Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1 hour / session


This HASS-D/CI course is designed as an introduction to Latin American politics and society for undergraduates at MIT. No background on the region is required. Overall workload (reading, writing, class participation, and examinations) is similar to that of other HASS-D courses. Many of the themes raised here are covered in greater detail in other courses: 21G.020J (New World Literature), 21G.716 (Introduction to Contemporary Hispanic Literature), 21G.730 (Twentieth and Twentyfirst-Century Spanish American Literature), 21G.735 (Advanced Topics in Hispanic Literature and Film), 21A.220 (The Conquest of America), 21H.802 (Modern Latin America), 3.982 (The Ancient Andean World), 3.983 (Ancient Mesoamerican Civilization), 17.507 (Democratization and Democratic Collapse), and 17.554 (Political Economy of Latin America).

Course Requirements

Requirements include weekly course readings and videos; active participation in class discussions, class presentations, and the class debate; three short papers (two of which must be revised and resubmitted); one in-class map test; and one three-hour final exam.

Written Requirements

There will be a 30-minute map test at the end of the second week of the course. (Those students joining the course late can make up the map test outside of class with no penalty.) This test will cover all countries in Latin America, as well as major cities and geographical regions (e.g., the Amazon basin, the Andes, etc.).

Over the course of the semester, you will also write three papers addressing different topics raised in the course of the semester. Due dates for the papers are noted in calendar section, and the paper topics themselves are included toward the end of this package. Rewritten papers must take into account comments you receive on the original version.

Finally, at the end of the semester during the official exam period, there will be a three-hour exam covering all course materials. Half of this exam will be based on identification or short answer questions; half will be based on an essay. Last year's final exam is attached; this year's exam will be identical in the essay questions and very similar in the list of potential items for the short answer section.

Class Participation

You are expected to participate in class discussion throughout the semester. Participation includes informal class discussion of the readings and films, in-class presentations, and a formal class debate. Attendance is obviously a prerequisite for class participation. If you must miss a class, you should notify me in advance. More than two unexcused absences will seriously jeopardize your class participation grade. (A handy reference sheet on what constitutes an excused absence is include in this package.)

Also, please notify me at the beginning of the class if, for whatever reason, you are unprepared to participate in class discussion that day. (You need not explain yourself unless you wish to do so.) I "cold call" people occasionally; in a small class there is nowhere to hide. Again, more than two unexcused "unprepared" will jeopardize your class participation grade.

My somewhat odd habit is to record class participation grades for each student after each non-lecture class. If your attendance record is perfect, the lowest two of your regular class participation grades will be dropped at the end of the semester. If you miss only one class over the semester, the lowest of your regular class participation grades will be dropped.

Please note that we will have one formal class debate, one individual class presentation, and several group presentations over the course of the semester. Information on these is attached to the syllabus.


Class Participation 10%
Class Debate 10%
Individual Presentation on Economic Development 7.5%
The "Extemporaneous" Presentation on Mexican Development 7.5%
Two Group Presentations (7.5% each) 15%
Three Papers (10% each) 30%
Map Test 5%
Final Exam 15%


General class participation will count for 10% of your grade. The class debate will count for 10%, the individual presentation on economic development, the "extemporaneous" presentation on Mexican development, and the two group presentations will each count 7.5%. The three papers will each count for 10% (with rewritten papers receiving the average of their first and their final grades), the map test for 5%, and the final exam will count for 15%. Thus oral and written contributions will be weighed equally. Within the limits imposed by equity, grading will attempt to take into account the fact that some students (seniors, those who have lived for a long time in Latin America, political science majors, etc.) have had far more exposure to the material covered in the class.

Please note also that the bar for rewrites is higher than it is for the original draft. A paper that received an A- the first time around, and that was not revised based on your instructors' comments, is unlikely to receive an A- on the rewrite. Of course, it is difficult to get an A on the rewrite if you flailed completely on the original version, so there is still a strong incentive to "get it right" the first time.

Finally, please pay attention to the list of stylistic and substantive hints included in this package.

How to Hand in Papers

For stylistic and substantive advice on writing your papers, see the hints attached to this syllabus. Papers must be submitted by 4pm the day they are due.

Papers that are late will be penalized by one-third of a letter grade for each day late. If you need an extension, please tell me ahead of time. Extensions requested a week or more in advance will be automatically granted; extensions requested the night before are virtually automatically denied. I am lenient about granting extensions of a few days on the final paper.

The TA(s) and I would like to practice blind grading, so please don't include a title page or put your name in the footer; instead, put your name on a separate page after the paper. Also, at the risk of stifling self-expression and generally sounding like a pain, I ask that all essays and short papers be double-spaced and submitted in Times 12 font. (Otherwise I learn people's fonts after the first paper, which defeats the purpose of blind grading.)

Resources on Writing

Extensive resources are available to you if you want help with writing. These resources include the MIT Writing Center on campus, the TAs, and me. Please take advantage of these if you have any questions or doubts!

Plagiarism Clause

When writing a paper (or an essay exam), you must identify the nature and extent of your intellectual indebtedness to the authors whom you have read or to anyone else from whom you have gotten ideas (e.g., classmates, invited lecturers, etc.). You can do so through footnotes, a bibliography, or some other kind of scholarly device. Failure to disclose your reliance on the research or thinking of others is Plagiarism, which is considered to be the most serious academic offense and will be treated as such. If you have any questions about how you should document the sources of your ideas, please ask your instructors before you submit your written work.

Criteria for HASS CI Subjects

Because this is a HASS-D CI subject, it must meet the following mechanical criteria. These include at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments (in the case of this class, three plus the essay portion of your final exam). Of these assignments, at least one must be revised and resubmitted. (In this case at least two must be.) HASS CI subjects must further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation.

In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor. In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject. If our class exceeds 25, we will change around the schedule to create recitation sections.

Rules for Class Attendance

Legitimate Excuses for Missing Class

  • I was injured and was taken to the hospital (and here is the note from the doctor / paramedic / ambulance driver).
  • I was sick (and here is the note from the Dean / doctor / faith healer / local voodoo priest).
  • I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown (and here is the note from the Dean / shrink / licensed mental health care professional).
  • I play competitive sports and will be away that day for a match / swim meet / full-contact mud-wrestling contest. [Note future tense]
  • My dorm room flooded / burned down / fell over in an earthquake (and here is the notice from the newspaper / the Dean / the Fire Marshal / the Army Corps of Engineers).
  • A close relative was very sick / injured / dying / dead so I had to fly out of town (and here is the notice from my family / the Dean / the hospital / the funeral home).

Non-excuses for Missing Class

  • I needed to pick my mother up at the airport.
  • My boyfriend / girlfriend / long-lost cousin arrived unexpectedly in town.
  • My boyfriend / girlfriend / alien lover broke up with me.
  • I am taking two classes whose time slots conflict.
  • I overslept / needed to sleep / felt like sleeping / was overcome by that soporific feeling I sometimes get in the afternoon and didn't feel like drinking any more coffee.
  • My alarm clock fell off of my shelf overnight and shattered into lots of plastic pieces, and consequently, it didn't go off. I think my kitten must have done it.
  • I had work for my other classes.
  • I needed a break.
  • I am not interested in _____ (insert topic of the week).
  • I actually believed those Master Card ads that say I deserve whatever I want.
  • My dog / cat / goldfish / pet mongoose died.
  • There was a rerun of Star Trek on TV.
  • The lecture conflicted with my aqua-aerobics class.
  • I invented a time machine for my senior project and was trapped in 2071 when everyone else was in class, but I promise that three years from now, when I've gotten all the bugs out of the system, I'll go back to last week and make up the session.

Note: You get up to two unexcused absences without penalty per semester for a course that meets twice per week and up to one unexcused absence per semester for a seminar.