History 299- Thinking Historically: The Life and Afterlife of Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Spring 2021

Prof. Chad Black
Email: cblack6@utk.edu
Phone: 974-9871
Office: 2627 Dunford Hall, 6th Floor
Office Hours: Wednesday 2:30-4:30, or by appointment


The 20th century was an age of heroic aspirations in Latin America. It was an age of both intensely humane and intensely horrendous acts, made in the context of trying political, social, and economic structures. This class will consider the history of Latin America as a region through a series of case studies that intersected with the life and afterlife of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna. More specifically, the life and after life of Che will serve as a node of exploration to the many branches of Latin American social, political, and economic histories that defined the region in the 20th Century. Thus, while this class is nominally about Che Guevara, and his personal struggles, strengths, and foibles, it is really about much, much, much more.

It is about moments of historical contingency and long term historical processes. It is about domestic and international elites and revolutionaries. Using the life and afterlife of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, we will examine 20th-century Latin American history with an eye to the question, “If, when, and how did armed revolution become a rational response to Latin American reality?”

We will examine ideologies of economic development and revolutionary action that helped define the region. We will look at specific moments that intersected Ernesto Guevara’s life, from Peronist Argentina to Guatemala ‘54 to Cuba ‘59 to Bolivia ‘67, and his afterlife of hopeful image and crass commodity. In order to do this, we will hone our skills as historians, engaging difficult texts within the context of their making. We will read a lot. That is, at its most quotidian, what historians do.

We will not only use the life and afterlife of Che Guevara as a provocation for understanding the history of modern Latin America. We will also use it as an introduction to the theory, methodology, and practice of historical thinking.


Students are required to purchase the following books:

  • Anderson, Jon Lee. José Hernández, Illustrator. Che: A Revolutionary Life. Graphic Biography. New York: Penguin Press, 2018.

  • Casey, Michael J. Che’s Afterlife. New York: Vintage, 2009.

  • Drinot, Paulo, editor. Che’s Travels: The Making of a Revolutionary in 1950s Latin America. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

All other readings will be available on Canvas.

Course Objectives

  1. To introduce students to important some important moments in the history of development and revolution in post-WWII Latin America.

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

  3. 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).
    • To understand and appreciate ambiguity in historical argument and presentation.
  4. To encourage students to hone their skills at collaboratively posing and solving problems.


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.

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.