Proposed Topics Ancient America



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Proposed Topics

Ancient America

The topic opens by noting the similarity between the patterns of cultural development of Ancient America and those patterns through which the peoples of the Old World once passed. The relationship between environment and the levels of cultural development achieved by particular groups is then examined. These levels, or categories (band or tribe, chiefdom, state), are defined and illustrated by reference to specific societies. The topic goes on to consider the extensive indigenous high-culture area called Nuclear America, to explain the sequence of stages (Formative, Classic, Postclassic) through which this area passed, and to survey in some detail the cultural evolution of Mesoamerica and the Andean area. Although the main focus is on the climaxes of cultural development in this area-the Aztec, Maya, and the Inca cultures-emphasis is also placed on the achievements of their predecessors who laid the foundations on which those great cultures built. The topic closes by noting that continuing advances in research are revolutionizing our understanding of the high civilizations of Ancient America and creating a new respect for their accomplishments.

After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:


  1. Discuss the concept of regularities in early cultural evolution as illustrated in Ancient America.

  2. Explain the relation between environment and cultural development in Ancient America.

  3. Outline the stages in early cultural evolution (tribe, chiefdom, state), explain the concept of Nuclear America, and outline the stages commonly assigned to the evolution of Nuclear America (Formative, Classic, and Postclassic).

  4. Describe the distinctive cultural achievements of the early civilizations of Ancient America.


The Hispanic Background

This topic opens by noting the successive waves of invaders of Spain, culminating with the Moors, and the impact of each of these invasions on Spanish society and culture. The discussion then turns to the process of the Reconquest; the leadership of Castile in that process; the ways in which the Reconquest influenced Castilian economic, political, and social development; and the marked differences between Castile and the other major Spanish kingdom, Aragon. The critically important reign of Ferdinand and Isabella is then explored, including its positive and negative aspects. Finally, the disastrous results of Hapsburg domestic and foreign policies are described, followed by a brief survey of Spanish arts and letters in the Siglo de Oro.


After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:



  1. Discuss the Hispanic institutions, traditions, and values that shaped the future of Latin America.

  2. Explain the influence of the Reconquest in shaping Spain's economic, social, and political structures.

  3. Outline the positive and negative aspects of the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella.

  4. Describe the errors of the Hapsburg policy that led to the decay and decline of Spain.


The Conquest of America

The topic opens with a discussion of the major motive for the great European voyages of discovery (the need to break the Muslim and Venetian monopoly over trade with the Far East) and the reasons for Portuguese leadership in the process. The two plans for reaching the land of spices are then described-the Portuguese plan for rounding Africa and the Toscanelli-Columbus project for reaching the East by sailing west. Then follows a brief account of Columbus's four voyages and an assessment of the consequences of his discovery for indigenous America and Europe. After a discussion of Balboa's discovery of the Pacific and Magellan's great voyage of circumnavigation of the globe, the topic describes the key conquests of the Aztec and Inca empires and the frantic quest for El Dorado that they inspired. The topic concludes with a discussion of the motives and mindset of the conquistador host, the bitter divisions between the haves and the have-nots among the conquistadors (illustrated by the story of Lope de Aguirre), and an analysis of the reasons for the relative ease of the Spanish conquest of the great indigenous empires.

After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:


  1. Discuss the conditions in Europe that led to the discovery and conquest of America.

  2. Objectively assess the consequences of the conquest for the native peoples of America and the Europeans.

  3. Discuss the motives, mindset, and social backgrounds of the Spanish conquistadors.

  4. Explain the relative ease with which a small number of Spaniards conquered great and populous indigenous empires.


The Economic Foundations of Colonial Life


The topic opens by noting the decisive importance of Spain's policy on indigenous peoples, its impact on the colonial economy, and the disputes the policy generated in Spain and America. The evolution of colonial labor systems is then traced, followed by a description of the major economic activities-agriculture, mining, and industry. The question of the essential nature of the colonial economy, whether capitalist or feudal, is briefly discussed. The topic closes with a description of the closed Spanish commercial system. The weaknesses of the system are addressed, including threats posed by foreign smuggling and piracy and Spain's claim of exclusive dominion over the New World.

After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:


  1. Explain the importance of Spain's policy on indigenous peoples, its impact on the colonial economy, and the conflicts between the crown, the clergy, and the colonists over that policy.

  2. Explain why the struggle over this policy assumed the dramatic outward form of a clash of ideas.

  3. Trace the evolution of colonial labor systems from encomienda and slavery, to repartimiento or mita, to theoretically free labor (debt servitude).

  4. Explain the transition from encomienda to the hacienda and mining as the bases of Spanish economic activity.

  5. Discuss whether the colonial economy was capitalist or feudal.

  6. Discuss the main features of the Spanish commercial system in terms of structural weaknesses and the resulting problems of smuggling and piracy.


State, Church, and Society

The topic opens with a survey of the colonial political system and the apparatus of colonial administration, noting the frequent ineffectiveness of Spanish colonial law. The role of the church is then explored, with a stress on the humanitarian and missionary work of the reformed orders, cleavages within the church, and the gradual moral decline of the clergy. The structure of class and caste is considered next, including the formal and informal criteria of social rank, the supposed place of each ethnic group in the hierarchy, and the cleavage within the colonial upper class between creoles and peninsulars. The topic closes with a discussion of the status of women, sexual behavior, and changing views on free choice in marriage decisions.

After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:


  1. Describe the major features of the colonial political system and the institutions through which it operated.

  2. Explain the ineffectiveness of much colonial legislation.

  3. Discuss the relation between church and state, the role of the reformed clergy, divisions within the church, and the moral decline of the clergy.

  4. Describe the structure of class and caste, and the real or supposed place of each ethnic group within that structure.

  5. Discuss the status of colonial women, sexual behavior within the colonial structure, and changing views regarding free choice in marriage decisions.


Colonial Brazil

The topic opens by describing the emergence of colonial Brazil with its accidental discovery, the establishment of the captaincy system, and the early rise of a sugar-cane civilization based on the fazenda and slave labor. It continues with an account of Portugal's policy toward indigenous peoples, the successive foreign challenges to Portuguese control of Brazil, the decline of sugar, and the rise and fall of the mineral cycle. The government and church of colonial Brazil are described and compared with those institutions of the Spanish colonies. Next, black slavery, slave resistance, and the pervasive influence of slavery on social relations are explored. The topic concludes with a discussion of social groups-high officials, church dignitaries, wealthy merchants-who shared or disputed power with the great landowners


After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:

  1. Compare and contrast the Spanish and Portuguese colonial systems.

  2. Describe the economic and social organization of the fazenda-sugar-mill complex.

  3. Describe and explain colonial Brazil's economic cycles.

  4. Describe and appraise the decisive role of black slavery in the economic and social life of colonial Brazil.


The Bourbon Reforms and Spanish America

This topic opens with a survey of the Bourbon economic and political reforms. The impact of the reforms on the colonial economy and society are emphasized. The achievements and limitations of colonial culture are then discussed, with special attention to the advent of the Enlightenment and its relationship to the rise of creole nationalism. An overview of changes in late colonial society is followed by an account of the two great popular revolts: the revolt of Tupac Amaru in Peru and that of the Comuneros in Colombia.

After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:


  1. Explain why the Bourbon era marked a turning point in Spanish and Spanish American history.

  2. Assess the degree to which the Bourbon effort at national reconstruction was successful.

  3. Explain why the Bourbon reforms heightened rather than reduced creole discontent with Spanish rule.

  4. Explain why the Bourbon era saw the largest scale popular revolts in colonial history.


The Independence of Latin America

The topic opens with a discussion of the background that set the stage for the Latin American revolutions and the events that immediately preceded them. These revolutions are compared to the North American Revolution. A survey of the revolutionary process in each of the four main centers follows, with attention to the leadership roles of the great liberators. The relatively peaceful nature of the Brazilian transition to independence and the initial social revolutionary character of the Mexican Revolution are stressed. The topic concludes with a summary of the major political, economic, and social changes resulting from the achievement of independence.

After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:


  1. Outline the causes of the Latin American wars of independence.

  2. Explain how and why the Latin American and North American struggles for independence differed.

  3. Describe the course of the struggle for independence in its four main centers.

  4. Discuss the main political, economic, and social consequences of the wars for independence.


Dictators and Revolutions

This topic opens with a general survey of the aftermath of the wars of independence, noting the failure of those wars to effect major changes in the colonial economic and social structures. The causes of the economic stagnation and political instability that characterized many nations after independence are explored. In describing the republican political system adopted by most of the new states, emphasis is placed on the gap between the system's theory and how it was put into practice. There follows an analysis of the Conservative-Liberal cleavage that dominated political life and its roots in the conflicting interests and ideals of various elite groups. The remainder of the topic examines the first half-century after independence and applies this analysis to the history of Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Cuba, the United Provinces of Central America, and Gran Colombia.

After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:



  1. Analyze the causes of the economic stagnation that afflicted many of the new states following independence.

  2. Describe the forms and the realities of the republican political system of most of the new states.

  3. Analyze the Conservative-Liberal cleavage and the political, socioeconomic, and ideological alignments it represented.

  4. Apply this analysis to the history of the states covered in this topic.


The Triumph of Neocolonialism

This opens with a description of the changing European economic climate that led to the rise of the neocolonial order in Latin America. This provides the background for a discussion of the characteristic economic and political features of that order: monoculture, expansion of the hacienda system, growing foreign control of the resources of the region, and the rise of a new Latin American politics of acquisition. The remainder of the topic shows how the rise of the neocolonial order was reflected in the history of Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Colombia from about 1870 to 1914.


After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:

  1. Define neocolonialism.

  2. Describe the economic foundations of the neocolonial order.

  3. Describe the political superstructure that arose on those foundations.

  4. Explain how neocolonialism influenced the history of Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Colombia from about 1870 to 1914.


Society and Culture in the Nineteenth Century

This topic opens by assessing the changes in social structure and relations as a result of independence and goes on to describe a gradual process of modernization or Europeanization of the daily life and attitudes of elites in the first half-century after independence. The discussion then turns to the relation between literary romanticism and the struggle for political and social reform in Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Brazil, with illustrative examples provided. In conclusion, note is made of the exhaustion of the romantic movement and the rise of new literary styles (such as modernism) linked to the changing political, economic, and cultural climate in the period from 1880 to 1910.

After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:


  1. Describe the changes in colonial society brought about by independence.

  2. Discuss the process of modernization and how it was reflected in daily life, social relations, and attitudes.

  3. Explain the relation between the romantic revolt in literature and contemporary political and economic struggles using illustrative examples.

  4. Explain the relation between literature and social change from 1880 to 1910 using illustrative examples.

The Mexican Revolution--and After

This opens by describing the atmosphere of political and social ferment on the eve of the revolution and the program of its first leader, Francisco Madero. Discussion then turns to Madero's inadequacy and overthrow, the significance of the Huerta dictatorship, the rise of the Constitutionalist movement, and the fall of Huerta. The growing cleavage between peasant and bourgeois revolutionaries, culminating in Carranza's ultimate triumph, is described. In the analysis of the program of the Obregón-Calles leadership that succeeded Carranza, the gap between rhetoric and practice is stressed. A similar analysis of the Cárdenas years-of what they achieved or failed to achieve-follows. Concluding the topic is a description of Mexico's rightward turn in 1940, its deepening in the post-1940 period, its political and cultural crisis in the 1960s, the transient oil boom of the 1970s, and the growing problems of Mexico's dependent capitalism since 1982, culminating in the Chiapas revolt and financial collapse of 1994-1995.

After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:


  1. Outline the major stages of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and describe the programs of the rival leaders and forces.

  2. Explain the politics and policies of the Reconstruction era (1920-1933) and assess their success or failure.

  3. Discuss Cárdenas's reform program (1934-1940) and assess its achievements and shortcomings.

  4. Explain the role that women played in the Revolution and its impact on their struggle for equality.

  5. Describe the major trends in Mexican politics and economics since 1940 and discuss their consequences.

Argentina: The Failure of Democracy

This topic opens with a survey of the role of the export sector in the traditional Argentine economy followed by an analysis of Argentine society. The topic goes on to discuss the policies of the Radical governments from 1916 to 1930, the collapse of the export economy as a result of the Great Depression, and the military seizure of power from 1930 to 1943. Perón's rise to power, his ideology and program, the growing influence of women, and the causes of his downfall in 1955 are then examined. Attention is next directed to the rise and fall of successive military and civilian regimes, the brief Perónist interlude, popular culture's role in shaping national identity, and the coming to power of a terrorist military regime whose economic and military failures led to its collapse and the restoration of democracy in 1983. The topic ends with an account of popular resistance to dictatorship, much of it led by women, the emergence of new civilian regimes, and the failure of their free-market policies to resolve the deepening Argentine economic crisis.


After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:

  1. Describe the role of exports in the traditional Argentine economy and their impact on Argentine politics and society.

  2. Discuss the rise of Perón, his ideology and program, and the significance of the Perón era in Argentine history.

  3. Explain the impact of market expansion on women and their role in the nation's political and economic life.

  4. Describe the role of the military in modern Argentina.

  5. Discuss the role of popular culture in shaping national identity and resistance to dictatorship.

  6. Describe the economic policies of recent Argentine governments and the consequences of these policies.

The Chilean Way


The topic opens with a discussion of the Parliamentary Republic and its growing foreign economic dependency, stressing the negative impact of the dominant export sector and a highly skewed agrarian structure on Chilean development and welfare. Chile's political history in the same period is then summarized, noting the emergence of populism, the growing influence of the women's rights struggle, the complex shifts of political alignments, and the failure of successive regimes to achieve economic and social reform. The topic concludes with an account of the Allende government's effort to achieve socialism by peaceful means in the period from 1970 to 1973, its overthrow by a military coup, the installation of an openly terrorist military dictatorship, popular struggles to restore democracy (resulting in a peculiarly limited form under conservative auspices), the role of popular culture in shaping the anti-dictatorial movement, and the essential continuity of economic and social policies under both military and democratic regimes


After students have read and studied this topic, they should be able to:

  1. Discuss and assess the role of the export sector in Chilean history.

  2. Explain the impact of 20th century market expansion on women and their struggle for equality.

  3. Describe the Chilean agrarian structure and its economic and social consequences.

  4. Explain the origins of Chilean populism and its development before World War II.

  5. Discuss the reasons for the decline of Chilean populism and the rise of democratic socialism.

  6. Describe Chile's socialist experiment and cite the reasons for its defeat.

  7. Explain the roles played by women and popular culture in resisting the Pinochet dictatorship.

  8. Discuss the impact of neoliberalism on various social classes and interest groups in Chile.


Republican Brazil

The topic opens with a description of the conditions that led to the decline and fall of the Old Republic, with a stress on the impact of global war, immigration, women's growing participation in the market economy, and the new social forces created by urbanization and industrial growth. Discussion then centers on the triumph of Brazilian populism, the policies of Vargas and their contradictions, his tactical shifts, and his decline that ended in suicide in 1954. Emphasis is laid on the changing nature of Brazilian national identity and the role of popular culture, especially as it was reflected in the samba. The period from 1954 to 1984 is described as a struggle between the forces of reform and reaction, ending with the installation of a brutal military dictatorship. After an assessment of the policies of the military dictatorship, the topic examines the broad social movement that challenged dictatorship, discusses the role of popular culture in its downfall, and concludes with discussion of the dictatorship's retreat from power, stressing themes like the restoration of democracy, the unsatisfactory record of the new civilian neoliberal regimes in dealing with Brazil's great economic and social problems, and the left's rising challenge to elite domination of Brazilian politics.


After students have read and studied the topic they should be able to:

  1. Describe the economic, social, and political conditions that led to the 1930 revolution.

  2. Explain how immigration and women's growing participation in the urban labor movement affected national development.

  3. Outline Vargas's program for Brazil, the main stages of his political career, and the causes of the crisis that ended with his suicide.

  4. Describe the impact of changing race relations on Brazilian national identity.

  5. Discuss the military coup of 1964, the program of the military dictatorship, and the military-led transition to democracy.

  6. Explain the role of popular culture in shaping Brazilian national identity and popular resistance to dictatorship.

  7. Describe the main economic and social problems facing Brazil today and assess the success or failure of the new democratic regimes in coping with them.

  8. Discuss Brazil's late 20th century experience with neoliberalism and its impact on various social classes and political interest groups.

Storm over the Andes: The Struggle for Land and Development

The topic opens with a survey of modern Bolivian politics, emphasizing the roles played by women, indigenous communities, workers, and middle-class activists. It describes the important reforms achieved by the 1952 revolution, the retreat from reform under U.S. pressure, the emergence of coca and cocaine production as a major prop of the Bolivian economy, and the recent rejuvenation of indigenous political activism. It continues with a review of the recent history of Ecuador, the scene of a continuing struggle among leftists, populists, and conservatives who favor neoliberal policies advocated by the United States. A survey of the 20th century history of Peru follows, with emphasis on the semifeudal agrarian structure of its neocolonial economy, based on the export of a few products (nitrates, copper, oil) and foreign loans. Attention is then directed toward the Peruvian Revolution of 1968, the respective roles of the military, women, indigenous peoples, workers, and a fledgling middle class. It shows how this revolution ultimately failed to solve Peru's problems of dependency and backwardness. In conclusion, it examines the failed modernizing effort of the García regime, the impact of the Fujimori government's neoliberal policies, and the growing popular opposition to neoliberalism.


After students have read and studied the topic, they should be able to:

  1. Explain the roles that women, indigenous communities, and mine workers played in shaping Bolivia's 20th century national development.

  2. Discuss the origins, objectives, and outcome of Bolivia's 1952 revolution.

  3. Describe Bolivia's experience with dictatorship and neoliberalism, culminating in the recent emergence of indigenous peoples as a significant political force.

  4. Describe common features of the modern histories of the three Andean republics of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

  5. Discuss the indigenous and agrarian problems in modern Peru and the evolution of Peruvian thought concerning those problems.

  6. Explain how class struggles affected the Peruvian women's movement for civil and political equality.

  7. Discuss the origins and program of the Peruvian Revolution of 1968 and assess its consequences.

  8. Describe major political trends and events in Peru since the conservative restoration of 1975 and outline the country's unsolved economic and social problems.

The Cuban Revolution

The topic opens with a discussion of the rise of a new revolutionary movement headed by José Martí, growing involvement on the part of the United States and the U.S. entrance into what became the Spanish-Cuban-American war, which was followed by the imposition of direct and indirect U.S. rule over the island. It also traces the evolving role of women and Afro-Cubans in the making of Cuban history. The Cuban Revolution of 1959, led by Fidel Castro, is shown to have its roots in older revolutionary traditions and discontent with the political, economic, and social consequences of U.S. rule. Its swift transformation into a socialist revolution is partly explained by U.S. hostility to its reform program. The topic then traces the trial-and-error process of the evolution of Cuba's economic and political system, including an assessment of its mixed economic record and social achievements. Concluding the topic is a discussion of Cuba's international role, the impact of perestroika, Cuba's efforts to overcome its economic crisis, and the prospects for improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States.
After students have read and studied the topic, they should be able to:

  1. Discuss the role played by the United States in Cuban history up until 1959.

  2. Describe the conditions that enabled the relatively swift victory of the Cuban Revolution.

  3. Suggest some of the reasons Cuba, ninety miles from Miami, became the first socialist state in the Americas.

  4. Describe the major changes in the Cuban economy and political system from 1959 to the present.

Revolution and Counterrevolution in Central America: Twilight of the Tyrants?

The topic opens with a discussion of the diverse conditions in each country that ultimately provoked revolts: a semifeudal order based on export monoculture, the large estate, peonage, personal or military dictatorship, and acceptance of U.S. hegemony. It then examines in detail the Guatemalan Revolution of 1944, which U.S. intervention crushed in 1954; the Nicaraguan Revolution that triumphed in 1979 and was aborted in the 1990s, largely due to U.S. intervention; and the Salvadoran Revolution, which endured ten years of warfare and another decade of political confrontation. The topic draws the conclusion that despite temporary checks or reversals, such as that in Guatemala in 1954 and the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1990, the movement for structural economic and social change in Central America appears irreversible.
After students have read and studied the topic, they should be able to:

  1. Describe common elements in the recent histories of Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

  2. Explain how Central America's development was affected by "liberal" reforms, the rise of a new export dependency, foreign control of key natural resources, and submission to U.S. political hegemony.

  3. Discuss the goals of the Guatemalan democratic revolution of 1944, the role played by the United States in its overthrow, and the long-range consequences of that event.

  4. Discuss the origins and program of the Sandinista Revolution, U.S. policy toward the revolution, and the results of that policy.

  5. Analyze the economic and social roots of the Salvadoran Revolution and explain how it survived a decade of massive U.S. financial and military support for the Salvadoran government and army.

  6. Describe the various roles that women, workers, and the Catholic Church played in the region's 20th century development?

Lands of Bolívar: Venezuela and Colombia in the Twentieth Century

The topic opens with a discussion of the events leading up to the seizure of power by Juan Vicente Gómez, whose dictatorship from 1908 to 1935 was marked by an explosive growth of the foreign-controlled oil industry. After Gómez's death in 1958, a Venezuelan model of representative democracy evolved toward hegemonic control of political life by two parties with broadly similar programs that today appears completely discredited. It is noted that under this regime Venezuelan poverty has not declined but increased, and that Venezuela is currently more economically dependent than it was in the time of Gómez. But the presidential election of December 1998, bringing to power a progressive military officer, Hugo Chávez, with a program of social reforms that included the use of the country's oil wealth to promote the general welfare, offered some prospect of a break with the dismal past.

The Colombia section of the topic first examines the "Conservative Republic" (1903-1930), which ended with the coming of the Great Depression and the election of the left-wing Liberal Alfonso López. In the election of 1946, the Conservative party was again triumphant, but

ensuing violence abated only after the National Front coalition provided for the sharing of power by the two parties from 1958 through 1974. It is noted that the coalition failed to effect lasting positive reforms and that it ushered in a crisis of Colombian society that continues even now. It was hoped that adoption of a new constitution in 1991 would allow for peaceful resolution of the country's great problems, but that constitution proved to be a mere façade for an arbitrary, corrupt political social order. The misrule of the country's governing class and the abuses of its military, frequently allied with drug-traffickers and rightist death squads against the peasantry and labor, contributed to the rise of a powerful Marxist-led guerrilla movement that today controls almost half of the national territory. As the century drew to a close, there was some prospect of a peaceful settlement of the long civil war, but these quickly faded with growing U.S. support for Plan Colombia, the militarization of the conflict, and the 2002 election of Alvaro Uribe.


After students have read and studied the topic, they should be able to:

  1. Compare the histories of Venezuela and Colombia, pointing out major similarities and differences.

  2. Discuss the impact of Juan Vicente Gómez's liberal economic policies and market expansion on Venezuelan social development.

  3. Explain how World War II and Venezuela's oil wealth affected national development.

  4. Describe Rómulo Betancourt's political and economic program for Venezuela and assess its effectiveness.

  5. Compare and contrast the policies associated with populism and neo-liberalism.

  6. Discuss the impact of the "Conservative Republic" on Colombia's national social and economic development.

  7. Explain the origins and significance of La Violencia in Colombian history.

  8. Discuss the complex issues involved in Colombia's drug and guerrilla wars and describe the role of the United States in those wars.

The Two Americas: United States-Latin American Relations

The topic opens with a description of the permanent long-term objectives of U.S.-Latin American policy. Discussion then turns to U.S. policy toward the Latin American independence movements, the significance of the Monroe Doctrine, U.S. westward expansion at the expense of Spain and then of Mexico, and growing U.S. interest in an isthmian canal and Caribbean markets. The topic points to the increasingly aggressive U.S.-Latin American policy in the last years of the nineteenth century, ultimately establishing the United States as an imperial power. The gradual shift to a less aggressive policy in the Roosevelt years is shown to have been largely a response to the threat to U.S. economic interests posed by growing anti-U.S. feeling in Latin America. Moreover, the goal of U.S. dominance over Latin America remained unchanged, as illustrated by repeated attempts to frustrate Latin American efforts to achieve economic independence after World War II. The topic goes on to note the tactics of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to combat the influence of the Cuban Revolution and the Nixon administration's use of subversion and economic sanctions to undermine the Chilean socialist experiment. The efforts of the Carter administration to negotiate settlements with Panama and Cuba are then described, followed by an account of the interventionist Latin American policy of the Reagan and Bush administrations. An analysis of Clinton's stand on economic policy toward Latin America, Cuba, Haiti, and other issues suggests that his Latin American policy is essentially "more of the same." The topic concludes with an examination of George W. Bush's recent militarization of U.S. foreign policy and its impact on Latin American peoples and governments.


After students have read and studied the topic, they should be able to:

  1. Explain the permanent long-term U.S. objectives in Latin America.

  2. Trace the steps by which the United States became an imperial power.

  3. Describe the origins of the Good Neighbor Policy and how it was applied.

  4. Discuss the influence of the cold war, the Cuban Revolution, and other major international developments on the Latin American policy of the United States from 1945 to 1991.

  5. Discuss recent innovations in U.S. policy in the region and their impact on the peoples of Latin America.

Latin American Society in Transition

The topic opens with an account of the "permanent Latin American crisis" created by the neoliberal policies of the "Washington Consensus" and growing regional opposition to it. The topic then examines the increasing number of grave economic problems in the area, with an emphasis on the growth of an unpayable foreign debt, "garbage imperialism," unequal terms of trade, and the imbalance between population and production of food staples. After a discussion of Argentina's recent experience with these problems, it surveys Latin American reactions to them and stresses popular efforts to resurrect state regulation of market activities to promote regional development. It then examines social problems, including poverty, substandard housing, health care, crime, and education. A discussion of changes in class structure and the relative weight of the various classes is followed by an examination of recent shifts in attitudes with respect to such issues as discrimination on the basis of race and sex. Note is made of the persistence of old prejudices and the cleavages between progressive and conservative forces within the church and the military. The topic concludes with an account of the flowering of scholarship, literature, and the arts in twentieth-century Latin America-a cultural awakening in which Latin American writers and artists tend to regard their work as a mirror of society and an instrument of social and political change.


After students have read and studied the topic, they should be able to:

  1. Outline the grave economic and social problems of Latin America (for example, food-production deficits and inadequate housing, education, and health care) and describe how explosive population growth and hyperurbanization have made those problems even more intractable.

  2. Describe recent changes in class structure and the relative weight of the various classes as a result of industrialization, urbanization, and the commercialization of agriculture.

  3. Discuss the change or lack of change in the status of women, racial attitudes, and the mentality of the church and the military.

  4. Describe the twentieth-century flowering of scholarship, literature, and the arts in Latin America and the interplay between Latin American culture and society.


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