McGrath, Elena

Colloquium in Latin American History

How to Tell Global Stories

How can historians tell meaningful stories about cultures other than their own? How can the stories we tell be respectful to local contexts and at the same time speak to global audiences? How can historians use media like podcasts and websites to make history matter in the present? In this colloquium, we will explore questions of historical method and storytelling from the perspective of Latin America.


This course will be divided into two units, Theory and Practice. In the theory unit, we will read examples of creative global storytelling from Latin America and other parts of the world. These will include historical monographs, ethnographies, and testimonial literature that actively engage with ethical and theoretical concerns about storytelling, accountability, memory, and power. Some of these works will be about people, and some will tell stories of communities, places, objects, and even animals.


In our unit on practice, students will help contribute by suggesting storytelling media, songs, poems, readings, or blog posts that interest them. We will pair these curated storytelling media with workshops on conducting research and writing as students work on their own individual story projects.


Assignments for this class will include reading journals for the first unit (30% of grade), active participation in weekly seminars (30%), organizing and leading one discussion section with a group of students (10%) and a final project that combines historical research with storytelling (30%). The final project will have two components: a 10 page academic research paper, and a creative media version of the same story in either audio, visual, or written form.

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Modern Latin America, 1824 to Present


What is a nation? What is progress and how can we measure it? What is the nature of a just society? How can a nation built out of a colonial empire create a such a society? In this course, we seek to answer these questions by exploring the history of Modern Latin America.  In this class, we will examine moments where peoples and governments have sought to make and change the modern world.


In Unit I, we will begin by examining the world created by the Independence Wars in Latin America and the Atlantic World. In this period, the new Latin American republics struggled to make liberty, equality, and prosperity possible during a global era of economic imperialism and scientific racism. Using the examples of Venezuela and Argentina, we will explore the problems of integrating diverse populations, generating prosperity, and the promises and pitfalls of democratic participation.


In the second unit, we will explore the crises of the late 19th and early 20th centuries using the case studies of Cuban Independence and the Mexican Revolution. We will explore how Afro-Cuban and indigenous Mexican armies demanded full access to social, economic, and political prosperity, and explore how and why these demands were so challenging for elites. In this unit we will also explore how US intervention and foreign capital affected Latin American societies in this period.


In the third unit, we will turn to the revolutions and reactions of the twentieth century, emphasizing the role of the Cold War in turning old struggles into new kinds of conflicts. Our two case studies for this period will be Guatemala and Chile. As we explore two would-be revolutions, we will consider issues of gender, sexuality, race, and environmentalism. Studying the reactionary aftermath of revolutions in Guatemala and Chile will also allow us to investigate the role of terror and state violence in creating the neoliberal economic and political order.


Requirements for this course include two midterm exams (25% of grade each), and a portfolio of annotated primary sources (25% of your grade) as a final project. The exam format will be closed book short essay, and the portfolio will require using context from lectures, readings, and discussion sections to curate a series of documents provided by the instructor . In addition, attendance and active participation in discussion sections are required and will be 25% of the final grade.


Books we will be using for this class include:

Keen’s Latin American Civilization: A Primary Source Reader, Volume 2: The Modern Era (Tenth Edition).

Domingo Sarmiento, Civilization and Barbarism

Ada Ferrer, Insurgent Cuba

Mariano Azuela, The Underdogs

Peter Kornbluh, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier of Atrocity and Accountability

Daniel Wilkerson, Silence on the Mountain:Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala

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Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
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