Welcome to HIST 475 -- Latin American History through Film.
Moving pictures have long marveled Latin Americans. It what was most certainly the first demonstration of "moving pictures" south of the Rio Bravo, the Lumiére brothers showed then Mexican President Porfirio Diaz films in Chapultepec Castle in 1896. As moving picture technology spread through out the world, including Latin America, it radically altered how individuals and groups in the region perceived of themselves, and were represented by others. Film (and later television) has been a source of enjoyment, a powerful propaganda tool, a medium of artistic expression, and driving force of national identity. In this class we will focus on the history of Modern Latin America as urbanization, population increase, migrations, revolutions, drug wars, and economic development both defined the region's struggles and became subjects of domestic film production and foreign consumption. While films will be a central component to our understanding of theregion’s history, course readings will serve as the basis of our weekly discussions. History Department guidelines suggest a weekly reading load of between 100 and 200 pages, and as such readings still dominate the preparation time for this course. By the end of the course, students should have the analytic and intellectual tools necessary to question and elaborate on pictorial depictions of Latin America.
Most films will be in Spanish or Portuguese with English subtitles. The majority of the films are rated R for strong language, violence, and/or sexual content. These topics (sex and violence) are not the main topic of the films, but are used to convey the struggles and reality of much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in, for example, the Central American revolutions. In class we will discuss at length the themes that go beyond the uninformed viewer’s interpretation of the film. If, however, you feel uncomfortable with these topics please come speak to me.
Because most of our class time will be spent watching the films together, there is a heavy component of work outside of class. Students are required to register their own free blog/websites with a service such as Wordpress or Blogger and to write weekly, tying together assigned readings with the films. For longer films, accompanying lecture materials maybe posted online here on this site. Finally, the core of each student's work this semester will be producing a semester-long small group collaborative project on one of the assigned films, and realized on the course wiki. There is a large technological component to the class, which will provide important collateral learning. Writing way back in 1938, John Dewey recognized the importance of collateral learning to life-long education:
Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing [s]he is studying at the time. Collateral learning, in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important that the spelling lessor or lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future. The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.
-John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938.
If you've never read any history on Latin America, you will in this class. If you've never considered how film mediates, represents the history it attempts to visually reconstruct, you will in this class. If you've never considered the social struggles of developing regions, you will in this class. If you've never before started a website, you will during this class. If you've never before considered where information comes from on wikipedia, you will during this class. And, beyond all that it's my hope that on the collateral level your curiosity about foreign cultures will extend beyond food, that your media literacy will grow by leaps and bounds, and your creativity will be stimulated.