Dr. Chad Black
The University of Tennessee
Class Meetings: Wednesdays, 4:40-7:05
Office: 2626 Dunford Hall, 6th Floor
Office Hours: Wednesday, 1:30-3:30 or by appt.
Email: cblack6 -at- utk.edu


Before 1492, there were no Indians in America. Columbus’ notorious expedition brought not only Europeans to America, it also brought the “Indian.” Disparate native peoples, with different cultures and languages, living in roaming bands and settled empires, located on islands, mountains, deserts, and tropical forests would all, after 1492, be called Indians. The origin of the “Indian” lies in this infamous crossing of the Atlantic by Europeans. For indigenous groups and individuals, however, crossing between ethnic identities would not cease; for some it would even be a daily occurrence.

In this course, we will examine how indigenous and European peoples understood, maintained, and dismantled ethnic identities from pre-Hispanic to modern times in Latin America. We will begin by looking at indigenous societies before Spanish conquest and then explore the political, economic, and social strategies of indigenous peoples during the colonial and modern eras. We will consider how indigenous and non-indigenous peoples used ethnic categories to construct power and authority.

The central idea of the course is that ethnic identities are interconnected with gender and class and that we therefore have to move away from essentialist approaches and ask how and why, at a certain time and place, a particular group chooses to define itself, or is defined by others in terms of ethnicity, gender or class.

Course Objectives:

  1. To introduce the students to the origin of the term “Indian” and its relationship to systems of colonial and national domination. In problematizing that term, students will investigate the relationship between categories of domination and political struggle.
  2. To document the multiplicity of indigenous societies in Spanish America, and their trajectories from the pre-conquest period through the current day.
  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.
  6. To encourage students to hone their skills at collaboratively posing and solving problems.

Required Readings

The following books are available for purchase at the bookstore, or of course on Amazon and the like.

  • Marc Becker, Pachakutik (Rowman Littlefield, 2012)
  • Carolyn Dean, A Culture of Stone (Duke UP, 2010)
  • Rebecca Earle, The Return of the Native (Duke UP, 2007)
  • Matthew and Oudjik, Indian Conquistadors (U of Oklahoma P, 2007)
  • Restall, Sousa, and Terraciano, Mesoamerican Voices (Cambridge UP, 2005)
  • Solomon and Nino-Murica, The Lettered Mountain (Duke UP, 2011)

Course Policies

Qualified students with disabilities needing appropriate academic adjustments should contact me as soon as possible to ensure that your needs are met in a timely manner with appropriate documentation.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism occurs when someone knowingly or unknowingly presents another person’s words or ideas as his or her own. Any work turned in for this class must meet University standards for academic honesty. Any students unsure about how to apply these rules are urged to consult with me prior to turning in any written work.

Deadlines: Assignments that are due in class must be turned in at the start of class. If you anticipate problems, please contact me before the assignment is due, not after!

Office Hours: Students are strongly encouraged to speak with me outside of class. I am available during office hours on a first-come, first-served basis. If you cannot come during office hours, please contact me via email or phone to schedule an appointment.

Course Requirements

  1. Reading. Each weeks’ assigned readings should be completed before class, and in time to post on your blog.
  2. Weekly Blog Posts. (25%) The lion’s share of your writing for this class will be done on your own blog. Each of you must register a free blog on wordpress , and provide me that information before our second meeting on the form here . Blog posts will consist of both freeform reactions to and analysis of our weekly readings or short essays on specific prompts. Blog posts are due each week a student is not leading discussion/presenting, in part as an aid to those who are presenting. As such, posts must be up on your blogs no later than 5pm each Monday, without exception.
  3. Group Presentations. (35%) Students will be formed into nine groups of 3. One nine of the semester’s weeks, those groups will be required to lead discussion and do extra research on that week’s topic. Groups should plan ahead for this, because they will be expected to know not only what’s assigned, but more background information as well. Additionally, the groups should read their classmate’s blog reflections and incorporate questions or insights from those posts in the discussion.
  4. Research Project. (40%) Each student will be required to complete a 20 page research paper due during the designated exam period for this class. This project will be made of a series of smaller assignments. See the assignments page for more information.


Week #1 9 January

  • No class.

Week #2 16 January

  • Defining Terms
  • Readings:
    1. Les W. Field, “Complicities and Collaborations: Anthropologists and the ‘Unacknowledged Tribes’ of California.” Current Anthropology 40:12 (1990): 193-209.
    2. Charles Mann, “1491.” The Atlantic Monthly, March 2002.

Week #3 23 January

  • Indigenous Societies 1
  • Readings:
    1. Mesoamerican Voices, Ch. 1,2,9.
    2. A Culture of Stone, pp. 1-64.

Week #4 30 January

  • Indigenous Societies 2
  • Readings:
    1. A Culture of Stone, pp. 65-142.

Week #5 6 February

  • Indigenous Views of the Spanish Invasion
  • Readings:
    1. Mesoamerican Voices, Ch. 3.
    2. Indian Conquistadors, Intro and Ch. 1.
    3. Camila Townsend, “Burying the White Gods: New Perspectives on the Conquest of Mexico,” AHR 108.3 (2003): 659-687. (Available through JSTOR.)

Week #6 13 February (Group 1)

  • Whose Conquest?
  • Readings:
    1. Indian Conquistadors, Finish.

Week #7 20 February (Group 2)

  • The “Colonized Indian”
  • Readings:
    1. A Culture of Stone, Finish.
    2. Mesoamerican Voices, Ch. 4-7.

Week #8 27 February (Group 3)

Week #9 6 March (Group 4)

  • De Indio a Indígena
  • Readings:
    1. Return of the Native, pp. 1-132.
    2. James Schofield Saeger, “The Mission and Historical Missions: Film and the Writing of History”, The Americas Vol. 51 No. 3 (1995): pp. 393-415. (On JSTOR)

      Week #10 13 March (Group 5)

  • De Indígena a Campesino
  • Readings:
    1. Return of the Native, Finish.

      Week #11 20 March

  • Research week.
    • Phone/Video conferences with Dr. Black.

Week #12 27 March

  • No class. Spring Break.

Week #13 3 April (Group 6)

  • Race, Ethnicity, Nation
  • Readings:
    1. The Lettered Mountain, pp. 1-152.

Week #14 10 April (Group 7)

  • Perseverance
  • Readings:
    1. The Lettered Mountain, finish.

Week #15 17 April (Group 8)

  • Representations
  • Readings:
    1. ¡Pachakutik! Preface through Ch. 4.

Week #16 24 April (Group 9)

  • Resurgence
  • Readings:
    1. ¡Pachakutik! Finish.