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Modern Mexico (HIST 4110, Fall 2013)

Description

The course is an analysis of the interplay of Mexican politics, economic opportunities, culture and relations with the United over the course of Mexican history and how it shapes present-day conditions. The course is organized in six units, four of which are chronological and two are thematic.

I build the class around active learning activities, primarily discussion, group work and graded online discussion boards. About a third of the contents are delivered and discussed online and graded using a rubric. Interactive lectures are also a component of the class. Students will write one ten-page paper at the end of either unit 3 or 5, five five-page essays and participate in online discussion boards.

Units

  1. What is Mexico? (week 1)
  2. The Nineteenth Century (weeks 2–3)
  3. The Mexican Revolution (weeks 4–6)
  4. The Perfect Dictatorship (weeks 7–8)
  5. Crisis and Democracy (weeks 9–13)
  6. The Border (weeks 14–15)

The Graduate Section

This course has a graduate section. Graduate and undergrad students participate in class discussions, both are equal citizens. Graduate students add more readings tailored to their interests (at least two books), lead some class discussions, and write a longer paper.

Books

All books will be available in the bookstore.

  1. Meyer, Sherman and Deeds, The Course of Mexican History ($55, $25 for rent)

    A thorough review of Mexican history. Expensive but good. You can rent it or buy it used. If you need to buy an older edition, please visit the library to see acquire the latest chapter and adjust chapter numbers. Thanks!!!

  2. Henderson and Joseph, The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics ($20)

    An anthology of primary and secondary sources. We use this anthology extensively in our class and online discussions and in the papers and essays. On the distinction between primary and secondary sources, click on this BGSU Library document.

  3. Eric Zolov, Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture ($28, $17 ebook)

    The history of Mexican rock and roll provides an entry point to discuss cultural and social change from the 1950s to the 1970s and how the urban middle-class youth defied the perfect dictatorship—and its response.

  4. Judith Adler Hellman, Mexican Lives ($13)

    Fascinating ethnographic account of how Mexicans of different walks of life live. Their dreams, aspirations and fear during the dramatic transformations of the eighties. The impact of free trade, migration, organization of grass roots movements.

  5. Jeffrey Pilcher, Que vivan los tamales! Food and the Making of National Identity ($26)

    For centuries native cuisine was seen as a backward legacy of the prehispanic past. This book discusses how and why did tamales and tacos become the proud symbol of Mexican identity?

  6. Daniel Jaffee, Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival ($25, $16 ebook) [to be confirmed]

    Transformations brought by fair trade movement in a small rural community in the Mexican south.

US & Latin America, Online Summer Course Available

Join History 4000 (US and Latin America) a second-session online summer course that focuses on historical origins of the relationship of US and Latin America in order to understand the present-day bearings.

We study how diplomats, businesses, organizations, and the public shaped international relations by conducting research on primary sources available in online collections. Regardless of the tone of the relationship, the outcome has always been highly influential to all parties involved. By looking at the formation of US policy and what is at stake for Latin Americans, through their mutually influence on each other, we can gain a better understanding of the complexities of our modern world. For example recently deceased president Hugo Chávez built his popularity in Venezuela and Latin America on his staunch opposition of American policies. But Venezuela has remained one of the most important oil exporters to the United States. The relationship with Venezuela in recent years illustrates tensions, historical conflict, cooperation and occasional indifference between the United States and Latin American nations.

Format:

The course is organized in three two-week modules:

  • 1st Module: 19th Century through WWII
  • 2nd Module: The Cold War
  • 3rd Module: The Present Day (1990s and 2000s)

In each module students discuss two prompts based on readings, watch lectures, and take one quiz. Students write two research papers (one due at the end of the first module, the second due either at the end of the second or the third module). Topics and online primary source collections that are circulated at the beginning of the class.

Jaume Vicens Vives Award

Book cover

Cover with artwork by María A. Challú

I’m happy to announce that Living Standards in Latin American History, the collection of essays that I co-edited with Ricardo Salvatore and John Coatsworth (Harvard University DRCLAS, 2010) was awarded the Jaume Vicens Vives prize. The prize is granted by the Spanish Economic History Association to the best book on Latin America and Spain published in the last two years. We are thankful and honored by this recognition of such a prestigious association.

This was a collaborative endeavor that involved contributors, editors, reviewers and commenters, and DRCLAS publications staff.  Everyone shares in this success. It was a long-haul effort that started in a conference in 2004 and matured as a book in a process that took longer that we had anticipated but that was very fruitful. Besides the award, we have received favorable reviews and comments.

This is personally a great satisfaction. As the least experienced of the editors I learned a lot from my fellow editors, contributors and the DRCLAS editorial staff. I’m also thrilled that this prize was awarded by the Spanish Economic History Association. Spanish historians (including Vicens Vives) were very influential in my formation and today I not only read them but frequently exchange ideas and collaborate with them. It will be an honor to attend the X Congress in Carmona, Spain to receive the award on behalf of the editors and contributors.

Last but not least, people have commented on the cover… It features the artwork of my sister, María Alejandra Challú. She’s not only a terrific artist who has exhibited her work, but also a respected art therapist working with dialysis patients. In connection to her work, she started to participate in a grass roots organization to improve adult literacy in and around Buenos Aires. The art cover (multitud 4) is based on a painting she prepared for the organization. She generously also let us use another piece in the series for the promotional materials of the Ohio Latinamericanist Conference held in BGSU in February 2011.

Course on Modern Mexico (HIST4110/5110, Fall 2011, Tu & Th 1-2:15)

This Fall I will teach HIST4110 Modern Mexico. It is an upper-level survey class that covers Mexican history from independence to the present day. The goals are just two: to explore the connections between economic growth, inequality, popular political participation and the close relationship to the US in the past and present of Mexico; and to analyze contemporary problems with a historical perspective. The class is also offered at the graduate level as HIST5110, please contact me to discuss additional readings and activities related to the graduate component.

Mural representing Mexican history in the Government Palace of Tlaxcala

Mural representing Mexican history in the Government Palace of Tlaxcala

In this edition of the class I am experimenting with a new arrangement of units that puts the second goal to the forefront: we will begin with the present day, reading Nora Hamilton’s Mexico. It happens to be organized more or less around the issues outlined in the first goal. The other units are devoted to furthering our understanding of Mexico’s history, primarily through the lens of those issues more or less in a chronological fashion. The two last books resume the discussion of recent times from the perspective of the everyday lives of Mexicans and an analysis of US and Mexico relations. Three books on the past, three on the present, although the latter are anchored in a solid understanding of history.

Besides the discussion of the books based on your reading, we will discuss photographs, cartoons, documentaries, movies, and clips related to the unit’s  topics. Informed discussion in class and optionally in online forums, is the expectation for this class. Assessment is primarily based on quizzes (50%) and a final paper that connects at least two of the major issues (50%).

Don’t hesitate to post your comments and questions.

Tentative schedule, week by week

1    Unit I: Overview of Mexican History
Hamilton, Mexico, Political, Social And Economic Evolution

2-4     Unit II: Political, Social and Economic Transformations in Recent Mexico
Hamilton, Mexico, Political, Social And Economic Evolution

5-6    Unit III: The Nineteenth Century
Wasserman, Everyday Life and Politics in Nineteenth Century Mexico (U. of New Mexico Press, 2000)

7-8     Unit IV: The Mexican Revolution
Gonzales, The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1940 (University of New Mexico Press, 2002)

9-10    Unit V: The Perfect Dictatorship
Zolov, Refried Elvis: The Rise Of Mexican Counterculture (University of California Press, 1999)

11-12    Unit VI: Everyday Life and Inequality in the Late 20th Century
Adler, Mexican Lives (New Press, 1995)

13-14    Unit VII: Legacies and Current Issues in United States-Mexico Relations
Domínguez, United States and Mexico, Between Partnership and Conflict (Routledge, 2009)

15    Review
16    Final paper due

Seminar on Latin American History (Fall 2011, Tu & Th 4-5:15, Williams 141)

(Postdata: Some have expressed concern about obtaining the materials. We’ll sort this out in the first week of classes to provide lower cost alternatives to buying the books. I also wanted to point out that this is a tentative arrangement of readings, the list may change in the final version. Don’t hesitate to send me an email with your preferences, concerns, etc.)

In Fall 2011 I’ll be teaching my graduate seminar on Latin America: HISTORY 6820:  Problems in History: Latin America. This course is an introduction to the historiography of Latin America, colonial and modern. It is not intended as a survey class on the history of the region, but a discussion of selected issues and approaches.

Mural by Diego Rivera

Mural by Diego Rivera

Given that this is the only graduate seminar on Latin American history in our regular offerings, I decided to keep it broad, from the colonial to the modern era, leaning more heavily on the latter. It includes topics that are very close to my research interests (late colonial Mexico, political economy,  living standards and inequality), but hopefully has a bit for everyone and seeks to feature not only typical academic work but also novels and ethnography. At the end of each unit, students will write an essay. It is possible to substitute some readings with my authorization.

Introduction:
1- Chasteen, Born of Blood & Fire, 978-0393911541, Norton
Overview of the region’s history. Concept: hegemony.

Unit I: The Colonial and Postcolonial Reality
2- León Portilla, Visions of the Vanquished/Schwartz, Victors and Vanquished/Wachtel, Vision of the Vanquished (choose one)
3- Marichal, Bankruptcy of empire, 0521879647, Cambridge Univ. Pr.
4- Earle, The Return of the Native, 978-0822340843, DUP
The trauma of conquest, transformation of native society, how colonial society worked, how colonial and postcolonial constructions were constructed. Concepts: political economy, identity

Unit II: Peasants and Mobilization
5- Van Young, The Other Rebellion, 978-0804748216, SUP
6- Azuela, The Underdogs
7- Gotkowitz, A Revolution of Our Rights, 978-0822340676, DUP
The origins of rebellions; rebellion and revolution; peasant ideologies. Concepts: Peasant, Political culture.

Unit III: Inequalities of Wealth, Opportunities and Power
8- Kouri, A Pueblo Divided, 978-0804758482, SUP
9- Fisher, A Poverty of Rights, 978-0804752909, SUP
10- Selections from: Living Standards in Latin American History; Indelible Inequalities; Williamson, Five
11- Adler Hellman, Mexican Lives, 978-1565841789 The New Press
Social and historical foundations of inequality; human development as a multidimensional problem; inequality and trade; the problem of persistence. Concepts: categorical and relational inequality, capabilities, market economy, ethnography.

Unit IV: Poor People’s Politics
12- Plotkin, Mañana es San Perón, 978-0842050296, Scholarly Resources
13- Winn, Weavers of the Revolution, 978-0195045581, OUP
14- Auyero, Poor People’s Politics, 978-0822326212, DUP
Changing coalitions in the twentieth century; populism, socialism and neoliberalism; importance of labor, labor and state. Concepts: populism, clientelism, poor people’s politics

Epilogue: Latin American History as Magic Realism
15- García Márquez, A Hundred Years of Solitude

Gran Baile! And a Conference Too…

First things first: We are having a Dance/Gran Baile on Saturday night (2/19) at the Cla-Zel with a band from Cleveland (Sammy de León y su orquesta), and the event is open to the community. Feel free to invite friends and help us this thing go viral by posting on facebook, blogs, tweeting, chirping, shouting, emailing, etc.

This is part of the 10th Ohio Latin Americanist Conference, organized by the ICS Latin American and Latino/a Studies Cluster. More than 100 scholars will present their work All events except the Luncheon are open to the public and students. Don’t hesitate to direct students to any panel or the Friday night documentary (excellent to discuss immigration debates!) or the conference in general.
The webpage is blogs.bgsu.edu/olac and it has the most updated information.

Powerpoint in the history classroom

Last night I gave a short talk on how I integrate GIS in my history research. It was in Ruth Herndon’s Historians in Academia graduate class.  Hugo Evans led a terrific discussion on the use of technology in teaching, research, and the profession in general. The last point of the meeting was on the use and abuse of powerpoint (right after my powerpoint-based presentation). Hugo rightly pointed to the pitfalls of powerpoint presentations and the vocal proposals to ditch the slide metaphor entirely.

Interestingly, a number of graduate students were in favor of  using the blackboard, or showed interest in emerging presentation technologies such as prezi or devices that capture handwriting and project it on the screen, as a way to circumvent the loathed slide. This is in line with broader criticism of Powerpoint for being “slide-constrained” and “lineal” (see prezi.com), not suitable for kinetic learners (is that static?), and conducive to passive (instead of active) learning.

More guided by a spirit of debate than the apology of a proprietary technology owned by our most beloved software corporation, I present here a few points in favor of using powerpoint, and learning how to make an effective use of it, instead of reinventing the wheel.

1) In Five Principles to Avoid Powerpoint Overload, Atkinson equates powerpoint presentations with storytelling. He recommends a story-board approach to Powerpoint, understanding each slide as stages in an argument (the slide as the basic unit of meaning, a sort of topic paragraph), rather than discrete units full of information (all you can dump in the blank space of a slide). I like this idea. Stories are a good way of communicating problems. Slides are linear expositions, sure, but so do narratives. and while we must be conscious of their limits and push the boundaries, they are still an effective way of communication. Most of historical writing, in that sense, is as linear as a powerpoint presentation.

2) Prezi.com offers an alternative form of presentation: a canvas that you can zoom in and out at will. The problem of Prezi is that metaphors work  *only* if we’re used to the metaphor. I like the poster format, and for presentations like we had yesterday, they work. Inscribing hieroglyphs on walls are also a terrific way of communication, I can count a lot of interesting teaching and learning properties, but both  teacher and students have to share the same conceptual matrix for understanding for learning to be effective. For good or bad, we are more used to slides or to blackboards (everything displayed at the same time)  than to zooming things.

3) A lot of the criticism against powerpoint is based on the effectiveness of capturing the attention of the audience in just one presentation. But a course is a different beast. It’s a course, something that happens over time in repeated sessions.  You’re not teaching today and want to make impression today. You want to cement practices and structures of acquisition of knowledge, and this happens over time. Using powerpoint today, prezi next week, a webcam of your handwriting three weeks later, then chalkboard is bad practice. (I’ve done that, so I’m talking from experience.) You’re not trying to make the best impression today for having the audience buy your product.

4) I sympathize with the vintage quality of the blackboard. But let’s be mindful of accessibility. If powerpoints use good contrast and large-size fonts, powerpoints are way more accessible than black(white)board with all the contrast, lighting and handscript issues associated to it. To put it in another way: blackboards encourage active learning in the first row, kinetic involvement in the middle rows, and what’s the heck is going on over there at the end of the classroom.

5) And just for the sake of being polemic, let me defend the use of text… Text in a powerpoint must be scant. Yes. But there’s a case for using a bit more text at some points (provided that the accessibility and the slide-as-an-argument conditions are met). Having “subtitles” to your presentation is not too bad from an accessibility point of view. (Being a non-native speaker perhaps makes me extra-aware of accessibility issues related to oral presentations.)

6) There are ways add kinetic and active-learning properties to the hated slide. First and foremost, the presenter has to  interact with the presentation (such as Al Gore). Using hands, gestures, knocking on those hard screens we use, etc., is not the same as the kinetic joy of the chalk on the blackboard, but it’s not that bad either. You can also try beforehand if you can erase your marker from the screen (if it’s a hard screen), and interact with the presentation using a marker. Or have students go to the screen and make marks on the screen.

Powerpoint as software is bad in that it defaults to bullet points, uses small text, and encourages flashiness over conceptual substance. Bad software generates bad habits. And that’s a terrible combination when there’s no critical awareness of the work we do and the limitations of the metaphors (or theories) we employ.

But we can work within the slide presentation framework, improve it, and use it to foster learning in our history classes. Because, essentially, we can think of powerpoint presentations as a support to narrative, and if there’s something to be proud of of our profession is how we learned from flawed approaches to narrative and how we learned to to deal with them. Especially in history classes, in which narrative and story telling plays a central role, there’s a case to use powerpoint presentations and improve on them to make them good tools of learning.

Interesting links on Haiti

In my Modern Latin America class I am paying a lot of attention to the unfolding of the Haiti crisis. I do so primarily because of the magnitude of the tragedy, which we cannot ignore. It also illustrates well some of the key problems in the history of Latin American societies, such as state building, economic development, the social origins of natural disasters, “bouncing back” from disasters and civil wars. In any case, in the last few days I came across two interesting blog posts that I want to share.

Sachs’ piece on Project Syndicate focuses on the long reconstruction. I think he’s right on in pointing to small-scale peasant agriculture as a key sector to target in reconstruction. Agricultural development is also an area in which humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam have more expertise and strength. It may seem odd to propose on agriculture as a reconstruction strategy for victims who were primarily in the capital city. But as Sachs point out the economy will be very simple during the reconstruction stage and agriculture can become the fall back option for many displaced Haitians. I would add that agricultural development is the traditional strength of international humanitarian organizations (see this very interesting post by Duncan) and probably requires less coordination effort than urban reconstruction.

A recent post by Duncanin From Poverty to Power points out the importance of politics and civil society in reconstruction, relying on the parallel of Mexico’s 1985 earthquake. I think it is an apt parallel, in that (despite the differences) the earthquake prompted the emergence of vibrant grass-root organizations that have played a central role in the democratization of Mexico. This is not to point out what may happen, but instead how power relations can shift dramatically under these conditions. Duncan’s emphasis on strengthening the state is also right on, in my opinion:

In Oxfam’s experience, only state capacity, regulation, and a large degree of state provision, can guarantee universal access over the long term, but this lesson can easily be lost in the pressure of short term financial horizons and the ‘just do something’ urgency following a disaster.

History 3010: Modern Latin America (Syllabus)

Here’s the Syllabus of my Modern Latin America course (History 3010). Enjoy!

Guerrero, the genesis of crime

Here’s a translation of selected excerpts of Julio Guerrero, La Génesis del Crimen (1901), which I am using in History 3010: Modern Latin America. Credit is due to Liz Becker, an M.A. student in History and Spanish in BGSU, for the translation.

The original version, in Spanish, can be retrieved from books.google.com.

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