Teaching Latin America and Caribbean Anthropology 2016

Update: On 26 December 2015 anthropologist Sidney Mintz passed away, just when I was pondering how I would use his Three Ancient Colonies for this course (see below). Teaching this course will become particularly poignant.


Teaching Latin America and Caribbean anthropology in a “Peoples and Cultures of […]” course is always a daunting task. Rather than try to cover material as if people live within the determining container of culture, the objective is to understand common themes and variations in processes occurring across the interconnected Americas. Some of these themes include:

  • The active role of indigenous peoples: these lands were not a blank slate or in a state of nature when Europeans arrived. Native projects and participation continue.
  • Colonial interactions and the legacy of colonialism.
  • Independence and attempts to create national identities against the backdrop of difference and inequality.
  • Migration and immigration.
  • The apparently paradoxical resurgence of local and place-based economies during globalization.

We will begin with the final and most recent theme of local economies in globalization. I’m excited to be able for the first time to teach our new co-authored book, Fast, Easy, and In Cash: Artisan Hardship and Hope in the Global EconomyTeaching Latin America - Fast, Easy, and In Cash. In some ways, this echoes my own experience studying and traveling to Latin America, becoming fascinated and intrigued with contemporary issues, and from there wanting to fill in the historical context.

Also connected to this theme and to that of migration and identity, it’s great news that Transnational Fiesta: Twenty years Later is now available for classroom use. I’ve been using the original Transnational Fiesta 1992 for many years. Film-maker Wilton Martinez is doing film screenings and receptions, so I’m hoping to bring him to Hartwick College in 2016.

For filling in the historical context, I turn to Matthew Restall’s Seven Myths of the Spanish ConquestTeaching Latin America - Seven Myths. Although I still wish Restall had more directly confronted the Jared Diamond version of the conquest–see Indigenous Allies & Politics of Empire–Restall’s insights remain revelatory regarding the Age of Conquest.

For insights into colonialism and the Caribbean, I use Sidney Mintz’s Three Ancient Colonies: Caribbean Themes and VariationsTeaching Latin America - Three Ancient Colonies. Mintz’s book is definitely in reflective mode, and it helps to underscore the power of combining anthropological fieldwork with historical studies, and the dedication of the researcher to the region and people. Three Ancient Colonies also underscores the critical importance of the Caribbean in the creation of the West and to the contemporary episodes of what we call globalization.

For this time teaching Latin America, the course concludes with Remapping Bolivia: Resources, Territory, and Indigeneity in a Plurinational StateTeaching Latin America - Remapping Bolivia. By using this collection of essays, edited by Nicole Fabricant and Bret Gustafson, I aim to explore what is one of South America’s most interesting and paradoxical countries. Another important aspect of this edited volume is that Fabricant and Gustafson have included the voices of Bolivian activists and scholars–a practice that I wish I had done more to follow in the rest of the course.

Remapping Bolivia is also a gateway to my proposed January Term course for 2017, Bolivia: Culture, Colonialism, and Modernity. That course will primarily be based in La Paz, Bolivia where students will have a three-week homestay with local families, coordinated by co-director Mansir Petrie.

The main textbook for the course is Harry Sanabria’s Anthropology of Latin America and the CaribbeanTeaching Latin America - Anthropology. After scouring for other options, it seems like the Sanabria textbook is really the only current option, making it a unique resource. So, even though it is becoming dated as a textbook, it remains an important resource. In summer 2015 I wrote a brief review of the textbook for a second edition that will hopefully be produced for the next time teaching Latin America and Caribbean Anthropology.


This post on Teaching Latin America & Caribbean Anthropology (January 2016) is the latest in a series that includes:

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