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  • 3P94: Twentieth-Century Latin American Revolutions

    Professor Gillian McGillivray
    Office hours: M 10-11 MC330

    Class meets: M&F 8-9 TH 241
    Seminar 1: M 12-1 ST1103
    Seminar 2: M 11-12 MCC300

    This will be a comparative course that focuses on the changing nature of revolutionary experiences in Mexico, Cuba and Central America as they developed over the past century. Our goal will be to understand the revolutionary conflicts that appear primarily as national movements, yet often develop in very local, even personal contexts. Our readings will help us understand how revolutionary leaders used the flexible notions of class, race, and gender to recruit allies or isolate enemies. A related goal will be to understand the rising power of the United States and its impact on politics, economics, and society in Cuba and Central America from the outbreak of Cuba’s first War for Independence in 1868 through the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979-1989.

    There will be two background lectures (or a lecture and a film) for each week’s topic, followed by an in-depth discussion of the week’s reading in seminar. The readings include analyses of varied aspects of the revolutions, diplomatic studies, and personal narratives. The authors are historians, revolutionaries, novelists, and anthropologists.

    In order to do well in the course, you need to keep up with the readings and to come prepared to propose and discuss questions for every seminar. One quarter of your final grade is based on class participation, and you will only do well on the three essays that make up the other three-quarters of your grade if you attend seminars. The three essays will be assigned at the end of each section of the course; they must demonstrate thorough understanding of all the materials assigned in the course (lectures, seminar discussions, and films), and they must develop an independent historical analysis, sustained by ample and persuasive evidence. Like the course itself, they will analyze the causes of revolution as well as triumph or failure, weighing the importance of U.S. power vs. internal factors.

    Late Paper Policy: this course demands a lot of reading and develops sequentially. Keeping up is essential. Papers are due by the start of the 8:00 a.m. lecture on October 8, November 5, and December 9. Late papers will be accepted, no questions asked, for one week after the due date, but they will be penalized one full grade.


    R Womack, John. Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1968.
    R De la Fuente, Alejandro. A Nation for All: Race, Inequality and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2001.
    R LaFeber, Walter. Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993.
    R Argueta, Manlio. One Day of Life. New York: Vintage, 1983.
    S Menchú, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. London: Verso, 1984.
    S Randall, Margaret. Sandino’s Daughters, Revisited. New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1994.

    PARTICIPATION Fully one quarter of the final grade will be based on participation in seminar and lecture. This will consist of reading approximately one book (or 1/2 a book, if it’s slower to read) a week and bringing questions/comments to each seminar. Class discussions will revolve around your questions so that we can discuss the issues that are most of interest to the class. Each seminar will begin by going around the room to hear each student’s questions. We will discuss as many as we can before the end of class, and keep the others in mind to take up in later discussions or written assignments. You will be asked to turn in these questions several times over the course of the semester to help me gauge the depth of reading.

    Questions can be on any aspect of the reading or topic we are covering that day. The list below provides a few examples of the kind of things you may want to ask. Try to avoid minute detail questions, since we are aiming to get at big themes and main arguments. The questions should be directed at your fellow students, the aim being to clarify and debate over common readings.

    Summaries/Restatement of main arguments What is the author’s thesis? How does the author structure his/her argument?

    Source Questions What sources does the author use to make his/her argument? Are the sources too broad (just the “nation”) or too specific (just one group, or one person)? What sources does the author use to get at the perspective or experience of a particular group? (women/indigenous/policymakers?)

    Comparative Questions How does this parallel or contrast with (another reading, or region, or country) How do Afro-Cubans, women, or some other group (be it a racial, class, gender, or regional group) fit in to or change the picture

    Also great are questions re-posing or elaborating on points made in the reading.

    Through the seminars, you will hone your skills on identifying authors’ biases, picking out main arguments, and evaluating these critically through comparisons with other arguments. In your written work, you will thus be able to pick out what you need from the sources to contrast one with the other while at the same time constructing your own, original argument.

    Participation in class (including weekly response questions): 25%
    Papers One (due Oct. 8); Two (due Nov. 5); Three (due Dec. 9): 25%;25%;25%

    SECTION ONE: 1868-1933

    Mexico’s 1933 Revolution
    Friday September 10: Introduction
    Monday September 13: Mexico’s 1910 Revolution
    No Seminar, but finish notes on pages 3-128 of Womack, Zapata today.

    Friday September 17: Mexico’s 1910 Revolution + Film: Viva Zapata (pt. I),
    hand in notes on pages 3-255 of Womack, Zapata.
    Monday September 20: Mexico lecture, continued + Film: Viva Zapata (pt. II)
    Readings for seminar September 20: Womack, Zapata, 3-387.

    Cuba’s 1933 Revolution
    Friday September 24: Lecture on Cuba, 1868-1898, read de la Fuente, A Nation, 1-95
    Monday September 27: Cuba’s 1933 Revolution
    Readings for seminar September 27: de la Fuente, A Nation, 1-171

    Central America’s Revolutions of the 1930s
    Friday October 1: The Nicaraguan and Salvadoran Revolutions, 1900-1932
    Monday October 4: Documentary on 1932 El Salvador
    Readings for seminar October 4: LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions, 5-76

    SECTION TWO: 1933-1989

    Friday October 8: Introduction to Section II: U.S. Policy shifts, WWII and the Cold War
    Monday October 11: Happy Thanksgiving! No class or seminar

    Guatemala’s 1954 Revolution
    Friday October 15: Lecture on Guatemala, 1900-1954
    Monday October 18: Why did Arbenz fall? Internal versus external factors
    Readings for seminar October 18: LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions, 76-145
    + I, Rigoberta Menchú, Intro-101, reading groups share anecdotes + conclusions

    Cuba’s 1959 Revolution
    Friday October 22: Populist Cuba, 1933-1952
    Monday October 25: The Cuban Revolution of 1959
    Readings for seminar October 25: de la Fuente, A Nation, 175-255

    Friday October 29: selections from “De Cierta Manera”
    Monday November 1: Triumphs and failures of the Cuban Revolution
    Readings for seminar October 29: de la Fuente, A Nation, 259-339

    SECTION THREE: 1960-1989

    Friday November 5: Introduction to Section III: U.S. efforts to Avoid “Another Cuba”
    Monday November 8: Export Agriculture and the Crisis in Central America
    Readings for seminar November 8: LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions, 147- 225

    Nicaragua’s 1979 Revolution
    Friday November 12: Populist Nicaragua, 1934-1979
    Monday November 15: The Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979
    Readings for seminar November 15: LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions, 225-353

    Friday November 19: Why did the Sandinistas lose the elections? Internal versus external
    Readings for discussion in lecture and seminar November 22: Randall, Sandino’s
    (everyone read preface + introduction + Michele Najlis, and you will each be assigned one additional woman to read about and describe to the class)

    El Salvador’s Failed Revolution
    Friday November 26: Why did the Salvadoran revolution fail? Internal versus external
    Monday November 29: Part II of lecture + “Romero”
    Readings for seminar November 29: Inevitable Rev., 353-358 + Argueta, One Day, all

    Guatemala’s Failed Revolution
    3: Why did the Guatemalan revolution fail? Internal versus external factors
    6: Lecture/Discussion: Moving toward some conclusions...
    Readings for seminar December 6: Inevitable Rev., 359-368 + I, Rigoberta Menchú, 102-247, reading groups share anecdotes + conclusions

    8-9 a.m. roundtable: share your paper’s conclusions with the class (no seminars today)

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