Manuel Montoya returned to New Mexico and to Mora, where he found his uncles in their woodshop, working on a table and commenting on the eye of the camel pattern. They discussed the history of the design, Attila the Hun and the sacking of Rome.
"It's a mistake to think that the people of rural New Mexico aren't intellectually curious. For me it's always been the opposite. They have a cultural stability and a value system the rest of the world still struggles with," Montoya said. The native son returned to his homeland, smarter, perhaps, but definitely more educated.
"It feels great to be back at UNM. I was proud to represent UNM. In coming back I realized how much people here appreciate when someone does return," he said.
Montoya is a freshly-minted assistant professor in the Anderson School of Management. He earned an undergraduate degree at UNM in English and economics before becoming a Rhodes Scholar and going to Oxford, where he earned his first master's degree. He went on the New York University where he earned a second master's and then on to Emory University where he earned a dual doctorate, in foreign relations and comparative literature. He graduated in May.
"I've always considered myself an interdisciplinary scholar. My research focuses on global legibility and how we make it a meaningful part of our reality," he said. His dissertation is "Global Consciousness, Global Words: An Examination of World Polity as It Relates to World Literature."
Montoya said that latitude and longitude are measurements that are sorely underestimated as part of our global heritage. "The mere fact that they are measurements that orient us to the physical boundaries of the entire planet is a huge cultural shift." He argues that moments like the creation of latitude and longitude are what make the World – with a capital "W" – comprehensible.
"How the world is measured is inherent in how we tell stories, how we construct our laws and how we negotiate political treaties," Montoya said.
"Most of these things are mediated by nation-states, but there is evidence of a global culture out there, one set apart from nations and distinct in its own right" he said. Montoya points to Antarctica as an example. "It gets used in storytelling as a non-national place," he said. In Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," Captain Nemo proclaims himself a man of no nation. "In that story, like many, many others, characters with no nation often find themselves in Antarctica, and almost always they find themselves dealing with issues that are urgent on a planetary scale. Antarctica becomes symbolic of and helps articulate the evolution of a global culture apart from a national identity," Montoya said.
And that's how Montoya can connect foreign relations, or international business, with comparative literature. "We can explore the development of a common heritage under many different lenses. One of them is through our understanding of the global political economy. We have UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, which are globally oriented, but mediated by nations. We consider a global currency, but only through national lenses. Global currency is politically controversial, no doubt – but like latitude and longitude, global currency is another way of measuring the world at an appropriate global scale. It provides meaning to a global economy. A foreign exchange market is mediated by national, regional currencies," he said.
This will be the index of the 21st century, to understand the relationship between nationally mediated institutions and how they deal with global scale phenomena, he said.
"We have no choice but to address global economic issues, including the 2008 crisis. Eventually, if not already, we will need to think about what a robust global currency will look like. We will need to measure the global economy without having to deal with multiple acts of translation," he said.
Magic of the real
"Just as the economy has its narrative that presses us to comprehend the world so too does world literature," Montoya said. They share the same problem: they are places of interest where the language of the globe emerges.
"Magical realism is a placeholder for things and places within a culture that haven't been fully defined," Montoya said, noting Verne's work and that of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, particularly his "One Hundred Years of Solitude." Magical realism blends magical elements into a realistic scenario to gain a deeper understanding of reality. The magical elements are explained as normal events presented matter-of-factly, allowing the "real" and "fantastic" to be accepted. "In this sense, the globe is still emerging and it makes sense that world literature will often appear as fantastic, or hyperbolic."
At Emory, Montoya apprenticed with British-Indian magical realist novelist Salman Rushdie, author of "The Satanic Verses." The book put Rushdie at the center of controversy – even earning him death threats after Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him.
Montoya said, "The divide between the social sciences and the humanities is the most costly in academia. Interdisciplinary study produces world class scholars." His integrated dissertation was urged along by literary scholar Angelika Bammer, who was chair. Other committee members were sociologist John Boli, anthropologist Ivan Karp and former Senator Gary Hart, an expert in foreign relations.
New Mexico: A global stage
Montoya applies his global perspective to local realities. "New Mexico heralded in the atomic age at Trinity site. The state has four or five systems of law working with and against each other, and we have transnational presence – the implications of New Mexico on globality are tremendous," he said.
He points to Taos Pueblo – the only World Heritage Site in the United States west of the Mississippi River – as representative of sites where we can be exposed to global history, aesthetics and comfort.
He said that New Mexico can always be a staging ground for substantial global activity. "It doesn't have to be in New York. That can actually be a hindrance," he said.
Montoya has always been at the front of the class. Now he's up there literally. "I'm teaching global structures – that's my training – in international business. It's a challenge to teach students to be comfortable with ambiguity," he said.
He said that today's students, the next generation of business leaders, will deal with global paradoxes. "Today's business leader must understand complex institutions, and must somehow understand how national interests facilitate and complicate firm behavior," he said. "However, our business leaders are also called upon to think globally, with little prompting about what that actually means. I consider it my duty to encourage my students to think about the globe from multiple perspectives so that their critical acumen is the very finest the world can offer. This means becoming a socially responsible individual as much as it does being a robust and thoughtful analyst of global affairs. My job is to help students see a bigger picture, while placing that in the context of everyday business practices."
When he isn't tinkering with things on a global scale, he's a watchmaker. "I make pocket watches from used parts. I did it in New York and London." It's changed his perception of time and allowed him to create functional, mechanical, material art.
"I want to produce quality, like the very finest qualities of the Swiss watch industry. That's their global heritage," he said.