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BA Latin and Spanish / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
History of Latin America

Unit code SPLA20362
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Spanish, Portuguese and Latin
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This unit offers an introduction to Latin America’s past by addressing the ways in which subordinate or marginalised groups (particularly indigenous peoples, free and enslaved blacks, castas and women) adapted to different systems of oppression and exploitation between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. The unit focuses on the strategies and mechanisms through which these groups challenged, resisted, negotiated or accommodated Spanish and Portuguese rule and, subsequently, the changes brought about by independence and nineteenth-century Liberalism. By analysing the different means and aims through and for which marginalised groups exercised agency during colonial and post-colonial Latin America the unit explores the role these groups and individuals played in the construction of Iberian imperial rule and of post-independence nations. 


  • To provide a general overview of the history of Latin America with a particular focus on the different responses of marginalised groups to the challenges created by both Spanish rule and post-independence national governments
  • To provide detailed knowledge of particular areas and periods of Latin American history
  • To develop awareness of the diversity of Latin American experiences and cultures, and of the importance of colonialism, slavery and race in shaping modern Latin American societies
  • To encourage the development of critical thinking, and group work skills
  • To improve students’ structure, coherence, clarity and fluency in written and oral expression


Indicative topics to be covered include:


1.      Conquest: indigenous agency in the collapse of pre-Hispanic Empires

2.      Collaboration and accommodation under Spanish rule 

3.      Flight, relocation and migration as resistance strategies

4.      Rebellions, mutinies and uprisings

5.      Litigation: indigenous, casta, black and female agency through the Spanish legal system

6.      Passive resistance?: everyday challenges to Spanish rule

7.      Independence: popular interpretations of the Hispanic revolution

8.      Political rights: new identities and new forms of organisation

9.      Freedom: slavery and abolition after independence

10.  Land and economic rights: the challenges of disentailment and latifundio


Please note that topics may change from year to year.

Teaching and learning methods

Each week, during the lecture, the tutor will provide basic background information and an overview of the week’s topic; in preparation for the seminar, all students will be asked to undertake preparatory reading. At the start of each week’s seminar a different group of students will present a case study related to that week’s topic. After the presentations the whole class will participate in a set seminar activity, discussing the examples read in preparation for the seminar and the week’s topic more generally.

Through seminar discussion, team presentations and submission of formative and summative written work students will improve their written and oral communication skills as well as their ability to work in a team; through evaluating their own and other teams’ presentations, and receiving feedback, students will develop the skills necessary to critically evaluate a team performance and their own contribution to it.

Through planning, researching and writing formative essays, as well as through planning and researching team presentations, and receiving feedback on both activities, students will develop research skills, and familiarise themselves with library resources and how to access them.

Students will be invited to produce a Formative Essay half way through the semester and respond to a mock-exam question towards the end of term.

Knowledge and understanding

By successfully completing this unit students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a general understanding of the history of Latin America from the encounter to the nineteenth century
  • Demonstrate detailed knowledge of particular areas and periods in Latin American history
  • Show awareness of the cultural diversity and the complex historical experiences of Latin America
  • Show awareness of how subordinate groups contributed to shaping Spanish and Portuguese imperial rule and post-independence nations

Intellectual skills

By successfully completing this unit students will be able to:

  • Plan and deliver a group presentation on a topic of Latin American history
  • Comment on and evaluate the performance and delivery of fellow classmate’s presentations
  • Gather, organize and deploy evidence and information in forming an historical argument
  • Use the library to find appropriate physical and electronic resources and reference them correctly

Practical skills

  • Plan and deliver a group presentation on a topic of Latin American history
  • Comment on and evaluate the performance and delivery of fellow classmate’s presentations
  • Gather, organize and deploy evidence and information in forming an historical argument
  • Use the library to find appropriate physical and electronic resources and reference them correctly

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By successfully completing this unit students will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate a team’s performance and their individual contribution to the team (in the context of a group research and presentation)
  • Evince improvement in their ability to communicate both orally and in writing with structure, coherence, clarity and fluency
  • Gather, organize and deploy evidence in marshalling an argument

Employability skills


Assessment methods


Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)



1 hr




3,000 words


Group presentation

Formative and Summative

30 minutes

15% (5% self-assessment + 5% peer-assessment + 5 % tutor-assessment)



Assessment task



4,500 words


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback from peers and tutor on group presentation

Formative and summative

Written feedback on (optional) formative essay


Written feedback on (optional) mock-exam question


Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hours or by making an appointment) at the students’ request


Written feedback on assessed essay


Written feedback on exam paper



Recommended reading

  • Hassig, Ross, ‘War, Politics and the conquest of Mexico’, in War in the Early Modern World 1450-1815, ed. by J. Black (London: UCL press, 1999), pp. 207-235.
  • Baber, Jovita, 'Empire, Indians, and the Negotiation for the Status of City in Tlaxcala, 1521-1550', in Negotiation within Domination: New Spain's Indian Pueblos Confront the Spanish State, ed. by Ethelia Ruiz Medrano and Susan Kellogg (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2010), pp. 19-44.
  • Smith, Matthew, 'Laboring to Choose, Choosing to Labor: Coercion and Choice in the Potosi Mita', Past Imperfect 10 (2004): 21-44.
  • Glave, Luis Miguel, ‘The “Republic of Indians” in Revolt (c.1680-1790)’, in The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, ed. by  F. Salomon and S. Schwartz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), Vol. III, part 2, pp. 502-57.
  • Owensby, Brian P., 'How Juan and Leonor Won Their Freedom: Litigation and Liberty in Seventeenth-Century Mexico', Hispanic American Historical Review 85 (2005), pp. 39-79.
  • Lokken, Paul, 'Marriage as slave emancipation in seventeenth-century rural Guatemala', The Americas 58 (2001), pp. 175-200.
  • Ducey, Michael, ‘Village, Nation, and Constitution: Insurgent Politics in Papantla, Veracruz, 1810-1821,’ Hispanic American Historical Review 79 (1999), pp. 463-93.
  • Sanders, James E., ‘“Citizens of a Free People”: Popular Liberalism and Race in Nineteenth-Century Southwestern Colombia’, Hispanic American Historical Review 84 (2004), pp. 277-313.
  • Cowling, Camillia, ‘Negotiating Freedom: Women of Colour and the Transition to Free Labour in Cuba, 1870-1886’, Slavery & Abolition 26 (2005), pp. 377-391
  • Deere, Carmen Diana, and Magdalena Leon, 'Liberalism and Married Women's Property Rights in Nineteenth-Century Latin America', Hispanic American Historical Review 85 (2005), pp. 627-678.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Francisco Eissa Barroso Unit coordinator

Additional notes

2 hour dedicated consultation per week.


Indicative topics to be covered include:

  • The Spanish conquest of Mexico and Peru
  • Slavery, palenques and slave rights in colonial Brazil and Spanish America
  • Indian resistance to colonial rule: litigation and rebellion
  • The Impact and limitations of the Bourbon Reforms
  • Popular actors and the Wars of Independence: royalists or insurgents?
  • Popular liberalism? Exercising political rights in 19th century Mexico and Colombia
  • The abolition of Slavery in 19th century Brazil and Cuba
  • Modernity and resistance: “Porfirian” Mexico and “Old Republic” Brazil
  • Popular actors and the Mexican Revolution: Zapatistas and Cristeros
  • Populism and the masses: Peron’s Argentina and Vargas’ Brazil 

Please note that this list is only indicative and topics may change from year to year.

Language of Teaching and Assessment:

English; certain readings and seminar materials will be assigned in Spanish but an English alternative will be made available for students who do not read the language



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