Syllabus, Fall 2014: Culture, Society, and Politics in Latin America

Culture, Society, and Politics in Latin America

Professor Patrick Iber
Fall 2014 / TTh / 9:00 – 10:15
Room 360-361A
Office Hours: after class, 10:15-11:15, and by appointment
This course will give a broad overview of Latin American history from the pre-colonial era to the present day. Particular emphasis will be placed on the socioeconomic, cultural, and political structures and processes that shaped and continue to influence life in Latin America. Key issues such as colonialism, nationalism, democracy, dictatorship, and revolution will be examined critically in light of broad comparative themes in Latin American and world history. Course materials include secondary sources in history, economics, and political science, as well as primary documents, fiction, and film in order to provide insight into the complex and diverse history of the region.  Among the topics to be explored in detail will be labor and slavery, the Mexican and Cuban revolutions, and the transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Students with Documented Disabilities: Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must initiate the request with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE).  Professional staff will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend reasonable accommodations, and prepare an Accommodation Letter for faculty dated in the current quarter in which the request is made.  Students should contact the OAE as soon as possible since timely notice is needed to coordinate accommodations.  The OAE is located at 563 Salvatierra Walk (phone: 723-1066, URL:
Course texts:
John Chasteen, Born in Blood and Fire (3rd edition), New York: Norton, 2011, $50.
Alma Guillermoprieto.  Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America.  New York: Vintage, 2002, $15.
Mariano Azuela, The Underdogs, New York: Penguin Classics, 2008, $10.
Lawrence Weschler, A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, $20.
Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  New York: Riverhead Books, 2008, $10.
Other than the main texts, course readings are available through the coursework website.
To get good advice on what I will be looking for from your reading and writing, I recommend the following resources:
Week 1, September 23-25: Spain, Portugal, and the Americas: Origins and Contacts
Chasteen, Born in Blood and Fire, Chapter 1, pp. 11-46
Charles Mann, “1491,” The Atlantic, March 2002,
Bartolomé de las Casas, Short history of the Destruction of the Indies, 5-30.
Questions to consider this week:
1) What impact did the encounter between Europe and the Americas have on the ecology of the Americas, including its people?
2) Why did Bartolomé de las Casas write his text?  How should that affect how we think about its reliability?
3) What impact did the encounter between Europe and America have on the history of ideas in Europe?
Week 2, September 30-October 2: Labor, Slavery, and Race
Chasteen, Chapters 2 and 3, pp. 49-114
Sandra Lauderdale Graham, Caetana Says No, pp. 1-73
Zephyr Frank, Dutra’s World, 96-121
Questions to consider this week:
1) What were the causes of Spanish American independence? How were things different in Brazil?
2) How are ideas about race different in Mexico and Brazil?
3) How are ideas about race different in Brazil and the United States? Can the same methods be used in both places to address a history of discrimination on the basis of race?
Week 3, October 7-9: Politics and Development in the Nineteenth Century
Chasteen, Chapters 4 and 5, pp. 117-179
John Coatsworth, “Obstacles to Economic Growth in Nineteenth-Century Mexico,” American Historical Review 83, no. 1 (February 1978): 80-100.
Kenneth L. Sokoloff and Stanley L. Engerman, “History Lessons: Institutions, Factor Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14, no. 3 (Summer 2000): 217-232.
Questions to consider this week:
1) What are some of the traditional reasons given to explain Latin American underdevelopment? What kind of evidence contradicts and supports those theories?
2) How has sharp inequality shaped the course of Latin American development?
Week 4, October 14-16: Mexico and its Revolution
Chasteen, Chapter 6 and part of Chapter 7, pp. 181-233
Azuela, The Underdogs
Questions to consider this week:
1) What contending groups and visions contributed to the Mexican Revolution?  How does this diversity affect how we think about the “legacy” on the Revolution?
2) What reasons did ordinary people have for joining the Revolution?
Week 5, October 21-23: Nationalism and Populism
Chasteen, parts of Chapters 7 and 8, pp. 233-268
Guillermoprieto, Looking for History, “Little Eva,” 3-17
Reading is reduced this week because there is an in-class midterm on Thursday, October 23. It will include questions about week 5 material.
Questions to consider this week:
1) What is populism?  How does it differ from other strategies for governing?
2) How was gender (including ideas of both masculinity and femininity) used as part of Perón’s populist strategy?
Week 6, October 28-30: Cuba and its Revolution
Chasteen, part of Chapter 8, pp. 269-283
Selections from The Cuba Reader
            How the Poor Got More, 344-353
The Literacy Campaign, 389-394
Guillermoprieto, Looking for History, “The Harsh Angel,” 73-86, “Fidel in the Evening,” 126-152
José Manuel Prieto, “The Cuban Revolution Explained to Taxi Drivers,”
Questions to consider this week:
1) What were the principal causes of the Cuban Revolution?
2) Were the sacrifices imposed on ordinary people necessary to achieve the gains of the Revolution? Did Fidel Castro have less authoritarian alternatives that he could have used to stay in power? What political coalition would have supported him?
Week 7, November 4-6: Democracy to Dictatorship
Chasteen, Chapter 9, pp. 285-316
Lawrence Weschler, A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers, pp. 1-172
Questions to consider this week:
1) How did Latin American dictatorships justify their actions? Who did they consider to be their enemies?
2) How did dictatorships stay in power? Why do ordinary people support dictatorships?
Week 8, November 11-13: Dictatorship to Democracy
Weschler, A Miracle, A Universe, pp. 173-246
Guillermoprieto, Looking for History
            The Bitter Education of Vargas Llosa, 155-177
            The Only Way to Win, 224-238
            The Peso, 275-285
            Elections 2000, 286-303
Questions to consider this week:
1) Why do people who had supported dictatorships turn against them?
2) How did the process of achieving democracy differ in Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, and Mexico?
Week 9, November 18-20: Neoliberalism and its Discontents
Chasteen, Chapter 10, pp. 319-340
Jon Lee Anderson, “Slumlord,” New Yorker, 28 January 2013, pp. 40-51.
Greg Grandin, “On the Legacy of Hugo Chávez,The Nation, 5 March 2013,
Reading is reduced this week to give you time to begin working on your final.
Questions to consider this week:
1) How do we explain the strength of the left in the first decade of the twenty-first century?  How is this left different from that of the twentieth century?
2) What conditions have allowed recent governments to deliver growth with equity?
Week 10, December 2-4: [End-Quarter Period] The Past and the Present
Over break or during travel, read Junot Díaz, Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Lectures this week will review and summarize course material. The book should be completed by Tuesday. All or part of Thursday’s class may be devoted to review and discussion of paper ideas for students enrolled in 170B.
Questions to consider this week:
1) How do the themes of the novel explore major ideas that we’ve explored throughout the course?
2) Junot Diaz says his novel is about the “coloniality of power,” its ability to get us to accept its terms on even the most intimate matters.  How is this theme expressed throughout the novel?
3) How is Latin American immigration to the U.S. shaped by the historical forces we have discussed throughout the course?
Your grade will be based on the following:
21% participation (this will be a section grade if there are sections, or based on in-class participation if not). Active participation in class is essential; our learning will be richest as more of you become involved in the conversation and debate. Therefore, all readings must be completed before you meet in section (or in class on Thursday), and you should attend every week. In general, Tuesday classes will feature a lecture of 45-50 minutes and a document analysis for the remaining time. Thursday classes will feature a short lecture and a discussion of the week’s readings.
22% short writing. Two times during the course (in weeks of your choosing), prepare and bring to Thursday’s class a short response to the week’s readings, of 500-750 words. These responses should not summarize the readings (though you may find it necessary to restate arguments), but should expand on what you have read by raising doubts, analyzing evidence, connecting to your experiences, or making connections to another week’s reading or work from other courses, and, above all, answering questions with evidence. You may try to answer one of the questions posed in the syllabus, although this is not required. You should, however, be sure that you are making some kind of argument. If you need to miss a week of class, you must turn in a short response for the missed week after you return.
23% midterm.  There will be one in-class midterm in week 5. The midterm will contain material from the first five weeks of readings and lectures as well as a map section with questions about the geography of Latin America.
34% final exam. Students who are taking the class for three units will have a take-home exam. The exam will be distributed on the last day of class and will be due Thursday, December 11th. Those who are taking the class for 5 units will do a brief research paper. The paper should consult a limited number of outside sources (two books and a few other sources constitute a minimum) and present an argument or interpretation on the basis of evidence gleaned from the sources. The research paper should place the evidence and argument in the larger context of issues explored in the class. This paper should be from 8 to 10 pages long, or 2000 to 2500 words.

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