Modern Latin America, 1810-present

Andrew B. Fisher
Carleton College


Primarily a lecture-based course, History 170 introduces students to modern Latin American history through the lens of race and national identity, economic development, and struggles to create meaningful political participation. In addition to region-wide trends, the course highlights the case studies of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru.

Course Size:

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution

Course Context:

This is an introductory course without pre-requisites. On average, over half of the students are undeclared (in their first or second year), while a significant minority are either Latin American Studies students (the course serves as an unofficial gateway to the major and concentration) or History majors (who may or may not specialize in Latin American history).

Course Content:

The course is divided into five units, each about two weeks in length:
1. Early Nation-Building and Politics
2. The Neo-Colonial Order
3. Populism and Reform
4. The Rise of the Revolutionary Left and Its Repression
5. Remaking Paradigms in Contemporary Latin America

Course Goals:

Apart from familiarizing students with what is often an unfamiliar part of the world for them, this course is primarily interested in giving students the opportunity to think like historians through the reading of primary sources and key historical studies (one monograph and numerous articles).

Course Features:

In addition to a traditional blue-book final exam, students will be asked to complete a number of writing assignments over the ten-week term. They will write seven "microtheme" responses to key texts they read the previous week, as well as a more lengthy essay (4-5 pages) comparing a pro-Indian novel they have read with a photograph of their choice crafted by Peru's most famous indigenous photographer.

Course Philosophy:

This is my first attempt to use the microtheme format. My decision stems from two principal sources of frustration. First, I have found it very difficult to assign multiple papers in this course given the quick pace of the term and the amount of material the course covers. It has also been very challenging to guide meaningful in-class discussions of key texts in this large lecture-hall environment. Rather than circulating questions for the reading in advance of class, in the hopes that enough students will come engaged and willing to participate, it is my hope that these microthemes will serve as both an incentive for the students and a convenient way for me to gauge their understanding and progress throughout the term.


Leaving aside the final exam (for at that point, it is too late for me to intercede in the students' learning in the course), I will rely primarily on these weekly writing assignments to gauge how well students are understanding the key themes of this course and meeting its pedagogical goals. I will develop a rubric for the microthemes (ideally with student input) so that the class may have a better sense of my priorities for their learning.


Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

There are five major books assigned for this course: Chasteen & Wood's Problems in Modern Latin American History; Ernesto Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries; Clorinda Matto de Turner's novel Torn from the Nest; Domingo Sarmiento's treatise Facundo; and Peter Winn's study Weavers of Revolution.
Inspiration for spearheading these course revisions came out of my participation in Carleton College's winter break workshop on writing. In particular, I am relying on the ideas for microthemes developed by John C. Bean of Seattle University.