Sheryl Shirley

Sheryl Shirley
Phone: (603) 535-2498
Office: Tourism, Environment & Sustainable Societies, Rounds Hall Rm 312, MSC 39, Plymouth, NH 03264

B.A., California State Polytechnic University; M.A., Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin

Sheryl L. Shirley is Professor of Political Science at Plymouth State University and has focused her research and teaching on human rights and social justice. She has published in the International Journal on World Peace, the National Women’s Studies Association Journal, and presented her research at international conferences of the International Studies Association (ISA), the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), and many other interdisciplinary conferences.

Dr. Shirley began her research in Guatemala more than thirty years ago, for her Master’s (1988) and Doctorate (1997) in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Field visits play an essential role inspiring her research and teaching about human rights, ethnic conflict, and U.S. intervention in courses such as Latin American Politics, American Foreign Policy, Humanitarianism, and Global Problems. In 2006, she participated in an international human rights delegation focused on the impacts of collective violence and international megaprojects in Rabinal and Huehuetenago, Guatemala. The trip to Rabinal helped inform her subsequent research using primary documents from the World Bank to investigate the international financing of megaprojects and led to her International Studies Association presentation in 2007, “Post-Washington Consensus or the Chimera of Inclusive Policymaking?” The 2006 visit to Huehuetenago inspired her research on a World Bank-funded gold mining project in the Mam and Sipakapense Maya communities and a 2009 conference paper presentation, “All that Glitters: Guatemalan Gold Processing and Dreams of Democratic Development” with Katherine Donahue at the 28th Annual Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Her recent research focuses on human rights, transitional justice, and the recuperation of historical memory in Latin America. For victims of collective violence and those who wish to prevent future ethnic conflict, museums and historical sites provide an opportunity to recuperate historical memory. In 2016, Dr. Shirley traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to visit the Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos ex Esma, a space dedicated to the victims of the Argentina’s counterinsurgency, and presented research on South American compliance with the international women’s convention, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In January 2020 Dr. Shirley returned to Guatemala to visit the house of memory, Kaji Tulam, a museum dedicated to rebuilding collective memory, Guatemala’s Holocaust museum, and conducted research in the Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (CIRMA), a non-profit foundation in Antigua, Guatemala, dedicated to the rescue and preservation of Guatemala’s visual and documentary history.

Dr. Shirley’s commitment to human rights is also evident in her service for more than a decade as Commissioner of the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, New Hampshire’s primary anti-discrimination agency. The agency is responsible for investigating and hearing complaints in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Dr. Shirley has overseen student research on a wide range of interdisciplinary topics related to foreign policy, human rights, and environmental sustainability. Her students have used open access primary documents from the World Bank, CEDAW, and the National Security Archives to analyze policymaking and to present findings at undergraduate social science conferences and PSU’s showcases of student research. Dr. Shirley has also assisted students as the faculty adviser to the Plymouth State University Democrats since 2004. During the 2019- 2020 presidential primary season, she advised students as they organized campus events featuring Democratic presidential primary candidates: Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Yang, and Elizabeth Warren.


  • 2017 “Intergovernmental Women’s Human Rights: Potemkin Villages or Tools for Change?” paper presented at the 58th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association in Baltimore, Maryland, February 22-25th, 2017.
  • 2016 “CEDAW: Compliance and Contestation in Latin America,” paper presented at the Second Pan-American Interdisciplinary Conference, Buenos Aires, Argentina, February 26th, and published in European Scientific Institute, May, 2016.
  • 2012 “Facilitating Cross Cultural Encounters,” Presentation at the 4th Annual New Hampshire Culture of Peace Conference, Keene State College, Keene, New Hampshire, March 3.
  • 2009 “All that Glitters: Guatemalan Gold Processing and Dreams of Democratic Development” with Katherine Donahue. Paper presented at the 28th Annual Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 11-14.
  • 2008 “Do “Good” Fences Make Good Neighbors?: A Comparative Study of the Israeli-Palestinian and U.S.-Mexican Militarized Borders” with Filiz Otucu. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of NESTVAL, Plymouth, New Hampshire, November 1, 2008.
  • 2008 “Walls: Securing Nations or Violating Human Rights?” Paper delivered at the International Conference on Nationalism and Human Rights, Istanbul Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey, June 27-29.
  • 2008 “Outsourcing Counterinsurgency: Revisiting Cold War Counterinsurgency in Latin America.” Paper presented at the 49th Annual Conference of the International Studies Association, San Francisco, California, March 26-March 29.
  • 2006 “Counterterror Running Wild: Lessons from Cold War U.S. Foreign Policy toward Latin America.” Paper presented at the 37th Annual Conference of the International Studies Association- New England and Northeastern Political Science Association, Boston, MA, November 9-11.

Awards or recognition

  • 2007 and 2010 Appointments by Governor John H. Lynch to the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights
  • 1999 Recipient of the Theodora J. Kalikow Award

Courses Taught

  • Global Problems, Power, and Politics
  • American Foreign Policy
  • Women in World Politics
  • Latin American Politics