispanófila.

González Espitia teaches courses and guides doctoral candidates in multiple periods and through an array of disciplinary perspectives, from Spanish American and Peninsular literature of the Enlightenment to Avant-Garde literary production, to LatinX literature, and from seminars on cultural representations of disease and (dis)ability to courses on the theory of poiesis or literary creation. His research focuses on non-canonical, heterodox, or otherwise hidden literatures, ideas and authors that, although oftentimes absent from the canons, reveal profound trends in culture and society. More pointedly, his work deals with representations of disease, forms of writing that challenge the status quo, and nation building, including the complex dynamics from a colonial condition to one of budding independence.


His present book manuscript, Syphilografía: A History of the Writerly Disease in the Eighteenth-Century Hispanic World, is under contract with a major university press and traces the written consequences of syphilis in the Hispanic world through the long eighteenth century (1700-1810). Syphilografía charts the interrelatedness of literary texts, art, medical literature, and governmental documents. The authors and texts include in the study—a combination of canonical and lesser-known names from both sides of the Atlantic—subvert the idea of a homogeneous cultural production and push for an approach to literature as an organic construction that escapes classifications of literary and regional movements or historical progress. This understanding of literature as permeated by other disciplines is at the core of González Espitia’s methodological approach and the teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

His first book, a study of counter-canonical narratives titled On the Dark Side of the Archive: Nation and Literature in Spanish America at the Turn of the Century, was published with Bucknell University Press. With the goal of exploring new avenues of approach, and the collaboration with internationally known scholars, he has edited and co-edited volumes published by university presses and renowned journals. He is strongly involved in the development of nineteenth century Latin American studies. He is a co-founder of the nineteenth century section of LASA (Latin American Studies Association).

His other avenue of research is also related to “troublesome” writing. He has done extensive work and publication on the production of José María Vargas Vila, a Colombian author whose novels dealing with problematic sexualities, anti-imperialism, and anti-clericalism were extremely popular in the Spanish-speaking world at the turn of the nineteenth century, but which collapsed when confronted with the idealized purposes later invested in literature by critics. In conjunction with the Rare Book Collection at UNC, he developed the first comprehensive digital repository of Vargas Vila’s literary production, available at no cost to readers around the world. He has published two of Vargas Vila’s unknown novels, one of them an early yet bold approach to lesbianism in Latin America and the other the story of Ítalo Fontana, a heterodox Latin American artist educated in the United States who has a tragic incestuous relationship with his sister. He is presently curating the edition of two other unedited works by Vargas Vila.

Typical Courses

  • Illness and Literature in the Hispanic World.
  • Politics, Language, Love, Race and other 19th Century Spanish American Diseases.
  • Spanish American Literature (SPAN 373).
  • Contemporary Latin America: Caribbean and Southern Cone (SPAN 345).
  • Poiesis in Spanish America.
  • Masterpieces of Spanish and Spanish American Poetry. (La muerte viva de la poesía hispánica).

Recently Directed Dissertations

  • Philip Hollingsworth (PhD). “The image of Opium and Morphine in Hispanic Modernista Literature, 1876–1949. ”
  • Francisco Laguna-Correa (PhD). “From Invasion to Revolution: Society and Nationalisms in the Mexican Narrative.”
  • Carlos Abreu (PhD). “Sublime peligro: naturaleza, sujeto y nación en Latinoamérica.”
  • Carmen Pérez (PhD). “Ídolos, bosques y cruces: el uso de los héroes, la naturaleza y la religión en los textos escolares en Colombia. 1870–1900.”
  • Samantha Michele Riley (PhD). Absurdist-Ethics and Radical Agency in AIDS Media: Erotic Genealogies, Absurd Laughter, and Grotesque Aesthetics.
  • María del Carmen Caña Jiménez (PhD). La escritura de la infancia: entre la nación y el discurso político.

Graduate Students Advised by Professor  

Professor Gonzalez Espitia is currently accepting new advisees.