The History of Race in Latin America

Dr. Kathryn Burns – spring ‘02

Dr. Burns’s office:
Hamilton Hall 468
Office hours Wed. 1-3 p.m., or by appointment


Our class:
Graham Memorial Hall, room 212
Thursday, 3:30-6:10 p.m.

Introduction and Requirements

Weekly Schedule

This honors seminar starts with the proposition that race has a history, and that the historical experience of the peoples of Latin America is crucial to understanding the ways we use "race" today. Our goal during the first part of the course will be to examine how and why ideologies of difference involving purity and blood (and "purity of blood," pureza de sangre) took hold and changed, from the Caribbean cultural collisions of 1492 to the nineteenth-century breakup of Iberian colonialism. What kinds of categories and power relations took shape around such notions, and what effects did they have in people’s lives? What did it mean to be "mestiza," "criollo," etc.? We’ll go on to examine the late nineteenth-century rise of científicos (scientists: read "Positivists") and intertwining ideologies of race and nation, paying special attention to Guatemala and Brazil. As we go we’ll keep track of other criteria of difference—by gender, class or social "estate," ethnicity—also used to draw distinctions and create hierarchy.

Texts to purchase at UNC Bookstore:
History 46H coursepack
John Chasteen, Born in Blood and Fire
João Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil
Greg Grandin, The Blood of Guatemala
Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, The Spectacle of the Races
Ernesto Guevara, Motorcycle Diaries

Course requirements and evaluation:
Doing the reading well is key: expect to spend 3 or more hours per week reading & preparing for class. We only meet as a group 14 times, and cover a lot of ground each time, so I expect you to come fully prepared unless there’s a serious emergency. (If you must miss a class, please be in touch with me as early as possible. Unexcused absence will affect your course grade.) All readings and written work must be completed on time; late assignments will only be accepted under unusual circumstances.

Each week two students will act as co-discussants. This means briefly introducing the readings to the group, highlighting key issues, drawing connections to things we’ve discussed previously, and raising questions to open our discussion. When it’s your turn to serve as a discussant, please make every effort to meet with me the day before class.

You’ll write short analyses (SAs) of our readings throughout the semester, each about 600-800 words, due by email to me & the discussants by 10:00 a.m. the day before class. This will clarify your thoughts for discussion, and enable me to advise you on writing as you work up the final paper project. The final paper provides the opportunity to focus on a topic that especially interests you. (Possible topics, research methods and expectations, etc., will be discussed after the first weeks of class and posted to our website.) Each student will work up & present a 15-20 page paper in various stages, submitting a proposal, a first draft, then a final draft.

Note: that there’ll also be an in-class map quiz early in the semester.

Your overall course grade will be based on attendance, class participation, and written work as follows:

map quiz 6 points

class participation

20 points


4 points each (44 total)

final paper

30 points

Week One (January 10):

Introductions; getting our bearings

Week Two (January 17):

Mirrors of the heart

Readings: Chasteen, Chapter 1; Winant, "Racial Formation and Hegemony," and Hanchard, "Racism, Eroticism, and the Paradoxes of a U.S. Black Researcher in Brazil"

SA 1: Read Winant carefully and consider the approach to "race" he's suggesting. Then think about Michael Hanchard’s points about his fieldwork in Brazil. Next, try thinking these two pieces together: consider Hanchard's points in light of what Winant is saying about hegemony.

Screen film in class: "Mirrors of the Heart"

Week Three (January 24):

Conquest, purity & danger (16th c.)

Readings: Chasteen, Chapter 2; Columbus and Las Casas (both in coursepack)

SA 2: Using the two primary sources you’ve read, reconstruct what Caribbean islanders might have thought when observing native Europeans for the first time.

Week Four (January 31):

Colonialism and hegemony (17th c.)

Map quiz at beginning of class.

Readings: Chasteen, Chapter 3; Dean and Burns (both in coursepack)

SA 3: How did so-called "Indians" see themselves, in 17th-c. Cuzco? Think about why Inca nobles of Cuzco cooperated with Spaniards in a colonial regime that did so much damage to Andean communities… were they coerced into being the regime’s agents? Did they consent? If so, why?—what was in it for them?

Week Five (February 7):

Combustible mixtures and cautionary tales (18th c.)

Readings: Kuznesof, Schiebinger, and Cahill (all in coursepack)

SA 4: Study the website images of castas paintings, and compare the two sequences of canvasses, drawing on the readings for this week. What’s going on inside each? What’s different from one to another? We’ll look at these in class…

Week Six (February 14):

Independence… and equality?

Readings: Chasteen, Chapter 4; Grandin, Blood of Guatemala, Chapters 1-4

SA 5: From the viewpoint of Quetzaltenango, did independence mark a watershed? What kind?

Week Seven (February 21):

Postcolonial blues

Readings: Chasteen, Chapter 5; Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil

SA 6: From the viewpoint of Bahia, what caused "postcolonial blues" and how did people respond?

Week Eight (February 28):

Library day—reading & research

SA 7: paper proposal with preliminary bibliography due.

Week Nine (March 7):

Dreams of Progress

Readings: Chasteen, Chapters 6-7; Grandin, Blood of Guatemala, finish

SA 8: Think about hegemony...

Schedule a meeting with KJB this week to discuss your proposal.

Week Ten

Spring break

Week Eleven (March 21):

Scientific racism

Readings: Schwarcz, Spectacle of the Races, Introduction and Chapters 1-2 (everyone read), then at least two of the following chapters about Brazilian institutions.

SA 9: With Schwarcz, and recalling Winant, think about structural racism through the making of institutions…

Week Twelve (March 28):

Tropical nationalism & racial democracy

Readings: Chasteen, Chapter 8; additional short readings t.b.a.

Screen film: "Bananas Is My Business"

SA 10: Taking Carmen Miranda seriously, think about what "race" is good for here. How does someone like CM contribute to nationmaking?

Week Thirteen (April 4):

Dreams of Revolution

Readings: Chasteen, Chapter 9; Guevara, Motorcycle Diaries

SA 11: How does Guevara’s trip across South America change him? How does he see & understand himself and others differently? How does "race" thinking appear here?

Week Fourteen (April 11):

Readings: Chasteen, Chapters 10-11

First paper draft due in class

Week Fifteen (April 18):

Class presentations

Week Sixteen (April 25):

Class presentations
Final papers due


Click here to download a copy of the syllabus