I have two principal, related goals in the classroom, no matter the subject or size of the course: first, to expand and enhance my students’ understanding of the world at large by teaching them about the history of Latin America, and second, to help them to build analytical and critical thinking skills through reading, research, writing and discussion about Latin American history.

Selected list of courses


Student maps of the history of drug trafficking across the Americas, spring 2017 (shared with permission).

History of Drugs in Latin America (intermediate undergraduate course)

Since 2006, a horrifically violent conflict has been raging between drug trafficking organizations and the Mexican state, in which an estimated 200,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands more have disappeared. One of the objectives of this course is to provide students with global and historical context that will enable them to better understand this conflict and other, related conflicts elsewhere in Latin America. This course examines the history of drugs and drug trafficking in Latin America from the colonial era to the present, by considering social, political and economic trends over time. National, regional and international factors are studied in tandem, in order to provide students with a better understanding of how and why some Latin American nations became centers of drug production and global drug trafficking, as well as ground zero for so-called “wars” on drugs. The course also includes an examination of the particular role of the United States in driving the demand for drugs from Latin America, and of the effects of US governmental efforts to combat drug production and trafficking in the region. 

EZLN mural, Chiapas, Mexico, 1999. (Photo: S. Osten)

Modern Mexico (intermediate undergraduate course)

In 1910, the Mexican Revolution was sparked in part by Francisco I. Madero’s rebellion against the dictator Porfirio Díaz. Over eighty years later, in 1994, an indigenous rebel group in the south of Mexico invoked the legacy of that same Revolution as one of the justifications for their rebellion against the Mexican government. This course traces the origins of the Mexican Revolution from the late 19th century, through recent years, in which the memory of the Revolution continues to echo powerfully in Mexico. What caused the Mexican Revolution? What did the memory of the Mexican Revolution mean to different people at different times in Mexico? How did the Revolution shape Mexico as we know it today? Throughout the course, we will examine social, economic, and cultural factors within modern Mexican political development over the past 150 years. This will include examinations of the ways in which women and indigenous peoples fought for political and social rights in post-revolutionary Mexico. We will also take into account the international context for major events in Mexican history, and Mexico’s relationships to the rest of Latin America, the United States, and the world. 

Catalina Sánchez testifies during the genocide trial of former Guatemalan military dictator Rios Montt in 2013. (Photo: Elena Hermosa/Wikimedia Commons)

Latin American Indigenous History (intermediate undergraduate course)

This course examines indigenous cultures and societies across Latin America in the colonial, national and modern periods (roughly 1500-present). It also considers the broader social, cultural and political trends throughout Latin America, focusing on the impact that those trends had on indigenous communities in Mexico, the Andes, and beyond. On the one hand, we will compare the variations between the experiences of different indigenous groups across the larger region, and on the other we will consider change over time, up to the present day. Particular attention will be paid to questions of gender, class, race and ethnic identity, human rights, and the lived experiences within indigenous communities of social and political changes over the course of the period in question. In this course, students will become familiarized with various indigenous societies and cultures in Latin America over the past five hundred years. In the process, they will learn to apply historical methods to studying cultural change, adaptation and conflict in the past, and to apply historical knowledge and methods to analyzing and historicizing current events. 

Photos of disappeared people at an illegal detention center in Rosario, Argentina, 2006. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Latin American Authoritarianism (first year Honors College seminar)

In the United States, Latin America is often associated with authoritarianism, corruption and human rights violations. This course invites students to consider why this is, and the local, regional and global factors that have historically contributed to the rise of authoritarian regimes in the region, as well as their undoing during periods of democratization. In the process, we will study the particular impact of different kinds of authoritarianism, both left and right, on particular populations that were targeted by these regimes, including indigenous people, women, LGBTQ people, and young people in general.  This is therefore also a course about long-term struggles in Latin America for human rights in addition to political freedom and civil rights.

"Forgetting is prohibited." Mexico City, 2012. (Photo: S. Osten)

Latin America: History and Memory (advanced undergraduate/graduate seminar)

This seminar covers the history of several Latin American nations in the 20th century, through the lens of firsthand accounts, as told in memoirs, autobiographies and testimonials. Through the words of a Sandinista poet in Nicaragua, a dissident writer in Cuba, a former child soldier in Peru, a journalist in Mexico and a K’iche’ Maya activist in Guatemala, we will explore the recent histories of five countries, and consider the larger historical contexts in which these texts were produced. Throughout the course, we will also consider the particular perspectives of each of the authors, in terms of their political ideologies, gender and/or cultural and/or ethnic and/or class identities, and above all, their motivations for writing (both stated and unstated). This seminar will also explore the theoretical and methodological issues raised by this particular type of historical source/literary genre. Throughout the course, we will discuss the questions of historical sources and research that are raised by these books. What is the difference between secondary and primary historical sources, and where do we draw the line? How do we productively analyze works that blur the lines between literature and primary document? How do we handle the bias that is intrinsic to firsthand accounts of historical events? How do we best utilize these potentially invaluable sources, while maintaining awareness and transparency as to their inevitable flaws as historical documents? What methods and strategies should we employ in reading and analyzing memoirs as historical sources?