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We proudly celebrate Juli Highfill as she takes on the esteemed title of Professor of Spanish Emerita, marking thirty years of exceptional service in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Her remarkable dedication and contributions have made a lasting impact on our department and the field as a whole. We salute her for her outstanding achievements and the legacy she leaves behind. It is with great admiration and gratitude that we honor Juli on this well-deserved accomplishment.  

After attending the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS, Juli earned a Bachelor of Science degree in History and Social Studies Education in 1976. She then pursued further studies at The University of Missouri in Kansas City, MO, where she obtained her Master of Arts degree in 1982 and later her Ph.D. degree in Spanish in 1993 at The University of Kansas. Following the completion of her Ph.D., she embarked on her academic career as an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Michigan in 1993. Throughout the years, she demonstrated remarkable expertise and dedication, resulting in her promotion to associate professor in 2000 and ultimately to the rank of professor in 2012.

Juli is a highly respected scholar of nineteenth and twentieth-century Spain. Her main area of research is the avant-garde period of the 1920s and the political turn of 1930s. She has authored two major monographs: Portraits of Excess: Reading Character in the Modern Spanish Novel and Modernism and Its Merchandise: The Spanish Avant-Garde and Material Culture, 1920-1930. Currently, she is completing a book titled Images in Flight: Popular and Political Affect in Spanish Cinema, 1920-1940. In Portraits she examines the cultural  codes and belief systems that govern readers’ imaginary stagings of literary characters. In her book, Modernism and Its Merchandise, she explores the incorporation of streamlined, mass-produced commodities of the Machine Age into the literary and visual works of the writers and artists of the Spanish avant-garde. This inquiry led to a wide-ranging, productive line of inquiry into the relations between mind and matter, people and things, and words and the world. In Images in Flight, she explores the cinematic experience in the 1920-1940s, a time when film as mass spectacle was still relatively new and writers of the Spanish avant-garde were preoccupied with what happens in the intimate yet public space of the movie theater.  In her scholarly works, she  demonstrates a deep and methodical focus on literary criticism that foregrounds the liveliness of the material while avoiding the descriptive superficiality that sometimes characterizes cultural studies. She incorporates many different fields, including literature, history, economics, material and popular culture, painting, film, fashion, and science, as well as pertinent theoretical approaches.

A two-time recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award and the Excellence in Concentration Advising, Juli has been a remarkable teacher and dedicated advisor and mentor of undergraduate and graduate students.  She made exemplary contributions to the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, particularly in the 1990s when she played a pivotal role in implementing the cultural studies track for the Spanish major, and also serving as RLL Associate Chair and Head of the Spanish Curriculum Committee. Her tireless efforts also resulted in a series of curricular changes that attracted majors and minors en masse to the field of Hispanic Studies. Her significant institutional mark is still evident today, as the department continues to benefit from her many contributions in the areas of curricular reform, student mentoring, and shared governance.   

Juli’s dedication to enriching our curriculum led her to collaborate with the Honors Program, the Latino/a association ALAS (Asociación de Latinos Alcanzando Sueños / Association of Latinos Reaching Dreams), and the CGIS-funded initiative, which aimed to integrate a study abroad component into on-campus courses. Through these partnerships, she played a pivotal role in expanding our departmental course offerings. Among her many innovative and successful course creations are “Everyday Life Under the Franco Regime,” “Spain’s Civil War and the Franco Regime,” “The Life and Poetry of García Lorca,” and “Spanish Through Community Service”—a notable collaboration she established with ALAS, where she helped develop and teach a course that incorporated community service and cultural immersion.  In 2017, Juli organized the groundbreaking conference titled “Standing with Spain: Anti-Fascist Student Activism and the Spanish Civil War.” This event marked the department’s first-ever student-focused conference. Undergraduate students showcased their original research on anti-fascist student activism at U-M, extensively examining The Michigan Daily’s coverage of the war and the contributions of Michigan volunteers to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought in Spain.  With initiatives such as “Standing with Spain,” Juli’s commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration, experiential learning, and promoting student research has left a lasting impact on our department and has empowered students to engage deeply with the subject matter and develop critical insights.

As Juli prepares to embark on a well-deserved retirement, her dedication to promoting social activism and defending human rights remains steadfast. She will continue her collaboration with The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) to further these important causes. Additionally, she has taken on the role of co-editor for a multi-volume project on Iberian Avant-gardes. This endeavor aims to encourage fresh perspectives on the modernization efforts in early twentieth-century Spain, fostering new approaches and insights. Furthermore, Juli has been actively involved in a project focused on workers’ education programs in both the United States and Europe. Through her research and contributions, she aims to shed light on the significance and impact of these programs. These exciting and meaningful projects will undoubtedly keep her engaged and provide opportunities for academic dissemination, fostering valuable discussions and collaborations with fellow academics and public scholars alike.

RLL is immensely honored to have had Juli Highfill as one of our most cherished scholars, esteemed teachers, and an exceptional member of our academic community. Her dedication and countless contributions to our department and the university as a whole have been invaluable. We express our deepest gratitude for her unwavering commitment and the positive impact she has made on our students, colleagues, and the field of study. We are forever grateful for the lasting imprint she has left on our department, and we eagerly await her continued success in the many years to come.  

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