Syllabus Spring 2018: Latin America: An Introduction



Latin America: An Introduction

Professor Patrick Iber

Spring 2018 / TR 11:00AM-12:15PM / 22 Ingraham Hall

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, and revolution will be examined critically in light of broad comparative themes in Latin American and world history.  The course takes an interdisciplinary approach: using materials from multiple disciplines 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.


Course texts:


John Chasteen, Born in Blood and Fire (3rd edition), New York: Norton, 2011.  ISBN # 0393911543, approximately $50.


Alma Guillermoprieto. Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America.  New York: Vintage, 2002, $17.


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.



Course requirements


Your grade will be based on the following:


20% section. 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, and you should attend every week. You can miss one day without arranging an absence with us; additional absences should be cleared with your TA in advance. Each week with readings, you should post a half-page response to the readings on the class Canvas page. Your post should go up by midnight of the day before your section, so that your TA can read the responses before class. Your reading responses will not be graded assignments, but they will, in combination with your participation, be used to determine your section grade. Unless your TA gives you specific instructions otherwise, your response might take one of two forms. One option would be to write a brief examination of what you think the most important arguments of that week’s texts are, and to defend your position. A second option would be to explore the parts of the readings that you found most puzzling: what questions they raise for you, how you tried to resolve them, and what more you would like to know in order to be able to complete that process.


15%: Class attendance and participation. The class will use Top Hat response software to log attendance. Make sure to do the starred readings before class on Tuesday (typically it will be a chapter from Chasteen, but not always); you can expect to be asked about it. The remaining readings need to be done before your section.


10% country report: At the end of the semester, you will choose a country to report on. What is going on there at this time? What are its current political, economic, and cultural fault lines? What historical experiences have contributed to these divisions? Your research will be presented in class or section. With a clear division of labor, you may work on this project in groups.


30% midterms. There are two midterms scheduled during class, each is worth 15% of the total grade. The first midterm includes a map quiz.


25% final exam. The final exam is scheduled for December 18th, from 7-10 P.M. The exam will cover materials from section, lectures, and especially the readings.


Other than the main texts, course readings will be available through the Canvas website.


To get good advice on what I will be looking for from your reading and writing, I recommend the following resources:



Week 1: Introduction


Tuesday, January 23: Introduction to the course

Thursday, January 25: Life in the Americas before the “Americas”



Chasteen, “Introduction,” 1-9


Charles Mann, “1491,” The Atlantic, March 2002,


Questions to consider this week:

1) What defines Latin America? Does it even exist?


2) What was life like for those in the major indigenous empires? How did this differ from those who lived outside of the empires?


3) What impact did the encounter between Europe and the Americas have on the ecology of the Americas, including its people?



Week 2: Society and Culture of the First Peoples of the Americas


T, Jan 30: The Mexica and Inca Empires


R, Feb 1: Spain, Portugal, and the Encounter with Indigenous America



* Chasteen, Chapter 1, “Encounter,” 11-46


Kolata, Alan. “In the Realm of the Four Quarters,” in Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., ed. America in 1492: The World of the Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus (Knopf, 1992), 215-247.


Clendinnen, Inga, “The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society, Past and Present 107 (1985): 44-89.


Questions to consider this week:

1) How did the major indigenous empires use and exercise power?


2) How did people on each “side” understand the encounter with new people?





Week 3: Making a Colonial Society


T, Feb 6: Forging the Colonial Order

R, Feb 8: Race and Class in the Colonial Americas


* Chasteen, Chapter 2, “Colonial Crucible,” 49-84


Bartolomé de las Casas, Short history of the Destruction of the Indies, 5-30.


Steve Stern, Peru’s Indian Peoples, Chapters 4-5, “The Political Economy of Colonialism” and “The Indians and Spanish Justice,” pp. 80—137


Beatriz Melano Couch, “Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: The First Woman Theologian in the Americas”


Poetry of Sor Juana:és-de-la-cruz


Questions to consider this week:

1) Why did Bartolomé de las Casas write his text?  How should that affect how we think about its reliability?


2) What were the purposes of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism? How did they function? How did people use what it created to defend their interests?


Week 4: Independence


T, Feb 13: Challenging the Colonial Order

R, Feb 15: Independence


* Chasteen, Chapter 3, “Independence,” 87-114


“Up from Slavery: Touissant L’Ouverture, 1743-1803” from Liberators of Latin America, 18-44


Charles Walker, “‘When Fear Rather than Reason Dominates’: Priests Behind the Lines in the Tupac Amaru Rebellion,” in Michael Laffan and Max Weiss, eds., Fears Past (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 54-73.


Simón Bolívar, “Letter from Jamaica”


Questions to consider this week:

1) What different experiences brought independence to the countries of Latin America?

2) What reasons did people have for fighting for independence?



Week 5: Labor, Slavery, and Race


T, Feb 20: African Legacies

R, Feb 22: Midterm #1


* Katia Mattoso, To be a Slave in Brazil, 125-149


Zephyr Frank, Dutra’s World, 96-121


Questions to consider this week:

1) How are ideas about race different in Brazil and the United States?


2) How appropriate are the methods that have been used in the United States for addressing a history of discrimination on the basis of race for a place like Brazil?




Week 6: The Nineteenth Century


T, Feb 27: Ideologies of Development: Liberalism, Conservatism, and Positivism

R, Mar 1: Nineteenth-Century Globalization and Neocolonialism


* Chasteen, Chapter 4, “Postcolonial Blues,” 117-147


Chasteen 5 and 6, “Progress”, and “Neocolonialism,” 149-215


John Coatsworth, “Obstacles to Economic Growth in Nineteenth-Century Mexico,” American Historical Review 83, no. 1 (February 1978): 80-100.


José Martí, “Our America” (1892),


Rubén Darío, “To Roosevelt” (1904),


Questions to consider this week:


1) What are some of the traditional reasons given to explain Latin American underdevelopment?


2) What kind of evidence contradicts and supports those theories?


3) What is the relationship between new forms of nationalism and the neocolonialism?


Week 7: Mexico and Its Revolution


T, Mar 6: The Popular Revolution

R, Mar 8: The Institutional Revolution


* Gilbert Jopseh and Jurgen Buchenau, Mexico’s Once and Future Revolution, 37-54


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) Why did ordinary people join the Revolution?


Week 8: Nationalism and Populism


T, Mar 13: The Populist Strategies: Getúlio Vargas and Juan Domingo Perón

R, Mar 15: Nationalism and the International System: Lázaro Cárdenas and Jacobo Arbenz


* Chasteen, “Nationalism,” 217-251


Bryan McCann, “Radio and Estado Novo,” in Hello, Hello Brazil, 19-40


Selections from The Argentina Reader

Daniel James, “Perón and the People,” 269-295

Tomás Eloy Martínez, “Saint Evita,” 296-303

Victoria Ocampo, “Victorian Fathers,” 313-318

Julio Cortázar, “House Taken Over,” 328-332


Guillermoprieto, Looking for History, “Little Eva,” 3-17


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 9: Cuba and Its Revolution


T, Mar 20: The Achievements of the Revolution

R, Mar 22: The Costs of the Revolution


* Chasteen, “Revolutions,” 253-283


Selections from The Cuba Reader

How the Poor Got More, 344-353

Fish à la Grande Jardinière, Humberto Arenal, 354-362

The Literacy Campaign, Oscar Lewis et al., 389-394


Che Guevara, “Socialism and Man in Cuba,”


Guillermoprieto, Looking for History, “The Harsh Angel,” 73-86, “Fidel in the Evening,” 126-152


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?



March 24-April 1: SPRING BREAK


Week 10: The Rise of Reaction


T, Apr 3: Democratic Breakdowns; Brazil, Chile, and Argentina

R, Apr 5: Dictatorships in Power: Brazil, Chile, and Argentina


* Chasteen, Chapter 9, “Reaction,” 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) Why do ordinary people support dictatorships?





Week 11: Transitions to Democracy, Week I


T, Apr 10: Midterm #2

R, Apr 12: Resisting Dictatorship, with Film: No




Week 12: Transitions to Democracy, Week II


T, Apr 17: Legacies of Dictatorship

R, Apr 19: The “Perfect Dictatorship”: Mexico


* Chasteen, “Neoliberlism,” 319-340


Weschler, A Miracle, A Universe, pp. 173-246


Hebe de Bonafini and Matilde Sánchez “Madwomen in the Plaza de Mayo”


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, and Mexico?


3) What is the relationship between neoliberal economics and political democracy?








Week 13: The Recent Past

T, Apr 24: The Pink Tide

R, Apr 26: Problems of Security and Justice




* Jorge G. Castañeda, “Latin America’s Left Turn,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2006,


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,


Guillermoprieto, Looking for History, “Our New War in Colombia,” 19-39


Ioan Grillo, “The Narco Killer’s Tale,”,8599,2097594-1,00.html


Questions to consider:

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 problems were “pink tide” governments not able to solve? What problems did they create?


3) What factors have contributed to the rise of organized transnational crime in certain parts of Latin America?



Week 14: Latin America Today


T, May 1: The Tide Retreats?: Latin America Today / Country reports

R, May 3: Country Reports


In section this week: country reports







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