Juan Fernandez

Position title: Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian History

Email: fernandezcap@wisc.edu

Phone: 608.890.0091

Office: 5116 Mosse Humanities
Mailbox: 5002 Mosse Humanities
Will begin teaching in Fall 2024

Juan Fernandez headshot


My work focuses on the histories of sex, gender, and ethnography in the highlands of the Philippines in the early twentieth century. My first book project, “Manly Encounters,” examines how ethnographic fieldwork conducted by the earliest generation of professional American anthropologists was intertwined with their attempts to perform (to varying degrees of success) their approximation of Indigenous Philippine masculinity. And yet the ethnographic encounter cuts both ways: my project also examines how the Indigenous peoples of northern Luzon and Mindanao made sense of their observers in their response to these anthropologists’ performance of gender. Through an analysis of these anthropologists’ fieldnotes, diaries, and correspondence—in addition to their published ethnographic work—I argue that there is a simultaneous, reciprocal, but nevertheless hierarchical construction of masculinity and femininity of both the anthropologist and their Indigenous subjects. This first project is part of a larger set of research questions that seek to analyze the emergence of the category of the Southeast Asian “headhunter”—in the Philippines, but also in Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo—in terms of its gendered dimensions and the almost invariable ascription of masculinity to the Indigenous peoples who once practiced it.

My second project, tentatively titled “The Anatomy of a Hoax,” examines the history of the supposed anthropological “discovery” in the 1970s of the Tasaday in the southern Philippines. The Tasaday, with their attributed “gentleness” and “pacifism” were glommed onto by local and international media, and the Marcos regime in the Philippines, as an authentic representation of an autochthonic Filipino identity untainted by colonial accretions, but also anthropologically as a universalistic exemplar of basic human nature found in a supposed “Stone Age.” From its beginnings as a cause célèbre and media frenzy in 1971, to its unraveling as a supposed hoax fifteen years later, this history of the Tasaday controversy gives us a view into the contentions between popular and professional anthropology, fantasies of “primitive” sexuality, and the recurrent and enduring tropes that structure the ethnographic imagination and the histories of anthropology in the Philippines and the United States.

When I begin teaching in Fall 2024, I will offer lectures and seminars on modern Southeast Asia, the history of colonial photography in the region, Southeast Asian ethnohistory, as well as histories of childhood, the family, and gender and sexuality.


Ph.D., Cornell University
M.A., University of Chicago
B.A., University of the Philippines at Baguio

Selected Publications

  • “From Savages to Soldiers”: Igorot Bodies, Militarized Masculinity, and the Logic of Transformation in Dean C. Worcester’s Philippine Photographs. Philippine Studies 71, no. 2 (2023): 245-274.
  • “Masculinity and Misperformance: The Death of William Jones among the Ilongots, 1909.” In Indigenous Studies in the Philippines. Leah Abayao, Jimmy Fong, and Carolyn Podruchny, eds. (Forthcoming.)
  • (With Sophia Cuevas Mable and Imelda de Guzman Olvida). “Where Peasants Are Kings: Food Sovereignty in the Tagbanua Traditional Subsistence System.” Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies 8, no. 1 (2015): 27–44.