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 Introduction to Latin American Studies  posted by  duggu   on 11/30/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Lawson, Chappell, 17.55J Introduction to Latin American Studies, Fall 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare),  (Accessed 07 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Post-electoral protests in Mexico City, July 2006.

Post-electoral protests in Mexico City, July 2006. (Image courtesy of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).)

Highlights of this Course

This course features an extensive list of readings and lecture notes.

Course Description

Interdisciplinary introduction to contemporary Latin America, drawing on films, literature, popular press accounts, and scholarly research. Topics include economic development, ethnic and racial identity, religion, revolution, democracy, transitional justice, and the rule of law. Examples draw on a range of countries in the region, especially Mexico, Chile, and Brazil. Includes a heavy oral participation component, with regular breakout groups, formal class presentations on pressing social issues (such as criminal justice and land tenure), and a structured class debate.

Instructions for Citation

Professors at other institutions are welcome to use these materials, in whole or in part, for teaching purposes.

Use of the materials should be cited as follows: Chappell Lawson, MIT OpenCourseWare ( course materials for 17.55J/21A.430J/21F.084J (Introduction to Latin American Studies, Fall 2006), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, downloaded on [Insert Date].




A list of topics by session is available in the calendar shown below.


This HASS-D/CI course is designed as an introduction to Latin American politics and society for undergraduates at MIT. No background on the region is required. Overall workload (reading, writing, class participation, and examinations) is similar to that of other HASS-D courses. Many of the themes raised here are covered in greater detail in other courses: 21F.020J (New World Literature), 21F.716 (Introduction to Contemporary Hispanic Literature), 21F.730 (Twentieth-Century Hispanic American Literature), 21F.735 (Advanced Topics in Hispanic Literature and Film), 21A.220 (The Conquest of America), 21H.802 (Modern Latin America), 3.982 (The Ancient Andean World), 3.983 (Ancient Mesoamerican Civilization), 17.507 (Democratization and Democratic Collapse), and 17.554 (Political Economy of Latin America).

Course Requirements

Requirements include weekly course readings and videos; active participation in class discussions, class presentations, and the class debate; three short papers (two of which must be revised and resubmitted); one in-class map test; and one three-hour final exam.

Criteria for HASS CI Subjects

Because this is a HASS-D CI subject, it must meet the following mechanical criteria. These include at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments (in the case of this class, three plus the essay portion of your final exam). Of these assignments, at least one must be revised and resubmitted. (In this case at least two must be.) HASS CI subjects must further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation.

In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor. In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject. If our class exceeds 25, we will change around the schedule to create recitation sections.

Required Texts

Principal texts for the course include:

Winn, Peter. Americas: The Changing Face of Latin America and the Caribbean. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995. ISBN: 0520201817.

Spooner, Mary Helen. Soldiers in a Narrow Land: The Pinochet Regime in Chile. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994. ISBN: 0520080831.

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. Translated by Magda Bogin. New York, NY: Everyman's Library, 2005. ISBN: 1400043182 (English).

Colburn, Forrest D. Latin America at the End of Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002. ISBN: 0691091811.

More Recent Versions

Winn, Peter. Americas: The Changing Face of Latin America and the Caribbean. 3rd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006. ISBN: 0520245016.

Spooner, Mary Helen. Soldiers in a Narrow Land: The Pinochet Regime in Chile. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999. ISBN: 0520221699.

Readings and Videos

Weekly readings range from 75 to 130 pages, or about 100 pages on average. Readings include articles from the popular press, literary works, and scholarly research from the social sciences.

I strongly recommend that you purchase all of the above books, the third of which was originally written in Spanish. (Feel free to buy and read it in the original, if you prefer.)

If your first language is not English, you should still try to read the non-literary works in English. For literary works (such as García Márquez and Allende), however, please feel free to read them in the original.

Readings are normally due on the first day of class of the week in which they are assigned. Where the first day is entirely occupied by a lecture, however, you may wait until later in the week.

Many weekly readings are accompanied by videos or films, which are an integral part of the course. Videos from the Americas series, produced in part by WGBH-Boston, are one hour each. Please note that the film The Battle of Chile is very long, so you should plan in advance.

Written Requirements

There will be a 30-minute map test at the end of the second week of the course. (Those students joining the course late can make up the map test outside of class with no penalty.) This test will cover all countries in Latin America, as well as major cities and geographical regions (e.g., the Amazon basin, the Andes, etc.).

Over the course of the semester, you will also write three papers (4-5 pages long) addressing different topics raised in the course of the semester. Due dates for the papers are noted below, and the paper topics themselves are included toward the end of this package. Rewritten papers must take into account comments you receive on the original version.

Please note also that the bar for revisions is higher than it is for the original draft. A paper that received an A- the first time around, and that was not revised based on your instructors' comments, would probably receive a B+ or a B on the revision. Of course, it is difficult to get an A on the revision if you flailed completely on the original version, so there is still a strong incentive to "get it right" the first time.

When writing your papers and preparing your presentations, be sure to pay attention to the list of stylistic and substantive hints included in this package.

Finally, at the end of the semester during the official exam period, there will be a three-hour exam covering all course materials. Half of this exam will be based on identification or short answer questions; half will be based on an essay. Last year's final exam is attached; this year's exam will be identical in the essay questions and very similar in the list of potential items for the short answer section.

How to Hand in Papers

For stylistic and substantive advice on writing your papers, see the hints attached to this syllabus. Guidance for formatting can be found at Online MIT writing and Communication Centre. Papers are due by 4 p.m. to my mailbox in the political science department. They may also be emailed to both me and your TA as a Microsoft® Word attachment, but they must be received by 4 p.m., and it is your responsibility to make sure that they can be opened in Microsoft® Word.

Papers that are late will be penalized by one-third of a letter grade for each day late. If you need an extension, please arrange it with us ahead of time. Extensions requested a week or more in advance will be automatically granted; extensions requested the night before are virtually automatically denied. I am lenient about granting extensions of a few days on the final paper.

The TA(s) and I would like to practice blind grading, so please don't include a title page or put your name in the footer; instead, put your name on a separate page after the paper. Also, at the risk of stifling self-expression and generally sounding like a pain, I ask that all papers be double-spaced and submitted in Times 12 font. (Otherwise we learn people's fonts after the first paper, which defeats the purpose of blind grading.)

Resources on Writing

Extensive resources are available to you if you want help with writing. These resources include the MIT Writing Center on campus, the TAs, the course Web site, and me. Please take advantage of these if you have any questions or doubts!

Class Participation

You are expected to participate in class discussion throughout the semester. Participation includes informal class discussion of the readings and films, in-class presentations, and a formal class debate. Attendance is obviously a prerequisite for class participation. If you must miss a class, you should notify me in advance. More than two unexcused absences will seriously jeopardize your class participation grade. (A handy reference sheet on what constitutes an excused absence is available here: (PDF).)

Also, please notify me at the beginning of the class if, for whatever reason, you are unprepared to participate in class discussion that day. (You need not explain yourself unless you wish to do so.) I "cold call" people occasionally; in a small class there is nowhere to hide. Again, more than two unexcused "unprepareds" will jeopardize your class participation grade.

My somewhat odd habit is to record class participation grades for each student after each class in which there is an opportunity for class discussion. If your attendance record is perfect, the lowest two of your regular class participation grades will be dropped at the end of the semester. If you miss only one class over the semester, the lowest of your regular class participation grades will be dropped. You may not, however, miss any of the scheduled presentations described below.

Please note that we will have one formal class debate, one individual class presentation, and several group presentations over the course of the semester. Information on these is attached to the syllabus.

Plagiarism Clause

When writing a paper (or an essay exam), you must identify the nature and extent of your intellectual indebtedness to the authors whom you have read or to anyone else from whom you have gotten ideas (e.g., classmates, invited lecturers, etc.). You can do so through footnotes, a bibliography, or some other kind of scholarly device. Failure to disclose your reliance on the research or thinking of others is Plagiarism, which is considered to be the most serious academic offense and will be treated as such. If you have any questions about how you should document the sources of your ideas, please ask me or the TA before submitting your work.


Your grade will be determined as follows:

Map Test 5%
Show and Tell (4 Times, 2.5% each, Graded as a Team) 10%
Class Debate (Average of Individual Grade and Team Grade) 5%
Presentation on Economic Development 5%
Presentation on Mexican Development 5%
Presentation on Police Reform in Mexico 5%
Presentation on Land Titling in Brazil (Graded as a Team) 5%
Other Class Participation 5%
First Drafts of Papers (3 Drafts, 7.5% each) 22.5%
Revisions of Papers (2 Revisions, 7.5% each) 15%
Final Exam 17.5%

Thus, the total oral and written components of the class will be weighted roughly equally. About 20% of your grade will be determined by your work with your other classmates; most of your grade will depend on your individual performance. Within the limits imposed by equity, grading will attempt to take into account the fact that some students (seniors, those who have lived for a long time in Latin America, political science majors, etc.) have had far more exposure to the material covered in the class.

Instructions for Citation

Professors at other institutions are welcome to use these materials, in whole or in part, for teaching purposes.

Use of the materials should be cited as follows: Chappell Lawson, MIT OpenCourseWare ( course materials for 17.55J/21A.430J/21F.084J (Introduction to Latin American Studies, Fall 2006), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, downloaded on [Insert Date].

For oral presentations, please reference these materials. The attribution statement should include Chappell Lawson, 17.55J/21A.430J/21F.084J (Introduction to Latin American Studies, Fall 2006), and MIT OpenCourseWare.


L = Lecture R = Recitation

L1 Introduction and Pop Quiz  
I. Historical Inheritances and Current Realities

Finish Pop Quiz

Latin America as a "Living Museum"

R1 Show and Tell Show and tell 1
L3 Class Discussion of Big Mama's Funeral  
II. The Legacies of Conquest and Slavery
L4 Conquest, Bourbon "Reconquest," and The Post-Colonial Period Map test
R2 Americas Video: Mirrors of the Heart: Color, Class, and Identity  
L5 Class Discussion of Race  
III. Development and Underdevelopment in Latin America
L6 Lecture: Theories of Development  
R3 Prepare for Individual Class Presentations  
L7 Economic Development Individual presentations
IV. Underdevelopment and What to Do About It
L8 The Latin American Debt Crisis, Structural Adjustment, and Market-oriented Reform  
R4 Breakout Groups in Preparation for Extemporaneous Presentations  
L9 Steroid Hormone Industry and Mexican Development Strategies Today

Extemporaneous presentations

Paper 1 due one day after Ses #L9

V. Development, Underdevelopment and Politics in Chile
R5 The Battle for Chile (Part I)  
L10 Class Discussion of The House of the Spirits  
VI. Development, Democratic Breakdown, and Military Rule
L11 Lecture: The Breakdown of Chilean Democracy  
R6 The Battle for Chile (Part II)  
L12 Class Discussion of Chilean Experience Paper 1 revision due one day after Ses #L12
VII. Re-Democratization in Chile (and Elsewhere)
L13 Lecture: Bureaucratic Authoritarianism in Chile and Elsewhere  
R7 La Historia Oficial  
L14 Lecture: The Transition to Democracy in Chile and Elsewhere  
VIII. Civil-Military Relations in Latin America and Accountability for Past Abuses
L15 Establishing Civilian Control Over the Military and Transitional Justice  
R8 Recent Events in Chile Show and tell 2
L16 Day of the Dead and Religion in Latin America Paper 2 due one day after Ses #L16
IX. Accountability for Past Abuses and the Rule of Law
L17 Preparations for Class Debate  
R9 Prosecute and Punish or Forgive and Forget? Class debate
L18 Prosecute and Punish or Forgive and Forget? Class debate
X. Rule of Law: Corruption and Criminal Justice in Mexico
L19 Lecture: The Rule of Law in Latin America: "Guilty Until Proven Rich."  
R10 Criminal Justice in Mexico Show and tell 3
L20 Lecture: One-Party Rule, Democratization, and Corruption in Mexico Paper 2 revision due one day after Ses #L20
XI. Policing Mexico City
L21 Police Reform in Mexico City Group presentations
XII. The Rule of Law in Brazil

Class Discussion of de Soto's Argument

Prepare for Class Presentations

R11 Central Station  
L23 How Should Land Disputes in Brazil be Resolved?

Group presentations

Paper 3 due one day after Ses #L23

XIII. The New Populism in Latin America
L24 Lecture: Revolution, Reduction: The New Populism in Latin America  
R12 Venezuela Show and tell 4

Discussion of Venezuela

Prepare for Final Exam

XIV. Conclusion: Latin America After Big Mama

Class Discussion of Big Mama's Funeral

Lecture: Latin America after Big Mama



Discussion of Final Exam

Optional paper 3 revision due three days after Ses #L26   Tell A Friend