Hear me one moment / Un instante me escuchen

I’m all set to sing / que cantar quiero

of a moment that stood / un instante que estuvo

outside of time! / Fuera del tiempo!

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz [1689]

[Women and men] make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past.

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Scholars and activists frequently claim that the current status of women in Latin America stems from a colonial legacy of gender oppression and sexual repression. And yet, the status of women has changed substantially, not always for the better, since the colonial period. Similarly, sexuality in the colonial period contradicts modern notions of an evolution of sexual constraints constructed through public and private divisions of social space. This course examines the sources, methodologies, and theoretical approaches that shape the history of women and sexuality in early Latin America. The readings represent ethnic, racial, and class-based distinctions among women and emphasize the importance of using diverse approaches in the reconstruction women’s history and culture, particularly for indigenous and African women. The course ends with an analysis of how female figures from the colonial period, such as La Malinche and the Virgin of Guadalupe, have been incorporated into modern political agendas by intellectuals and political activists. Students will read, analyze, and discuss both primary and secondary sources to understand how history is conceived and written.

course objectives

  1. To introduce the students to the concept of gender and its usefulness and limitations to the study of history. In problematizing that term, students will investigate the relationship between historically specific categories of domination and lived experience.

  2. To understand sexuality as a historical process.

  3. To help students better understand the relationship between important historical concepts such as agency and structure, culture and power.

  4. To help students understand some historical approaches to asking and answering questions, including: How to identify, closely read, and analyze primary sources. How to work with and evaluate useful secondary sources, specifically identifying and evaluating their central arguments. How to work with non-written sources (including images and artifacts).

  5. To understand and appreciate ambiguity in historical argument and presentation.