What Mentorship Looks Like

By Susan Carvalho

Does it matter that, three decades later, I don’t really remember very much about the classes I took with David Gies? I remember that I didn’t find Fray Gerundio as funny as he did, that my mind wasn’t blown by Feijoo, that the Romantics were very dramatic, and I thought the eighteenth century seemed “long,” too! I appreciate and admire all that Mr. Gies has done to discover new knowledge and to teach generations of us to do that. But that wasn’t what really changed lives.

What I remember, and will never forget, is sitting on my kitchen floor in Illinois wondering why a stranger wanted me to come to UVA – while he told me how SURE he was that it was the right place for me. I remember coming for a campus visit, while he was DGS, and being astounded that everyone I met was carrying an itinerary for the day with my name on top of it! During that lonely first year, in February I went to visit my grandmother in Maine. I had a hard time making myself come back, because I knew no one would notice I was gone – so I spent an extra week up there, and didn’t even have anyone to notify that I was extending my visit. When I forced myself to come back, indeed most people didn’t notice I had been away. Until I ran into David Gies in the Cabell hallway, and he said “Where have you been? We missed you!”

I remember his baffling generosity, when my mother came to visit and he made her feel like I was doing something important. I also remember learning how to work for someone like him, when I was the program assistant for his summer NEH workshop. He asked me to make some kind of arrangement, which I was going to do soon enough – but I wasn’t working at Gies-speed. So when I called to make the arrangements, I found that he had lapped me, had already done it. Oh, so THAT’S what you meant by “whenever you can.”

I still draw on the wise counsel he gave so freely, and have passed it on to my own generations of students. Like the time I was second-guessing some decision I had made, and he knew how to free me up from that anxiety: “You can’t ask yourself whether you made the right choice, you can only ask yourself if you made the right choice given what you knew at the time.” David, your “academic grandchildren” have been so grateful when I have gifted them with that self-forgiveness!

He tried to pretend he liked graduate-student-generated Velveeta-based tapas, he cared when my cat got run over, he and his wife opened their home to so many of us and shared their dogs with us, and he continuously reminded us how lucky we were to be in a department that got along well – and to make sure we modeled that professionalism in our own future careers.

I remember him laughing at the group of us, on the day we were quaking to receive our Masters comps questions, and he said “Look at you all – you came in here relatively healthy and we’ve turned you into these neurotic messes!” (That part was true, and not so funny.)

So not Cadalso, or Grimaldi, or Jovellanos – what I learned from David Gies is how important a mentor can be to students’ success at such a transitional time of their lives. I learned that you can’t fake the listening or the caring, that you never know which casual words will be heard at just the right time or have lasting impact, and that being a great teacher goes way beyond the syllabus. I am forever grateful that first Mary Jo and then Janna have welcomed David’s students into their hearts and homes, and so glad that, as I sat there on my parents’ kitchen floor, David knew UVA was the right place for me.

Invaluable advice

By Nick Wolters

As I revise my panel presentation for my third meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, I am reminded of the first “ASECS” presentation I prepared as a graduate student under the close guidance of David Gies. I had only just begun my dissertation research when I received a call for papers for a panel about representations of clothing and fashion in eighteenth-century Spain. Having never presented at a conference, I was nervous about the idea of sharing what I had to say to an audience of experts—what did I have to say? Not only did David encourage me to submit an abstract, but he also read through several drafts of my paper, providing invaluable advice along the way  (not to mention patiently correcting more than one run-on sentence or repetition!). Throughout this process and in other coursework, David helped me to find my own voice as a young scholar. He always demonstrated the importance of threading together my argument with those of other critical voices, while convincing me of the value of my point of view as a student-scholar. That first conference presentation on the work of Tomás de Iriarte would end up being a draft for one of my first publications, which then became the writing sample I used when I went on the job market during the final year of my PhD at the University of Virginia. I am and will continue to be eternally grateful for David’s patience as a teacher and enduring generosity as a mentor.

Thank you, David, for everything. I can only hope that I am able to encourage my students in the same that you have and, I am certain, will continue to encourage and inspire me!

Un abrazo,

Nick Wolters (former student)

David Gies: presente

By Ted Peebles

The occasion of David’s retirement got me to dig through some old boxes of photographs from the pre-digital late 1980s and early 1990s when Aurora and I were graduate students.  So many pictures –and yet so few of David, which wouldn’t be all that strange, except for the background… David’s back yard?  That must be one of the back-to-school departmental picnic he hosted for several years.  Isn’t that David’s living room furniture?  Must be one of the Oscar night watch parties I remember attending (he had the biggest TV I’d ever seen –and a spectacular video collection).  David is not in the frame, of course, because he was everywhere else:  pulling something delectable out of the oven, helping Mary Jo at the kitchen table, conversing with everyone on any subject (he seemed to always have seen the play or read the book before anyone), making everyone feel at home –and all while managing to take candid snapshots of his guests, pictures which we’d soon find in our inboxes in Cabell Hall.  He once told me his secret weapon was his little Olympus Stylus 35mm pocket camera –a camera so small he always had it with him.  I immediately bought one for myself (and I still have it, in fact).  Next come photos with writers, some of whom became friends:  there’s Isabel Allende, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Rosa Montero, Mempo Giardinelli with David and joyful Janna –pictures made possible in good measure by David’s work behind the scenes as department chair: extending invitations, securing funding, arranging schedules; in short:  using his boundless energy to bring people together and make things happen for everyone, as always.  There we are with Elena Poniatowska at the University of Richmond in the early 1990s; for Aurora and me, our first visit to the place we’ve called home now for over 20 years.

Cut to fall 2007:  we’re at a party at the home of Fernando Operé and Carrie Douglass, and David is showing us the medal he has just received for the Order of Isabel la Católica –only it’s not the actual medal, but a life-sized illuminated image held to his chest as if pinning it to his lapel:  it’s the first iPhone I’ve ever seen.


These days we all have cameras in our pockets; but for the life of me I can’t find the photo I have of David giving a wonderful inaugural lecture at the first annual Student Research Symposium of our newly minted Department of Latin American and Iberian Studies in 2009 (though I remember David’s friend, former UVa Dean of Arts and Sciences and then University of Richmond President Ed Ayers, sat in the front row).  No photo; but how to capture David’s efforts on behalf of so many colleagues and teachers and students at all levels of our profession over the years?  There’s not a big enough frame.

So thank you, David, for all you’ve done, whether before our eyes or out of view.  And here’s to some well deserved ‘selfie’ time for you and Janna –can’t wait to see the pics!




Letter: Thank You, and Stories

By Jeff Bersett

Dear David,

Thank you for being a teacher who taught us to learn and to teach, and to love both. Your classes were always models of efficiency. Your lectures transmitted the maximum amount of information with the minimum amount of boredom. Your positive attitude and good humor taught us that learning, difficult learning, could also be fun and exciting (how Enlightenment of you!). You created a space for discussion that allowed students to find their strengths, to participate in constructive dialogue, and to be respectful of the ideas of others (to the point when such respect was deserved and/or necessary).

Thank you for being a scholar who has served as a role model for all of us. Your work has taught us what there is to know, and it has also taught us how to do the work ourselves. As I am sure others will have said more eloquently here, you made the XVIII into a thing again. We study the Enlightenment in new and interesting ways that were not possible before your work. You have encouraged all of us to reach for the same level of achievement, and you have helped us along the way as well with useful and insightful (and instant—how the hell?) feedback at every turn.

Thank you for being a colleague from whom we all learn daily what it means to be a colleague. You have modeled positive and productive interactions that have become the meta ideal for the rest of us in our respective departments. You have taught us how to navigate the labyrinth of personality in academia, and how to make the most of difficult situations.

I speak on behalf of all of us—former students, fellow scholars, current colleagues—and hope that my experiences with you have been shared to some degree by all.


I have given a lot of thought to what stories I would want to include here, and have found, as I have stated elsewhere, that there are just too many good ones that need to be shared. Adventures in dogsitting (avec parfum de skunk), NEH work both at UVa and in Spain, dinner (or lunch, maybe) at Zalacaín, our cameo appearance in what is possibly the worst movie ever made (I never received my Goya, did you?), countless movies and plays, countless books bought / sold / exchanged / recommended / argued over, conference panels and presentations, letters of recommendation (written, oddly, in both directions—how’d that happen?), museums and exhibitions, food food food frenzies everywhere at every opportunity (and the quest for the perfect soup dumpling!), hilarious Uber and cab rides (most recently with the wacky lady in New York during the bomb cyclone!—I haven’t laughed that hard in years!), and all the kindnesses and generosity extended over the years. And I’m sure that there will be more in the future to be added to this list.

But I will end on one of the stories of generosity. In 2015, the Kennedy Center hosted its Iberian Suite event, bringing together artists and authors from around the Spanish-speaking world. We both happened to be in DC for the event, and you made sure to invite me to all the dinners and all the drinks and all the people. You had no reason to include me in these things, but as you always have done with everyone, you made sure that you did. A lasting memory of that trip is of Spanish writer and TV personality Elvira Lindo making sure that she got a portrait of Janna at the Kennedy Center. Not to mention that we ate and drank and spent time with our favorite writers from everywhere. In addition to Elvira, we spent time in some capacity with Antonio Muñoz Molina, Javier Cercas, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Anne McLean, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, not to mention sightings of other folks like César Aira and Edith Grossman. Your celebrity photo obsession is catching… I particularly like this one of us with Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Antonio Muñoz Molina, and Elvira Lindo. We were having such a good time that the digital ghost of García Márquez left his chestnut tree in the courtyard to photobomb us.


Thank you for everything, always.
Your friend,

PS—Amy thanks you, too. Her story would involve Isabel Allende and drinks in Tiburón followed by a fantastic dinner in Sausalito. That actually might be a better story.

¡Felicidades, Almirante!

de José Hidalgo

¡Felicidades! Así suelen empezar las muestras de cariño tras la trayectoria profesional de personas competentes. En este caso, se debería comenzar la felicitación con preguntas de sorpresa y asombro: ¿Ya? ¿Tan pronto? El Profesor Gies, que con el tiempo fue David, luego Almirante David, siempre ha estado en mi memoria y más profunda estima desde que lo conocí de manera virtual en la primavera del 2003, cuando buscaba un programa de doctorado para continuar mis estudios. Muchos lectores sabrán de la dificultad que entraña decidir entre un programa u otro, y en mi caso, tenía preparadas hasta doce solicitudes. Quizás pensaba que mientras más solicitudes mejores posibilidades de encontrar el programa adecuado. Sin embargo, fueron la profesionalidad, entusiasmo y buena disposición de David lo que hizo que rasgara en pedacitos las restantes once. Así fue, David me había convencido de que tenía que ir a C´ville para estudiar en el SIP, y ahora solo tenía una opción; bueno dos, la otra era regresar a España si no entraba en el programa.

A David lo conocí por fotografía antes que en persona. Fue en los primeros días de visita a Cabell Hall donde lo encontré junto a Don Juan Carlos, Rey de España por aquel entonces. ¿Cómo?, se preguntarán. Sí, elegantemente retratado junto al antiguo Rey. Creo recordar que posteriormente se cambió la foto por una con Don Felipe VI.

Una vez me presenté en su oficina y acepté el ritual de comerme unos M&M´s, ese famoso tarro de chocolates que preside su escritorio, tuve el privilegio de conocer a una de las personas más generosas, amigables y cariñosas que la profesión ha visto y echará en falta. No voy a mencionar sus éxitos académicos de sobra conocidos, ya que me extendería páginas y páginas. Es que además David va más allá, y su persona desprende un aire señorial y folletinesco. Para empezar forma parte de la aristocracia española, el academicismo de ambos continentes, e incluso al más puro estilo cervantino su persona salpica en las páginas de ficción de algún que otro escritor de envergadura.

Además de estas peculiaridades, unas de las características que destacan de David son su generosidad y sencillez. Por aquel entonces del 2003 yo era un simple y humilde estudiante graduado, de escasos recursos y algo perdido en la cultura y el idioma. David, por el contrario, era profesor catedrático, reconocido en las esferas docentes y literarias, y sin embargo se ofreció sin preámbulos a llevarme de compras al supermercado y a mostrarme la ciudad. No sólo una sino varias veces, y siempre con una disposición apabullantemente positiva que hace arrancar sonrisas hasta a un muerto. Me trató con gran cariño y ternura, pues para David no hay jerarquías ni rangos sino personas con alma, mente y corazón.
También disfruté a lo grande, al igual que muchos otros estudiantes, de su talento como pastelero en todas las celebraciones cinematográficas. Así que además de facilitar a sus estudiantes la vida con su sabiduría y apoyo, nos endulzaba el paladar y nos llenaba la barriga.

Sin duda, me dio gran regocijo que fuera a la defensa de mi tesis sobre asuntos medievales en El Greco con el inolvidable Chico, quien no bostezó en ningún momento. Ejemplo de seriedad académica, dignidad y rectitud. Siempre le agradeceremos que en el seminario de mujeres decimonónicas que impartió nos ayudara a publicar los trabajos finales de investigación en una revista académica. Y la lista de acciones de apoyo y ayuda puede continuar y continuar… Después de la escuela graduada, siempre ha respondido en menos de veinticuatro horas a cualquiera de mis inquietudes profesionales, con buenas sugerencias y comentarios inteligentes. He tenido el gusto de encontrármelo en varios congresos y siempre he disfrutado de su compañía, y de compartir muy buenos momentos. A día de hoy seguimos en contacto y ojalá que por muchos años más. ¡Felicidades, Almirante, por ser uno de los genios de carne y papel en este Parnaso terrenal!

Loving guidance and support

by Arantxa Ascunce
I completed my PhD at UVA in Spanish in 2007. I took a job at the University of Hawaii where I stayed until 2015. During that time, David and Janna came twice to visit, once with the Semester at Sea and the other time while they were on vacation. I cherish this picture of us together in Maui, Jan. 19, 2014. We are standing at the trunk of a massive tree that spans the area of an entire plaza. I think this picture is symbolic of his work as a teacher and all the branches, leaves and flowers that have stemmed from his loving guidance and generous support throughout the years.

Adages and Almodóvar: Life Lessons via David Gies.

By Jenny Rademacher

I first met David when I was contemplating getting my PhD. I’d finished a Master’s program in economics and international affairs at SAIS in Washington DC and then, with two small children, we’d moved to Lynchburg, Virginia where my husband – having just finished his MBA – had taken a job. I felt like Lynchburg was a million miles away from DC, and I was suddenly adrift. I saw that there was a course in Spanish film over the summer at UVA and thought it might be a good way to test the waters. I think I emailed David to find out about it as the course was already under way, and he said something like, “It’s for high school teachers, but don’t worry about signing up for it officially – just come on up!” On the first day, there was a lunch in the faculty dining room. I remember I didn’t have the necessary ID, and that they wouldn’t accept cash – and David took care of it. “No pasa nada,” he assured me. This was my first exposure to David as consummate host. I have so many wonderful memories of the departmental picnics, of his amazing paellas, and of leisurely discussions over wine and pinchos at his house when he offered the course on Ethics through Film with a friend from the law school. His natural warmth and exuberance make him an amazing connector – he’s always gathering people, ideas, galvanizing us into something greater.

Later, when I started the PhD program, I knew David as an exceptional professor. I was lucky enough to take his course on 18th and 19th century poetry. I say this even though he did make me drive three hours round trip at one point to scour Alderman stacks for a single misplaced reference in a paper. When I reminded him of this recently, he laughed and said, “Well – it worked out pretty well for you!” I don’t know why I didn’t just make up the page number at the time. But, I think all of us wanted to go the extra mile in David’s classes and to earn his approval, even if I was surely thinking a few less adulatory thoughts on that long drive to C-ville that day.

While I was doing some of my dissertation research, I spent a week or so in the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid. David and I overlapped on this trip, and I got to see him in his element. I feel like it was kismet that he introduced me to Harriet Turner and Roberta Johnson, who became wonderful friends and mentors. Roberta, Harriet and I spent many late afternoons drinking wine and talking about life and literature. The three of us saw Almodóvar’s Volver, and an amazing exhibit at the Reina Sofía. The Feria de Libros was happening during that time, and David and I went together. It’s no secret how much David loves encountering famous people, and on this occasion Pedro Almodóvar was there and David asked me to take a picture of him with Almodóvar. I don’t think my photography skills impressed him (a huge faux pas in DTG-land), but he was quintessentially generous about it and it is still a great memory that has stuck with me – bumping elbows with Almodóvar in Retiro.

David introduced me to other people in Spain who were helpful for my dissertation and in later writing, and who’ve also become friends, including writer Rosa Montero and economist Gayle Allard. And when I recently interviewed Javier Cercas, he talked about David and other colleagues from UVA, remembering how he had been received so warmly there.

If “no pasa nada” was my first welcoming reminder from David, others of his remarks have also stuck with me. After sending him a copy of my dissertation, I found a few typos and other small errors. I wrote him an email, concerned about this. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” he said. And then, when I was heading into my dissertation defense, he reminded me, simply: “Stay calm and confident.” What other advice does anyone really need in life than these three – Don’t worry about it; Don’t sweat the small stuff; Stay calm and confident?
I started the PhD program with two small children, and finished it with two more, having moved twice (to DC and back to Lynchburg) in the process. As he reminded me in an email when I received tenure, it wasn’t an easy path – but faculty like David who were constant advocates along the way made it feasible. As I wrote in my dissertation acknowledgments: “I have been particularly fortunate to have encountered a number of superb professors who encouraged me and whose insights and friendship have been powerful influences. Special thanks go to David Gies, whose knowledge regarding Spanish film and culture has been an inspiration […]”

Truly, one of the great gifts of pursuing my PhD at UVA has been the friendships made along the way. I was delighted to travel back to C-ville to see Randolph, David, Joel, and so many other dear faculty at Randolph’s retirement party. It is especially rewarding to see faculty who taught and mentored become lifelong friends.

I should add, too, that I have always loved seeing how Janna and David fit together like a glove. It was wonderful when the kids were small to come to their house for the faculty picnic, and great to see them both enjoy grandchildren. I am looking forward to seeing the many Facebook pictures of all of David and Janna’s many travels and other adventures now that they will have more time to globe trot.

Future students don’t know what they will be missing

By Iana Konstantinova

Dear David,

Congratulations on your retirement. I will never forget your enthusiasm and energy in class. Your teaching style completely inspired me to try and be like you in the classroom. Even though I only audited your class, it was one of the most impactful classes on me from graduate school.
Two years ago at the AIH, you introduced me to Rosa Montero. I had just started working on a paper about her (which was recently published in a special issue of Letras Hispanas) and was overjoyed to be meeting her in person. Thank you for that introduction. And thank you for being such an inspiration to all of us. Future students don’t know what they will be missing, but your influence will continue for generations as those of us you have inspired seek to inspire others.
I hope you enjoy retirement and look forward to seeing travel photos from your and Janna’s new adventures.
Thank you for everything.

Warmest wishes,
Iana Konstantinova


By María Celeste Delgado-Librero

The oldest email message I have kept to this day is from David Gies. He wrote to me in 2009 (6 years after I completed my Ph.D. at UVa) to apologize for what he described as an “unforgiveable,” “MAJOR blunder,” a “horrible oversight” for which the word “sorry” seemed “too lame.” “BRACE YOURSELF,” he wrote in ominous capital letters. I remember feeling a sense of dread – what crime could he possibly have committed against me that I had not even noticed? When I got to the explanation, I sighed with relief: Somehow, I had not been credited for the translation of an article in a book that he had edited. David had no idea how this had happened but, as the ultimate responsible individual of the project, he accepted full blame.

In those days, I was into my second year as director of a study abroad program, a very demanding job for which my university studies and teaching appointments had not really prepared me, a job in which I had no option but to make mistakes right and left, something that made me feel very insecure and vulnerable. To be honest, at that point in my life, I had completely forgotten about the translation and about the fact that the book would one day be published. So David’s unexpected message touched me as one of the most sincere, most generous, most human gestures I had received in a long time, and I don’t think I can overstate the impact it had in my attitude. Those 215 words simply changed the way I approached my own mistakes: They taught me to be honest, direct, and humble, to admit my errors as soon as I realized them, and to try to rectify if possible.

That single message made me a better person and a better professional, so I’m really happy that David made “a gaff.” If he hadn’t, my name would have been included in a footnote in a book; as it was, many students, parents, and study abroad professionals (including my own staff) were the indirect, but real, beneficiaries of David’s wisdom and humanity.


That’s the kind of professor, mentor and friend David is

By Gaby Miller

The biggest of congratulations to you, David! Thank you for always being so generous to your students and colleagues. There are so many memories I could share, but one you probably won’t recall was taking almost an hour to explain the entirety of the MLA citation style to me as a first year MA student and convince me why it mattered that all those periods and colons and parentheses were in the right places. You DEFINITELY had better things to be doing with your time…but that’s the kind of professor, mentor and friend that you are. I am so excited for you and Janna on this next adventure and wish you both the very best. I’m sure our paths will cross soon.

Un fuerte abrazo,

Gaby Miller

This photo is from celebrating Melissa Frost’s dissertation defense in 2017.

David with Gaby Miller 2017