The objectives of this course are twofold: to develop useful knowledge as well as useful skills. Along with achieving our other major learning objectives, we will be able to answer some important questions regarding Latin American history:
These are some of the major themes we will be covering, although we will not be able to exhaust every example in every country. Another main objective of the course is for you to further develop your skills in critical thinking and writing so that you can express your knowledge in class discussions and on papers and exams. These skills will serve you in this course and in whatever you do in the future.
I have chosen these readings with the above objectives in mind. You will read a total of six books for this course.
You will need to buy these textbooks.
Chasteen’s Born in Blood and Fire (referred to as “Chasteen” in the course materials) is a well-written and engaging text that offers a clear and concise view of Latin American history.
Chasteen and Wood’s Problems in Modern Latin American History (referred to as “CW” in the course materials) provides a useful combination of primary sources and secondary sources on specific issues and themes.
You have choices with the other books you will read for the course.
For the early nineteenth century, you will choose between two biographies by John Lynch, either his book on Simón Bolívar or his book on San Martín, both of whom were great liberators of South America. You will write a paper on whichever book you choose to read. Choose one of these:
You also have a choice with your next book. You will read either José de Alencar’s Senhora: Profile of a Woman or Mariano Azuela’s The Underdogs. Both of them are novels, one Brazilian and the other Mexican, and you will have a writing assignment on one of these books as well. Choose one of these:
Your final paper will be on one of these two books:
Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow is a highly acclaimed memoir of the author’s upbringing in Cuba before and after the Cuban Revolution.
The other book is Patrick Symmes’s Chasing Che, which takes us on a journey in search of the legend of Ernesto “Che” Guevara—the Argentine doctor-turned-Cuban-revolutionary and current world icon. Patrick Symmes is a talented journalist who follows the trail of the Guevara legend in the 1990s, using Guevara’s 1952 diaries as a guide. We will thus be dialoguing with Guevara’s past and the Latin American present to see what things have changed and what things have remained the same.
Each lesson concludes with a multiple-choice quiz that tests your knowledge of the concepts in the readings. The two lowest quiz scores will be dropped from your grade automatically.
You will be quizzed on the countries of Latin America, their capital cities, and their major geographical traits (island groups, major rivers, mountain ranges, seas, and oceans). You also need to know the location of the Rio de la Plata, Paraná River, Greater and Lesser Antilles, Falkland/Malvinas Islands, and the seas and oceans. Use the following maps as a study guide:
You will write three papers analyzing the books you read for the course. These papers are not summaries or book reviews. Instead, they should be an analytical elucidation of an aspect of the book you choose to focus on. In a short paper, you really need to choose a focused theme that is important in the book and hopefully one that interests you.
You need to come up with a focused topic and thesis for your paper. How do you go around doing that? I suggest that as you read these books, you take notes on a number of different themes you see reappearing (comparing different countries or cultures is too broad for this assignment). Once you find a theme, ask yourself more questions: “What role does this theme/argument/idea play in the book, and why is it important?” “Is this theme of sufficient significance as to merit a paper on it?” “Are there aspects of the book that contradict my idea?” “Can I narrow my focus even more?” After asking yourself these kinds or questions, you will eventually come up with a thesis statement that will serve as an indicator of what arguments your paper will pursue, and a thesis statement should then become a guiding light for you as you write your paper.
Here is an example of focusing a topic from a book about the Mexican Revolution. You might ask yourself a series of clarifying questionsthat, by the end, will lead you to a thesis statement for your paper:
You: “What topic interests me most, and is there enough material in the book to write on it?”
Yourself: “I want to write about religion, and yes, there is a lot of good material on it.” (A start, but way too big)
You: “What about religion?”
Yourself: “Women’s role in religion during the Mexican Revolution.” (More focused, but still too general.)
You: “What about women’s role in religion during the Revolution?”
Yourself: “I’m interested in what kind of power or authority they had.”
Eventually you might end up with a statement (hypothetical) like this: “The Mexican Revolution weakened traditional Catholic cultural values in Mexico, which opened the door for women to exercise more power in religion even though the Church was weaker.” I will ask you to bold your thesis statemnt. This is not common for final paper assignments, but I sometimes ask students to bold their thesis for the student's own benefit. If you have to bold your thesis statement, then you have to have a thesis statement, and that helps a lot of students.
The assigned books should provide the majority of the information, content, and evidence for your paper.
You should use and cite information and quotes from the book to provide context and evidence for your arguments. You should quote specific, short passages, but long block quotes are not needed in such a short paper. Paraphrase more and save your quotes for passages from the books that are key to your argument.
In addition to the assigned book, you will need to include at least three additional academic sources to compliment your paper. Outside sources should fit into the flow of the paper and they should strengthen your arguments (they should not stick out like a sore thumb). Articles in scholarly journals, chapters in edited volumes, and books on your topic will be the most useful. Be sure to briefly introduce your source and show how it fits into your paper (“As one historian of Revolutionary Cuba argues . . .”). If you have access to hard copies in a local library, feel free to use them.
You also have access to the online resources of the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU. Finding articles online is easy through BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library website. Here’s how:
You can also search freely available online databases. JSTOR and Project Muse are two of the best databases to locate appropriate articles, but there are others as well. These do not count as prohibited “Internet sources” (such as Wikipedia or blogs) because they are real academic publications placed on the Internet.
These papers are formal history writing assignments and should be grounded in the history portrayed in the books. You should write to an audience (your instructor) that is somewhat familiar with Sarmiento and Eire’s books. However, you should still provide context and evidence from the book. Your writing should
Many things in these books will resonate with you personally. That is fine, but this assignment is not designed for you to write a reflection based on your time spent in Latin America nor some other personal journey. Keep your paper grounded in the history portrayed in the book. Your audience understands that you are expressing your own opinions, but you do so with evidence, turning those opinions into conclusions backed up by evidence. Do not turn your paper into a personalized religion paper.
Follow these formatting guidelines as you prepare your paper.
Note: Save your papers in .DOC or .DOCX format and submit the files through your course online for grading.
You will be graded based on how well you meet the parameters, style, and format of the assignment (thesis; content/argument/analysis; organization, structure, grammar, and flow; use of sources; formatting).
We will have one midcourse and one final exam. The midcourse exam covers material in lessons 1–11. The final exam covers material in lessons 12–21, with some comprehensive elements.
Please see the exam-preparation pages for more details and relevant study guides.
These items all count toward your course grade.
|Assignment||Percentage of Grade|
|Paper 1 (Lynch)||5%|
|Paper 2 (Allencar or Azuela)||15%|
|Paper 3 (Symmes or Erie)||15%|
I will determine your letter grade using these percentages.
|E (fail)||59 and below|
The question of what is appropriate and inappropriate course content can at times be a contentious issue. At BYU there may be consensus at the extremes (what is appropriate for sure and what is for sure inappropriate), but there is surely a large middle ground where opinions might differ. I think the heart of the matter lies in the purpose of education. Retired history professor Frank Fox, chosen by BYU Today magazine as one of the top 10 teachers of all time at BYU, uses this example to illustrate the point about the university environment and the purpose of education:
If you go to a graveyard, dig up a body, take it to your garage and begin cutting it up, you will probably get arrested and jailed for a number of offenses. However, in a university classroom students in anatomy classes observe, handle, and cut up dead bodies. What is the difference between the two scenarios? The difference is the educational environment of the university, and the educational intent of a particular activity.
To that example we could add others. History is a broad subject that encompasses all human experience—politics, economics, religion, culture, and gender relations. Beside traditional written histories, peoples also express their history and culture through art, so the study of images created by various artists and cultures of the past are very much a part of the study of history. We come to university to learn about all things in and under the earth, even if they may not always reflect the way we see the world. Like the analogy of the anatomy class cutting up dead bodies, we study the full spectrum of human activity at the university in order to learn and understand.
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