Gender and Sexuality in Early Latin America
HILA 465/LAC 466
Fall 2021

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

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.

required readings

The following books are required purchases, and are on order at the Bookstore or can be purchased from Amazon, locally ordered from Union Street Books, etc.

  • Few, Martha, Zeb Tortorici, and Adam Warre. Baptism through Incision: The Postmortem Cesarean Operation in the Spanish Empire. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2020.

  • Schroeder, Susan, ed. Indian Women of Early Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

  • Tortorici, Zeb. Sins Against Nature: Sex & Archives in Colonial New Spain. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018.

All other required readings are available on Canvas.


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.

Masks: The University is currently requiring students, faculty, and staff to mask indoors. We will comply with this requirement. The Delta variant of this virus is extremely contagious, with an R0 somewhere between 5-9 (one person will infect on average 5-9 people). This turns the classroom into a potentially high-risk situation. Wearing a mask for 75 minutes indoors is a small price to pay to be back in University community.

Attendance: Attendance is mandatory. If you cannot attend, please email Dr. Black or your TA ahead of time. We’re not making an Inquisition into your absences, so the reasons you can’t attend are not as important as giving us the heads up. If you have any symptoms or have been exposed to COVID, please do not come to class! Just send us a quick email, and get tested.

Deadlines: Assignments must uploaded to Canvas by the end of the day on which they are due. Late papers will not be accepted with out prior arrangement. If you will not be able to complete an assignment on time, you must contact me and your TA ahead of time. If you contract COVID or some other illness, please let us know so that we can work with you.

Cell Phones, Laptops, Zoom: Cellphones should be put away during class. Please do not text or post to the Group Me during class. It is very distracting to people around you, and to the professor. Laptops may be used to take notes, but I would ask you to seriously consider using paper instead. If you want or need to use a laptop, please consider sitting towards the back of the room so as to minimize distractions behind you. If we have to utilize Zoom at some point, please practice the kind of respectful manners that I’m sure you have become used to over the last 15 months. In class and on Zoom, I would invite you to interrupt me with questions during lecture.

Research shows that analog note-taking 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. Consider taking notes by hand even though you’ll be watching on your computer.

Drop-in Hours: Students are strongly encouraged to speak with me and the TAs outside of class. The advantages include: extra help on an assignment or preparation for exams; clarification of materials covered in lecture, discussion of comments on your work; discussion of this or related courses. I have an open door policy during my drop-in hours. I will be there, and you are welcome to come by for any reason. Your TAs have the same. I’m also available via zoom by appointment.

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. We’ll have to remain flexible as the outlook for our fourth pandemic semester is still uncertain.