Introduction to Modern Latin America
HILA 255/LACS 252
Spring 2019

Prof. Chad Black
Phone: 974-9871
Office: 2627 Dunford Hall, 6th Floor
Office Hours: Tuesday, 2:30-4:30, or by appointment

TA: Ms. Emma Thompson
Office Hours: Mondays, 8:00-10:00


This course traces the principal economic, social and political transformations in Latin America from the Wars of Independence to the present in order to understand the roots of ethnic conflict, social inequality and political instability in modern Latin America. Why is there so much poverty in Latin America? What has been the role of the United States in the region? How does the military maintain such power in politics? Why is Latin music so damn good? These and other questions will be addressed in lectures, readings, films and discussions. The class will use a comparative framework to address topics such as the consolidation of nation states and their insertion in the world economy after Independence; changes in land use and labor organization; political movements for liberalism, populism, and revolution; popular culture; industrialization and class politics; military regimes and subsequent redemocratization; U.S. policy and intervention; and the emergence of contemporary social movements in the context of neoliberal economies.

While some familiarity with Latin America will be helpful, this is an introduction to the history of the region since the end of colonial rule.


This semester, I am not requiring you to purchase any books. All readings will be provided to the student electronically.

Course Requirements

Students are required to engage in this class. Learning is an interactive process, and requires active participation by all members of the class. Students need to read, write, and attend lecture in order to be successful in this class. The history of Latin America is being written as we speak in the quotidian actions of indigenous people, politicians, artists, and more. Likewise, history reverberates in the events of today, as well as their meanings. As part of this course, students are required to read news from Latin America. In addition to these weekly activities, there are a series of formal assignments.

These assignments are designed to contribute to the overall objectives of the semester, including both content-specific and skill-based goals.

Course Objectives

  1. To introduce students to the forces, events, and conflicts that defined the process of nation building in the Americas, including:
    • The legacies of Spanish imperial rule on the new nation states of 19th-century Latin America.
    • The historical processes of inclusion and exclusion in building new nations.
    • The role of indigenous people in building and contesting modern Latin American societies
    • The role of the United States in shaping the political economy of modern Latin America.
    • The expressions in Latin American popular culture of the tensions within society.
  2. To understand and use a variety of sources that provide the core of historical inquiry.
    • Primary written sources, and their particular challenges.
    • Secondary sources, and how to read them critically.
    • Visual and physical sources of evidence.
    • The absence of sources— finding lost voices, and reading against the grain.
  3. To be able to identify, understand, and critique historical argument.
    • Historians follow a lose set of epistemological, theoretical, and evidentiary rules in their attempts to recreate the limited past that is accessible to us through our incomplete archival record. At the college level and beyond, it is your task to learn how to identify an author’s central argument and to evaluate it based on its evidence, sources, logic, and narrative.


Accommodations: 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.

Attendance: Attendance at all class sessions is mandatory. If you will not be able to attend class, please contact me ahead of time.

Deadlines: Assignments must be turned in to the instructor or teaching assistant at the end of class on the day they are due, unless otherwise arranged by the professor. Late papers will not be accepted without prior arrangement, for any reason. This includes technology problems.

Cell Phones and Laptops: Please silence our cell phones prior to class. Please do not text during class. Cell phones are not permitted in class, and need to be put away for the duration of our meetings. Laptops are allowed only for tasks related to this class. Distracting use of technology (social media, surfing, GroupMe chats, etc.) causes problems not only for your own learning, but for those around you. Research shows that analog notetaking improves learning. Consider having paper with you. Based on the prevailing literature, hand note-taking– both while reading and in class– leads to substantially better educational outcomes. You are not required to have a laptop in class, so feel free to leave it at home. If, however, you have reason to use your laptop for notetaking, I won’t stop you from doing so.

Plagiarism and Academic Honesty: 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.

Office Hours: Students are strongly encouraged to speak with me outside of class. The advantages of talking with me include: extra help on an assignment or preparation for an exam; clarification of materials covered in lecture, discussion of my comments on your work; discussion of this or related courses. I am available during office hours on a first-come, first-served basis; if you cannot come by during office hours, please contact me via email or phone and I will be happy to set up an appointment with you.

Changes: I reserve the write to change this syllabus as the semester progresses. This is not a contract, but rather a document to guide expectations and clearly communicate weekly assignments. Please bring the syllabus with you to our class meetings. Or, keep up with it on the course website.