When Anne Hanley first traveled to Brazil as a high school foreign-exchange student, she was enthralled by the noise and colors, the ubiquitous smell of sautéing onions and garlic, and the incredible warmth of the people.
But when she returned several years later while studying economics in college, what stood out most was a question posed by a Brazilian student to his American counterpart, “Why does your country get to be so rich, while ours is so poor?”
His comment opened her eyes to the disparities among and within countries, and Hanley has since spent her career investigating the historical economic structures that produce Brazil’s persistent condition of underdevelopment and chronic inequality. Despite the country’s rich resources and one of the world’s largest economies, a large portion of Brazil’s population lives in poverty, with millions of people crowded into “favelas,” or shanty towns.
“That question really woke me up, and I’ve been studying it ever since,” says Hanley, an NIU history professor who is also trained as an economist. “The disparity between rich and poor is huge in Brazil. It is one of the most unequal countries on Earth.”
For her internationally recognized scholarship on Brazil, service within the NIU community and passion for helping students, the university has awarded Hanley with its 2021 Board of Trustees Professorship. The professorship is the top university honor reserved for faculty members who demonstrate excellence in all facets of teaching, service, leadership and research or artistry.
Hanley has written two books and more than a dozen scholarly articles and book chapters on Brazilian economic history, with her work supported by two National Endowment for the Humanities and three Fulbright awards. She is fluent in the Portuguese language, sits on the editorial board of Brazil’s most prestigious economic history journal and has made over 50 presentations, lectures and keynote addresses on five continents.
Sleuthing through archives large and small, Hanley seeks answers to big questions about domestic and global economic inequality through focused investigations of Brazil’s financial institutions and economic development.
“We need to understand what contributes to development and underdevelopment if we’re going to fix it,” Hanley says. “When you see the structural and institutional drivers of inequalities in underdeveloped countries, then you can also look for and recognize those structures in other societies.”
Hanley’s first book, “Native Capital, an examination of the history of banking and finance in Sao Paulo, was hailed as a “landmark study.” Her latest book, “The Public Good and the Brazilian State,” has been similarly cited as a pioneering work, shedding light on the evolution of public finance and its effect on the early economic development of modern Brazilian society.
A third book in progress will examine the history of standardization as an economic force, including Brazil’s metric-system implementation and its first national census, both occurring during the late 19th century.
“She is one of the outstanding scholars of the history of Brazil working today in the United States,” says Marshall C. Eakin, a distinguished professor of history at Vanderbilt University. “Her work on the financial and business history of late 19th- and early 20th-century Brazil is innovative, pioneering and indispensable for any scholar of Brazilian economic history.”
At NIU, Hanley’s talents also reach far. She served as her department’s director of graduate studies for more than six years, leading restructurings that brought together students working on different regions and eras. Working across disciplines, she helped create and then served as interim director of the Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies. Additionally, she is a faculty associate to the Center for Latino & Latin American Studies and the School of Public and Global Affairs.
Hanley has served on the Faculty Senate, Graduate Council, University Council, program prioritization academic task force and NIU Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. In 2018, she was presented with the Wilma D. Stricklin Award, acknowledging her leadership in improving the climate for women on campus.
History Chair Valerie Garver is among those who has benefitted from Hanley’s mentorship. “I can count on her to challenge me, to give considered advice, to listen to my reasoning when we disagree, and to support my decisions,” Garver says.
In the classroom, Hanley is known as a gifted educator. Her “secret weapon,” she says, is occasionally eavesdropping on student conversations before or after class. “It’s an interesting way to get to know your students, their humor and their anxieties. Sometimes you’ll hear whispers with questions about assignments, so it helps me identify what might need to be reinforced.”
Hanley’s ability to work across borders and disciplines is evident among her doctoral student assignments. In addition to Department of History students, she currently advises, or serves on the dissertation committees, of a geography student from Brazil, a geography student from Ecuador and political science students from Indonesia and Colombia.
Graduate School Dean Brad Bond recalls a student whose plan to earn her Ph.D. was derailed by personal difficulties while Hanley was director of graduate studies for the history department. “Dr. Hanley not only worked out a plan for the student to step out for a time, but she worked out a plan for the student to return as soon as possible,” Bond says. “She handled that situation with great integrity and compassion.”
Students sing Hanley’s praises as well. Megan VanGorder taught middle school for eight years before pursuing her Ph.D. at NIU. Upon other student recommendations, she took Hanley’s seminar on the history of capitalism.
“I was enraptured by the way that Professor Hanley commanded the room,” VanGorder says. “It was immediately apparent to me that she was impeccably prepared, undeniably brilliant and an amazing instructor.
“Each new book and conversation built beautifully on the last, culminating in a content knowledge base that was flawlessly facilitated by Professor Hanley’s artful course design and guidance as an instructor,” she adds. “Professor Hanley created the most rigorous, educationally enriching and intricately crafted course in which I have ever participated.”