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I. General Education Review – Writing Course



Course # (i.e. ENEX 200)

HSTR 334

Course Title

Latin America: Reform and Revolution

II. Endorsement/Approvals
Complete the form and obtain signatures before submitting to Faculty Senate Office.

Please type / print name




Jody Pavilack


Phone / Email



Program Chair

John Eglin


Chris Comer

III. Type of request



One-time Only




Reason for new course, change or deletion

Existing Course Applying for Writing Course Designation

IV Overview of the Course Purpose/ Description: Provide an introduction to the subject matter and course content.

This discussion-based advanced elective asks students to engage with a variety of reformist and revolutionary ideologies, projects, and experiences that have strongly shaped Latin American history. Using different case studies, we explore a range of themes, including the interplay of race, class, gender, and other components of identity; the role of individuals in history; relations between leaders and masses; and different modes of state control and challenges to it. The course begins with a consideration of definitions and theories of reform and revolution and then looks at two late colonial experiences: Andean revolts of 1780s and the Haitian Revolution. The rest of the semester focuses on select twentieth century cases: the Mexican revolution, the Bolivian revolution and the Guatemalan “spring”, the Cuban revolution, the Chilean Popular Unity government, the Nicaraguan revolution, and Hugo Chávez’s so-called Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

The diverse course readings include both primary and secondary sources, and we will discuss the nature and value of different kinds of sources for the historian’s work. This course also emphasizes the importance of writing as a tool of intellectual inquiry and a vital mode of communication. Students will write a number of analytical essays, demonstrating the ability to find, evaluate, and use information effectively and the ability to synthesize concepts and to convey persuasive arguments in formal, discipline-appropriate prose. This is a designated Writing Course.

V Learning Outcomes: Explain how each of the following learning outcomes will be achieved.

Student learning outcomes :

Use writing to learn and synthesize new concepts

Each week students read a number of primary sources and/or scholarly studies related to a particular case of reform or revolution in Latin America. Students are challenged to make sense of the information, concepts, and historical significance presented in these readings in 2-4 pages essays. Essays will be posted on Moodle for all class members to read so that students may learn from each other.

Formulate and express written opinions and ideas that are developed, logical, and organized

Again, students craft 8 essays of 2-4 pages over the course of the semester; these essays are to be structured around an original thesis that is supported with evidence and analysis from our weekly readings. Required course reading includes a short guidebook on writing.

Compose written documents that are appropriate for a given audience, purpose and context

All essays are to be in formal prose that follows the standards of the discipline of history; they are to be written as though for publication in a scholarly journal, intended for generally educated readers who are not specialists in the field of Latin American history

Revise written work based on constructive comments from the instructor

Students are required to rewrite and expand one of their essays, based on written feedback from the professor and an individual consultation with her; the expansion of the essay should draw on new sources

Find, evaluate, and use information effectively and ethically (see http://www.lib.umt.edu/informationliteracy/)

Students draw on a variety of primary and secondary sources as well as classroom discussions to craft analytical essays.

Begin to use discipline-specific writing conventions

Students receive instruction on appropriate use of Chicago Manual of Style footnoting and other writing conventions in the discipline of history

Demonstrate appropriate English language usage

Students are assessed for appropriate use of standard, edited, English language writing skills and receive input on style, punctuation, and grammar in class and as part of paper-specific feedback.

VI. Writing Course Requirements

Enrollment is capped at 25 students.
If not, list maximum course enrollment. Explain how outcomes will be adequately met for this number of students. Justify the request for variance.


What instructional methods will be used to teach students to write for specific audiences, purposes, and genres?

Using handouts and class discussions, I teach students how to write short essays that offer original critical analysis of both primary and secondary sources. We also study published scholarly reviews, articles, and monographs, to understand how different authors achieve (or fail to achieve) their objectives in writing. Required reading includes a short guidebook on writing, which we will discuss in class.

Which written assignments will include revision in response to instructor’s feedback?

Students will select one of their critical essays to revise, expand, and resubmit.

VII. Writing Assignments: Please describe course assignments. Students should be required to individually compose at least 16 pages of writing for assessment. At least 50% of the course grade should be based on students’ performance on writing assignments. Clear expression, quality, and accuracy of content are considered an integral part of the grade on any writing assignment.

Formal Graded Assignments

Map Quiz, 50 pts, 5%

Essays (8@ 40 pts each), 400 pts, 40%

Revised Essay, 100 pts, 10%

Presentations (2 @ 50 pts each), 100 pts, 10%

Attendance & Participation, 150 pts, 15%

Final Exam, 200 pts, 20%

Informal Ungraded Assignments

VIII. Syllabus: Paste syllabus below or attach and send digital copy with form. 
For assistance on syllabus preparation see: http://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/syllabus.html

The syllabus must include the following:

1. Writing outcomes

2. Information literacy expectations

3. Detailed requirements for all writing assignments or append writing assignment instructions

HIST 334.01, Reform and Revolution in Latin America

The University of Montana, Spring 2011

T, Th, 2:10-3:30 pm; LA 244

Professor Jody Pavilack

office: LA 265; phone: 243-2234

jodypav@gmail.com (preferred)


office hrs: Tu, Th, 12:40-1:40,

and by appointment

Fidel Castro and U.S. VP Richard Nixon

meeting in Washington, D.C., April 1959

Reformist and revolutionary ideologies, projects, and experiences have strongly shaped modern Latin America. They encompass diverse aspects of life—economic, political, social and cultural—at both individual and collective levels. By using different reformist and revolutionary projects as a connecting thread, this course explores a wide range of themes, such as the interplay of race, class, gender, and other components of identity; the role of individuals in history; relations between leaders and masses; and different modes of state control and challenges to it. The course begins with a consideration of definitions and theories of reform and revolution and then looks at two late colonial experiences: Andean revolts of 1780s and the Haitian Revolution. The rest of the semester focuses on select twentieth century cases: the Mexican revolution, the Bolivian revolution and the Guatemalan “spring”, the Cuban revolution, the Chilean Popular Unity government, the Nicaraguan revolution, and Hugo Chávez’s so-called Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

The diverse course readings include both primary and secondary sources, and we will discuss the nature and value of different kinds of sources for the historian’s work. This course also emphasizes the importance of writing as a tool of intellectual inquiry and a vital mode of communication. Students will write a number of analytical essays, demonstrating the ability to find, evaluate, and use information effectively and the ability to synthesize concepts and to convey persuasive arguments in formal, discipline appropriate prose.

Prior knowledge of Latin American history is not required for this course, but students without sufficient background may need to do supplementary reading. Students who successfully complete this course will gain basic knowledge about select people, places, events, and dynamics in Latin American history and about relevant theoretical concepts. Students will also improve their critical thinking skills by working through historical questions and problems in readings, group discussions, and weekly essays. Students’ writing skills will improve through weekly thesis-driven short essays, one of which will be selected for a substantial revision, expansion, and resubmission, based on instructor feedback.

Required reading for this course averages about 100 pages per week. Required writing (not including exams) is between 20-24 pages.


Map Quiz (Tu, 2/22)

50 pts


Final (W, 5/11)

200 pts


Essays (8 @ 50 pts each)

400 pts


2 Presentations & Discussions (50 pts each)

100 pts


Revised & Expanded Essay

100 pts


Attendance + Participation

150 pts



1000 pts


GRADING SCALE (final grades converted from 1000 points possible):
























61 & lower


It is essential for success in this course that you demonstrate ongoing, active engagement with the themes and questions raised in the reading, lectures, discussions, and films. Participation takes a number of different forms. I will assess the frequency and quality of your contributions in class discussions and group activities. I may also assign projects to do outside of class, which will be evaluated as part of your participation grade. This is a subjective assessment on my part, worth up to 100 points.

To keep track of attendance, at the beginning of each class, I will pass around a sheet to be signed. It is your responsibility to make sure you sign the sheet. If your name is not on it, I will assume you were not there. Excused absences require either official documentation or prior approval by me. One unexcused absence is allowed with no penalty. After that, each absence will be 7 points off the 100 points given for attendance. Missing class will also affect my subjective assessment of your overall participation.

On two class periods over the course of the semester, you are invited to give a short background presentation and overview of the reading and to open our discussion of it. You may or may not be working with a partner on these days. The presentations should be a maximum of 20 minutes long. Also, you should provide written handout(s) to accompany the presentation. Each is worth up to 50 points. A separate handout will be provided.


For any 8 of the 13 weeks in this course, you are invited to submit a short written essay (2-4 pp.) based on that week’s reading. Each essay is worth up to 50 points for a total of 400/1000. You can skip this written exercise for any 5 weeks you choose, but you are still responsible to do the reading for those weeks and to come to class prepared to discuss it. Separate handouts on essay writing will be provided.

By no later than the 23st class period, on April 19, you need to have selected one of your essays to revise and expand for resubmission. In addition to my written feedback on the original essay, every student will meet with me individually that week to discuss the revision, including additional sources that might be consulted. The revised essay, of 4-6 pages, must be submitted by the last day of regular class, May 5.
MAP QUIZ & EXAM. Separate handouts and/or class discussions will be provided.

Hylton, Forrest & Sinclair Thomson. Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics (Verso, 2007).

Kampwirth, Karen. Women & Guerrilla Movements: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas, Cuba (Penn State UP, 2002).
Trimble, John R. Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, 2nd edition (Prentice Hall, 2000).
Winn, Peter. Weavers of Revolution: The Yarur Workers and Chile’s Road to Socialism (Oxford UP, 1986).
Wright, Thomas C. Latin America in the Era of the Cuban Revolution, revised edition (Praeger Publishers, 2001).

On e-reserves; password is HSTR334. Please download the readings well in advance of their due date. A separate bibliography of these readings will be provided.


  • All students must practice academic honesty. Academic misconduct is subject to an academic penalty by the course instructor and/or a disciplinary sanction by the University. See the Student Conduct Code: http://www.umt.edu/SA/VPSA/index.cfm/page/1321

  • VERY IMPORTANT: Keep all of your graded written work until the end of the semester (essays, projects, exams)!

  • Get and use a umontana email account. Or, CIS will help you forward your umontana email to another program you prefer to use. I may send out group or individual messages during the semester with changes or information for which you are responsible.

  • No late assignments or make-up work will be accepted without prior approval from me or appropriate university documentation.

  • If you have a disability that may require modifications in this course, please meet with Disability Services for Students in Lommasson 154 for assistance in developing a plan. Then, meet with me to discuss reasonable modifications that will help you get the most out of the class. For more information, visit the Disability Services website at http://www.umt.edu/disability.

  • Notify me of any relevant disabilities or athletic or other commitments as early as possible. Have appropriate documentation and arrange a meeting with me to discuss how I can accommodate your needs to help you get the most out of the class.

  • This course involves a considerable amount of formal writing. Excellent assistance may be found at the University Writing Center [LA 144; 243-2266; growl@mso.umt.edu; www.umt.edu/writingcenter]

1) Tu, 1/25: Course Introduction

RDG: Syllabus & Course Documents
2) Th, 1/27: Revolutionary Theory, Theories of Revolution

RDG: Friedland, Introduction & Ch. 1, Revolutionary Theory, pp. ix-xiv, 1-14. [18 pp.]

DeFronzo, James, “Intro” & Ch. 1, “Social Movements,” pp. 1-31. [30 pp.]

3) Tu, 2/1: Andean Revolts 1: Tupac Amaru II Reformist Movement

RDG: Flores Galindo & de Areche, “Rebellion of Tupac Amaru,” pp. 147-161. [8 pp.]

Brown, Ch. 11, “Rebellion in the Andes,” pp. 339-50. [12 pp.]

Walker, Charles F., “Introduction,” pp. xxiii-xxxv. [13 pp.]

Stavig & Schmidt, eds., sample documents, v-xxii, 2-3, 20-24, 30-37, 40. [20 pp.]

4) Th, 2/3: Andean Revolts 2: Bolivia and the Catarista Revolution

RDG: Hylton & Thomson, Revolutionary Horizons, pp. xiii-46. [55 pp.]
5) Tu, 2/8: From the St. Domingue Rebellion to the Haitian Revolution

RDG: Brown, Ch. 13, “The Haitian Social Revolution,” pp. 387-405. [18 pp.]

Dubois, “Prologue,” pp. 1-7. [6 pp.]

Trouillot, “An Unthinkable History,” pp. 70-107. [37 pp.]

Peguero, “Teaching the Haitian Revolution,” pp. 33-41. [9 pp.]

6) Th, 2/10: The Mexican Revolution 1: Ricardo Flores Magón

RDG: Verter, “Biographical Sketch,” pp. 26-107. [82 pp.]

Flores Magon, Land and Liberty, Part 2, pp. 38-47, 55-65, 93-96, 106-109, 115-119. [32 pp.]

Clayton & Conniff, “Early Revolutionaries,” pp. 282-292. [10 pp.]
7) Tu, 2/15: The Mexican Revolution 2: Emiliano Zapata and the Southern Agrarians

RDG: Burns & Charlip, “The Mexican Explosion,” (first half), pp. 179-198. [19 pp.]

Womack, Zapata, pp. ix-xi, 3-128. [130 pp.] [nb: in two parts on e-res]

8) Th, 2/17: The Mexican Revolution: Pancho Villa and Jack Reed

RDG: Reed, Insurgent Mexico, pp. 9-35, 91-115, 119-45, 171-83. [88 pp.]
9) Tu, 2/22: The Mexican Revolution: Consolidation, Cárdenas, and Beyond

RDG: Burns & Charlip, “The Mexican Explosion,” (second half), pp. 199-206. [8 pp.]

Meyer, “The Revolution…Constructive Phase, 1920-40,” pp. 499-551. [52 pp.]

Knight, “Cardenismo,” pp. 73-107. [34 pp.]



10) Th, 2/24: The 1952 Bolivian Revolution in Context: Bolivia, 1826-1984

RDG: Hylton & Thomson, Revolutionary Horizons, pp. 47-91. [45 pp.]

Grindle, “1952 and All That,” pp. 1-24. [23 pp.]

11) Tu, 3/1: The Guatemalan Spring and Operation Success

RDG: Skidmore & Smith, “Guatemala: Reaction and Repression,” pp. 337-343. [6 pp.]

Schlesinger & Kinzer, Bitter Fruit, pp. xi-63. [76 pp.]

Gleijeses, “Conclusion” to Shattered Hope, pp. 361-94. [33 pp.]

12) Th, 3/3: Bolivia and Guatemala Compared

RDG: Lehman, “Revolutions and Attributions,” pp. 185-213. [28 pp.]

Blasier, “The Hovering Giant,” pp. 135-148. [13 pp.]

Zunes, “The US & Bolivia,” pp. 33-49. [17 pp.]
13) Tu, 3/8: The Cuban Revolution: Marti, Castro, Matthews (1950s)

RDG: DeFronzo, “The Cuban Revolution” (1st part), pp. 189-206. [18 pp.]

Wright, “Introduction” & Ch. 1, “Fidel Castro’s Road to Power,” pp. xi-19. [23 pp.]

Marti, “Our America,” pp. 182-185. [ 3 pp.]

Castro, “History Will Absolve Me,” in Keen, Latin American Roads, pp. 403-09. [nb: reading of this chapter in Keen is broken up over several classes]

Matthews, “Castro in the Sierra Maestra,” pp. 213-224. [11 pp.]

REC: http://www.nytimes.com/ref/world/americas/CASTRO_ARCHIVE.html

14) Th, 3/10: The Cuban Revolution: 1960s and Beyond

RDG: DeFronzo, “The Cuban Revolution” (2nd part), pp. 206-212. [7 pp.]

Wright, Ch. 2, “Cuba: The Making of a Revolution,” pp. 21-38. [18 pp.]

Castro, “Second Declaration of Havana,” pp. xi-xvii, 93-117. [30 pp.]

Keen, ed. “The Cuban Educational Achievement” & “Women’s Liberation,” in Latin American Roads, pp. 409-20.

REC: Luxenberg, “Did Eisenhower Push Castro?,” pp. 159-173. [14 pp.]

15) Tu, 3/15: The Cuban Revolution in Latin America: US Responses

RDG: DeFronzo, “The Cuban Revolution” (3rd part), pp. 212-219. [8 pp.]

Wright, Ch. 3, “Fidelismo and the Radicalization” & Ch. 4, “U.S. Responses to Revolution,” pp. 21-72. [33 pp.]

Kennedy, “The Lesson of Cuba,” pp. 323-25. [3 pp.]

Keen, ed., Latin American Roads to Socialism, pp. 394-403.

16) Th, 3/17: Guerrilla Warfare & Gendered Perspectives

RDG: Wright, Ch. 5, “Rural Guerrilla Warfare” & Ch. 6, “Urban Guerrilla Warfare,” pp. 73-109. [37 pp.]

Guevara, “General Principles” & OLAS Conference, pp. 250-55. [6 pp.]

Kampwirth, “Introduction,” pp. 1-20. [20 pp.]

Besse, “Engendering Reform and Revolution,” pp. 568-85. [17 pp.]

17) Tu, 3/22: New Leftist Tides: Popular Education and Liberation Theology

RDG: Berryman, Liberation Theology, pp. 1-44, 63-79. [60 pp.]

Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, pp. 29-34, 71-86. [20 pp.]

18) Th, 3/24: The Chilean Popular Unity Experience, 1

RDG: Wright, Ch. 8, “Chile under Allende,” pp. 129-47. [19 pp.]

Winn, Weavers of Revolution, pp. 1-52. [68 pp.]

19) Tu, 3/29: The Chilean Popular Unity Experience, 2

RDG: Winn, Weavers of Revolution, pp. 53-136. [83 pp.]

20) Th, 3/31: The Chilean Popular Unity Experience, 3

RDG: Winn, Weavers of Revolution, pp. 139-181. [42 pp.]
[Tu, 4/5 & Th, 4/7: Spring Break]
21) Tu, 4/12: The Chilean Popular Unity Experience, 4

RDG: Winn, Weavers of Revolution, pp. 182-256. [74 pp.]

Loveman, Chile, pp. 333-357 (esp. 347-48). [24 pp.]

REC: Winn, “’No Miracle for Us’,” pp. 125-163.

22) Th, 4/14: The Nicaraguan Revolution

RDG: DeFronzo, “Revolution in Nicaragua,” pp. 233-274. [41 pp.]

Wright, Ch. 10, “The Nicaraguan Revolution,” pp. 165-85. [20 pp.]

Kampwirth, Ch. 1, “New Roles for Sandino’s Daughters,” pp. 21-44. [23 pp.]

Keen, “Central America,” pp. 437-49. [12 pp.]

Clayton & Conniff, “Augusto Sandino,” pp. 295-98. [3 pp.]
23) Tu, 4/19: Overview from 1990s-Present

RDG: Wright, Ch. 11, “Transitions of the 1990s,” pp. 187-206. [20 pp.]

DeFronzo, “The Cuban Revolution” (4th part), pp. 219-227. [9 pp.]

Keen, “Cuba Under the Hammer,” pp.. 420-32. [12 pp.]

Shifter, “A New Politics for Latin America?,” pp. 14-17. [4 pp.]

Castañeda, “Latin America’s Left Turn,” pp. 28-43. [15 pp.]

Castañeda, “The Left Turn Continues,” pp. 201-210. [9 pp.]

Burns & Charlip, “Neoliberalism and its Discontents,” pp. 288-291, & “Latin America Swings Left,” pp. 296-309. [16 pp.]

Betto, “Neoliberalism,” in Keen, pp. 450-454. [4 pp.]


** Must choose essay by this date and schedule appointment with me; sign up sheet on my door.
24) Th, 4/21: The Zapatistas

RDG: Harvey, “Inclusion through Autonomy: Zapatistas & Dissent,” pp. 12-17. [6 pp.]

Carrigan, “Chiapas,” pp. 417-451. [34 pp.]

Kampwirth, “Also a Women’s Rebellion,” pp. 83-116. [33 pp.]

Subcomandante Marcos, Selections from Our Word Is Our Weapon [38 pp.]:

Part I (declarations), pp. 13-17, 43-51, 115-23

Part II (fiction), pp. 289-93, 346-55

25) Tu, 4/26: The Bolivarian Revolution of Hugo Chávez

RDG: Hellinger, “Political Overview,” pp. 27-53. [28 pp.]

Ellner, “Revolutionary and Non-Revolutionary Paths,” pp. 160-90. [32 pp.]

26) Th, 4/28: Lula and the PT in Brazil

RDG: Branford and Kucinski, Lula and the Workers Party in Brazil, pp. vii-60. [65 pp.]

French, “Many Lefts, One Path? Chávez and Lula,” pp. 41-60. [20 pp.]

REC: Ellner, “Leftist Goals and the Debate,” pp. 10-32. [24 pp.]

27) Tu, 5/3: A 21st Century Revolution in Bolivia?

RDG: Hylton & Thomson, Revolutionary Horizons, pp. 95-154. [60 pp.]

28) Th, 5/5: Review

RDG: DeFronzo, “Conclusions,” pp. 409-416. [7 pp.]

Kampwirth, Ch. 4, “Rethinking Women and Guerrilla Movements,” pp. 117-136.

** Final revised essay due.
FINAL EXAM: Wed, May 11, 1:10-3:10 pm

Foro Social Mundial, Porto Alegre, 1991

Essay Topics, Styles, and Theses:

Your essays are to be formal, academic pieces of writing, based on close analysis of the readings assigned for that week (Thurs & Tues). Craft your essay to make 1 or 2 clear, strong points, supported with evidence from the reading. Up front your essays should pose an interesting historic problem, question, or argument, which you then work through with evidence from the reading. Try to persuade your readers of the rightness of your position, not just because you say so, but because you can prove this to us. In other words, all of your essays should have a clear, strong thesis statement and be supported by analysis and evidence.

What is a thesis? In the words of writing expert John Trimble, “It’s a viewpoint, a contention. A good thesis, [he] would argue, is above all arguable—that is, not everyone will agree with it. . . Whatever your position, it should involve some conviction, preferably bold, that even skeptics will approach with curiosity. . . Remember: Your thesis is not your subject. It’s your take on your subject” (Trimble, 21).

If you are having trouble with your writing, please see me and/or visit the Writing Center. (LA 144; 243-2266; growl@mso.umt.edu; http://www.umt.edu/writingcenter/).


To receive credit, your essays must:

  1. Be double-spaced, typed, and about 2-4 pages. 2 is the absolute minimum for credit.

  1. Have a page number on all pages after the first. (Number on first page is optional).

  1. Have a creative title that catches your readers’ attention, together with a subtitle that tells your readers more specifically what the essay will be about (who, what, where, when, or whichever of these factors is important for us to know).

  1. Have a clearly worded thesis statement or question somewhere near the beginning of the essay. Make sure the essay stays focused on this key angle or argument.

  1. Be broken into paragraphs, each with a clear theme that relates to your overall argument.

  1. Include a minimum of 2 citations to the reading for the week, with page numbers. This includes both paraphrased ideas and direct quotes. You may also cite any sources beyond the material for this course, but such references must be in addition to, not a substitution for, the minimum 2 citations to the week’s reading. If you cite lecture notes, give the date.

  1. Indicate your sources with the page numbers in the text, either with footnotes or MLA style citation – (Marti, 360). Only if you add something from a source not on the syllabus do you need to give full citation information.

  1. Give an appropriate introduction to your sources in the body of your text, especially when you quote from them. (eg. “According to historian John French, “. . .”)

  1. Follow all additional rules and guidelines presented in class discussions, handouts, or supplementary readings.

  1. Be carefully edited and proofread. Misspellings, typographical errors, and excessive grammatical or stylistic errors will result in a 0.

Key To My Comments

awk = awkward

gram = grammatical problem

sp = spelling problem

? = unclear OR “I (the reader) am skeptical”

really? = I’m definitely skeptical

uncl = unclear

vtc = verb tense consistency

shld = should; cld = could

rw = rewrite

ro sent = run-on sentence

nice = nice

np = nicely put

¢ = paragraph (sometimes this means you need to put in a paragraph break)

President Hugo Chávez, Caracas Venezuela, circa 2003

The assignment is to produce concise, formal pieces of writing.

First, the presentation must be typed, with a title & subtitle, your name, and page numbers.

Second, do not assume that your reader knows the assignment you were given or even that the reader is familiar with the particular authors or subjects you are discussing. Do NOT write “In our reading for today, Marti discusses . .,” but rather, “In his essay Our America, Cuban intellectual José Marti discusses. . .”

Third, use the first person singular with discretion. Rarely is it appropriate or effective to begin a sentence with “I think that,” “I feel that,” or “It seems to me that. . .” This essay is written by you, the author, so, of course, it expresses your understandings, interpretations, and thoughts about a given subject (based on your reading about it). You don’t need to constantly tell us that it’s your thought we’re dealing with [nb: the “we” here is an unspecified, anonymous readership].

Your title should be “catchy”, original (ie. not “The Cuban Revolution”). Together with the subtitle, it should both tell your readers something about your central statement and also entice us to want to read further. It should tell us the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN of the subject. See attached exercise.


Angle, question, problem, hypothesis, key statement, thread.

What is it the one main idea that you really want to convey to your readers in this piece of writing? Do NOT write this, but think it: “I want to tell you that. . .” Then, whatever comes next to mind is probably close to a good first sentence.

Again, as Trimble explains, a thesis is “a viewpoint, a contention. A good thesis . . . is above all arguable—that is, not everyone will agree with it. . . Whatever your position, it should involve some conviction, preferably bold, that even skeptics will approach with curiosity. . . Remember: Your thesis is not your subject. It’s your take on your subject” (Trimble, 21).


Writing about history rarely involves explicit exposition of the author’s own general views on politics, morality, human nature, or the like; nor are the author’s own personal experiences very often relevant, especially when writing about Colonial Latin America. In other words, if your topic is domestic violence in 18th century Peru, your own thoughts or feelings about domestic violence in 21st century Montana will (usually) not contribute to the clarity and persuasiveness of the essay. Use speculation (especially of the wild variety) with discretion. Creativity in your writing is excellent, but to think and write as an historian, make sure your narratives and analyses derive as much as possible directly from historical evidence. In other words, be careful not to assert opinions or make declarations for which you do not provide a clear line of argument or reasoning based on the evidence in the reading, lectures, or other serious sources.

Consider, for example, the following statement: “The Aztec Indians were probably great warriors because they had a lot of family conflicts that made them aggressive.” This might very well be true, and if so, it is a fascinating thesis. But, the author will have to flesh out specifically how this claim derives from known evidence. Do certain hieroglyphics or later writings by participants or eye-witnesses indicate that frequent inner-family feuds contributed to Aztec successes on the battlefield? Or perhaps some archeological finds support this idea? Just make sure you clearly tell your readers what your sources are and what ways of reading those sources have led you to your arguments and interpretations.

You must use an accepted citation format (Chicago Manual of Style or MLA are preferred). Whichever format you use, be consistent and make sure you have the order of items and all punctuation correct. In MLA format, quotation marks go before the cite and period goes after:

. . . for the triumph of justice” (Chasteen & Tulchin, 32).

VERY IMPORTANT: With few exceptions, all quotes (and/or the person making it) should be introduced: As historian Alfred Crosby explained, “The psychological effect of epidemic disease is enormous” (Crosby, 56).


  • In general, go with short, clear, straight-forward sentences (only jazz up when it really seems appropriate and works well).

  • Try to avoid passive verbs in favor of active verbs:

Francisco de Toledo was chosen as the new Viceroy of Peru.


The Spanish Crown chose Francisco de Toledo as the new Viceroy of Peru.

  • Try to avoid unnecessary phrases whenever possible (In fact; Indeed; However; etc.)

  • Watch for repetition of the same words and phrases (“It was the case that. . . It was also the case that. . .”)

  • Be wary of long introductory clauses and excess verbage (ie. words and phrases that don’t tell us much). Try to make your point as directly and clearly as possible.

It should be stated, however, that it seems like the appearance of a conflict was true.”


A conflict was brewing.

  • And, a big pet-peeve of mine—VERB TENSE CONSISTENCY: In general, for events that occurred in the past, use the past tense. Occasionally, as in a creative, narrative section, you might deliberately choose to use the present tense, but make sure this style works in the piece. And, whatever you do, be consistent; do not shift back and forth from past to present to past.

  • Also, watch for noun—pronoun consistency:

    • WRONG: When someone yells loud enough, their voice is always heard.

    • RIGHT: When someone yells loud enough, his or her voice is always heard.

    • Explanation: “someone” is single, so the pronoun also must be single; “their” is plural.

Exercise on Paper Titles and Subtitles
Spend a few minutes reading through the following paper titles (some with subtitles; some without). Assign each title a “grade” from 1 to 5, with 1 being the best and 5 the worst. Jot down a few words to indicate the basis of your assessment (eg. “too vague”; “too boring”; “very precise”; “very creative”).

In evaluating the titles, keep two basic criteria in mind: Does the title (with or without subtitle) catch your attention, intrigue you as a reader? Does it give you a fairly clear idea of what the essay will be about?

_______ Are the Spanish Conquistadors Absolved of Responsibility? The Implications of Alfred Crosby’s Work on the Impact of Disease in the Decimation of New World Indians
_______ Creole Discontent: How the Bourbon Reforms Set the Stage for Latin America’s Battles for Independence in the Early Nineteenth Century
_______ Moon, Sun, and Witches: Gender Ideologies and Class in Inca and Colonial Peru
_______ Latin American Discontent with Cold War Crazy America
_______ Tupac Amaru II as a Populist?: Explaining His Appeal in Late 18th Century Peru
_______ The Significance of the Bourbon Reforms
_______ Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America
_______ A Time For Change: A Look at the Cold War in Latin America and the U.S. Intervention In Guatemala
_______ José Martí: To Abhor or Adore?
_______ Feminism Under the Spanish Inquisition: The Battles of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in 17th Century Mexico
_______ Fire, Brimstone. . . and Politics?: A Look at the Role of the Catholic Church in Latin America from Columbus to Castro
_______ The Stolen Season: Reasons for American Intervention in Guatemala in 1954
_______ Propaganda or Journalism?: John Reed’s Account of Riding With Pancho Villa’s Troops

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