New Latin American Studies Courses for Spring 2017

By Rohan Chatterjee, LACS MA Student/CLAS Communications Assistant

It’s that time of year when students need to decide which courses to take in the Spring Quarter. Class selection makes up the core of the quarterly experience and students can elect subjects that best suit their academic trajectory and/or expose them to new scholarly thinking and projects. At CLAS we know how important it is to consider all your options to find the courses that best match your academic goals. In order to help we have put together a list of new Latin American Studies courses—being offered for the first time this Spring—that may make your decisions easier or harder, depending on your point of view.

To whet your appetite, we begin with profiles of three courses with reflections from the respective professors on the courses and their goals.

Clientelism and Elections in Latin America
Joy Langston (Tinker Visiting Professor, CLAS and Harris School of Public Policy)

Professor Langston comes to us from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in Mexico City. Professor Langston is a political scientist and policy expert who focuses on comparative democratization.

On her preparation for teaching here

I was an undergraduate at Chicago many years ago, so I know very well how hard students work and the appreciation they have for learning. The quality of the students allows me to formulate a challenging reading list and I anticipate learning a great deal about the topics of clientelism and campaigning from students and their questions.

On the central focus of this course

Very little is known about how electoral campaigns are run in Latin America; clientelism, on the other hand, has been studied from several disciplinary points of view since the 1960s. The challenge is to combine these two subjects in ways that have never been done. As a result, students will be able to understand and analyze how and why clientelism looks different under different kinds of campaigns for elected office.

On the kind of student who would benefit most from this course

Any third or fourth year student or graduate students interested in the topic of clientelism or electoral politics in Latin America would benefit from the course.

The Discovery of Paganism
Clifford Ando (Classics) and Claudia Brittenham (Art History)

All roads lead to Rome for Professors Ando and Brittenham who will jointly teach a unique course that links the New and Ancient worlds, and offers a chance for students to learn from their respective approaches and expertise. 

Claudia Brittenham, on what drew her to develop this course

This course grew out of conversations with Cliff Ando in Classics, whose work on Roman religion I find absolutely fascinating. Cliff argues that we misunderstand the role of images in Roman religion because we take Christian polemicists at face value in their critiques of idolatry. His description of our state of knowledge about Roman religion resonated with my sense of our understanding of Aztec religion, for which our primary sources are also Christian polemicists...and, as in the Roman case, a large corpus of glorious and at times puzzling objects. But then in conversation, we also realized the extent to which Spanish descriptions of Aztec religion are themselves filtered through the lens of what the Spanish thought they knew about Roman religion, and thus a course was born.

On what she hopes that she—and the students—will get out of the course

I hope to learn more about Roman religion, and about critiques of idolatry, both to satisfy my own interest in Roman art and religion (just what were all of those images used for, anyway?), but also to enhance my understanding of Precolumbian art. The more we understand the ways the Spanish approached the cultures of the New World, the more we can understand how to use these rich and problematic textual sources. At the same time, the comparative element interests me: the more I understand about how Roman images work, the more ideas I have to test about how Aztec images function.

Because the course juxtaposes two such different corpora, I hope that students will relish the chance to engage with unfamiliar subject matter in at least one half of the course. At the same time, I hope that students will learn about the different evidentiary and methodological approaches of our two fields (Roman and Mesoamerican) and our two disciplines (history and art history). Finally, I hope that students will have the chance to reflect on how some of the terms set by these two polemical moments still shape our understanding of the world today.

On the kind of student that would benefit most from this course

Curious and intellectually flexible students who are open to testing out different approaches, and interested in probing the limits of our understanding.

Global Melodrama
Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky (Cinema and Media Studies)

Professor Skvirsky, who came to UChicago in Autumn 2015, specializes in Latin American cinema—in particular, in the period from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s that saw the emergence of some of the most sophisticated political films in the history of cinema.

On the central focus of the course

This course is a comparative examination of screen melodrama. The first part of the course will offer an overview of the critical literature on melodrama and a survey of significant film melodramas from around the world. In the second part of the course, we will narrow our focus to melodramas from the two regions: the United States and Latin America. The conceit of the course is to put different regional traditions of melodrama into conversation. In addition to offering a basic orientation, the class will also test the boundaries of the category in our work on the racial melodrama and the conjuncture of documentary form and melodrama.  Other topics will include melodrama as a mode and as a genre; melodrama and national allegory; melodrama and revolution; melodrama and realism; melodrama and emotion; melodrama and the temporally displaced spectator.

On the inspiration for the course

Melodrama is such a dominant mode of cultural production internationally. I wanted to put different melodrama traditions in dialogue and to bring the abundant scholarship on melodrama from different parts of the world to bear on these comparisons.

On the kind of student that would benefit most from this course

Students interested in cinema and emotion, theories of spectatorship, theories of popular culture. Background in Latin American film or in Film Studies is not required.

CLAS-affiliated faculty, postdocs, and doctoral students are offering more than a dozen new courses this Spring. Read on for brief introductions to the other new courses. For full descriptions, please visit our course descriptions.

The New Latin American Cinema and Its Afterlife
Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky (Cinema and Media Studies)

Latin America's most critically celebrated period of radical filmmaking, the New Latin American Cinema (NLAC) of the late 1950s–70s, generated unprecedented international enthusiasm for Latin American film production. We will situate the NLAC in its historical context, survey its formal achievements and political aspirations, assess its legacy, and take stock of the ways and the reasons that it haunts contemporary production

Migration, Refugees, Races
Edgar Garcia (English)

Fleeing economic, social, and climatological collapse, migrants hardly find a second home; they become refugees without refuge. The limits on their flourishing extend far beyond the national borders that they cross in search of livable life. Wherever they go, they are discriminated and psychologically segregated by discourses of race nationalism, discourses in which migrations give rise to races

Nature, Science, and Empire in the Early Modern Iberian World, 1400–1800
Valeria López Fadul (History)

Historians have traditionally claimed that strict censorship and a commitment to orthodox Catholicism prevented Spain from embarking on the path towards scientific modernity in the eighteenth century. Modern scholars, however, have challenged this narrative by embracing more inclusive concepts of "science" to explain the many ways in which early modern people related to nature.

Revolution under Empire: Mexico-US Relations, 1900–1945
Marco Torres (History, CLAS Ignacio Martín-Baró Lectureship)

As the United States grew to global hegemony in the first half of the twentieth century, Mexico was experiencing a violent process of civil war, institutional reform, and economic modernization. It is well known that US interests and policies determined Mexican developments during these years, but how did Mexico’s Revolution affect the course of American Empire?

The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire
Fidel Tavárez (History)

In the span of three centuries the country we now recognize as Spain went from being a collection of kingdoms in the war-torn Iberian Peninsula of the fifteenth century to a global empire in the sixteenth, to an empire on the verge of collapse in the seventeenth, and finally to a revitalized empire in the eighteenth century.

Creole Genesis and Genetic Linguistics
Salikoko Mufwene (Linguistics)

In this seminar course we will review the “creole exceptionalism” tradition against the uniformitarian view, according to which creoles have emerged and evolved like other, natural and non-creole languages.

Latino Politics
Alfredo Gonzalez (Political Science)

The study of Latinos in political science is persistently reduced to a homogenously imagined and ideologically salient political community. This analytical lens is immersed in scholarship that advances electoral politics as the most effective means for Latinos to gain access and inclusion to dominant institutions. However, differences among Latinos, on the one hand, and the rest of the country, on the other, have altered our social and political realities.

Brazilian Theater and Film
Victoria Saramago (Romance Languages and Literatures)

This course offers an overview of theater and cinema in Brazil, from the late nineteenth century to the present. Through an array of films and plays, students will become familiar with cultural, aesthetic, political, social, and environmental aspects of Brazil.

Literatura mexicana del siglo XIX
Laura Gandolfi (Romance Languages and Literatures)

This course examines multiple forms of Mexican literary and cultural production from the nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. Drawing from essays, poetry, fiction, travel narratives, photographs and illustrated magazines, the course focuses on key periods of social and artistic upheavals.
[course taught in Spanish]

Literatura y música en el gran Caribe hispanohablante
Agnes Lugo-Ortiz (Romance Languages and Literatures)

Uno de los aspectos más notables de las culturas del Caribe hispanohablante, tanto insular como continental, a todo lo largo del siglo XX, y hasta el presente, ha sido el diálogo sostenido entre la textualidad literaria y la música. En este curso nos interesa trazar las distintas maneras en que la literatura ha invocado la inefabilidad aural de lo musical y reflexionar sobre sus posibles entidos.

Traducción y piratería en el mundo colonial
Larissa Brewer-Garcia (Romance Languages and Literatures)

Translation and piracy can both involve the strategic appropriation of language, knowledge, or property. This course analyzes the relationship between translation and piracy in the creation of foundational works of colonial Latin American literature.
[course taught in Spanish]