Latin American Studies

Invitation to Latin American Studies

As a region, Latin America encompasses every country and territory in the Americas other than the United States and Canada, as well as the islands of the Caribbean. It includes Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, and Cuba, among others. The term Latin America refers to the major European languages of the region, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, all of which derive from Latin. Despite being the most geographically remote region of the world from Japan, it has close ties for more than a century of interaction with thriving communities of Japanese immigrants that have grown up there over the years. What can we learn from this region, which seems at once so far and so near?

One of the most salient features of Latin American Social and Political Issues is its ethnic and racial intermingling. Immigration and multiethnic societies are common in today’s world, but more than most parts of the world, the Latin American region is defined by its diverse mix of racial and ethnic groups, including indigenous peoples, the Europeans who colonized and migrated to the region, the Africans who were brought there as slaves, and the Japanese and other Asians who came there as laborers or immigrants. The dynamic intermingling of cultures and value systems from various parts of the world is the heart and soul of Latin America. Furthermore, as globalization has accelerated, more and more Latin Americans are now migrating the other way round, outside of the immediate region, transplanting their own distinctive culture to other countries around the world, including Japan. Getting to know Latin Americans and Latin American Social and Political Issues is an excellent way for the Japanese to gain some perspective on their own attitudes, particularly the historical emphasis on homogeneity and the lack of familiarity with harnessing diversity.

Blessed with a wealth of arable land and other natural resources, Latin America is home to several dynamic emerging countries that are playing an increasingly important role as engines of global economic growth. Until fairly recently, the region depended heavily on economic relations with the United States, Canada, and Europe, but today the up and coming nations of Latin America are building ever stronger ties of trade and cooperation with Asia and Africa. In addition to its growing importance as an economic partner, Latin America’s biodiversity and multiethnic composition have given it pioneering experience in dealing with environmental issues. At a time when the entire world is searching for models of sustainable balance between human communities and their natural environment, we can learn a great deal from some of the environmental initiatives under way in Latin America.

In short, the study of Latin America does more than provide insight into the region’s diverse culture and society and its rich possibilities for development. It also helps us to view Europe, the United States, Japan, and the Asian region in a broader context and thus contributes to a fuller and more multidimensional understanding of the world we live in. By learning about Latin America and taking a Latin American viewpoint, our students gain new perspectives that foster new ideas and new possibilities for dialogue with world.

Academic Aims of the Latin American Studies Concentration

The basic purpose of the Latin American Studies concentration is to strive toward a full understanding of Latin America through an approach to area studies that emphasizes the following.

1. Exploring the basic character and diversity of the Latin America region through area studies focused on the humanities and social sciences.

2. Identifying and exploring phenomena that characterize specific countries and sub-regions of Latin America, with the region’s basic character in mind, and examining the universal significance of those phenomena.

3. Exploring the basic character of Latin America from a comparative standpoint or in the context of international relations to understand the new international dynamic created by the region’s nations, societies, and cultures in the era of globalization.

4. Applying sound methods of research and analysis that make use of a firm command of a foreign language.

Curriculum of the Latin American Studies Concentration

The curriculum of the Latin American Studies concentration is broadly divided between Spanish-speaking countries and the Portuguese-speaking nation of Brazil.  However, all courses are informed by a common approach, that of identifying the features and phenomena that distinguish specific countries or sub-regions of Latin America while maintaining a perspective on the region as a whole. The curriculum also includes courses that deal with relations between Latin America and other regions, such as Europe, North America, Asia and Africa. Latin America is a highly relevant field of study not only for Spanish and Portuguese majors but for students in other departments as well.

Introductory Courses

Students who select the Latin American Studies concentration start by completing our introductory courses, beginning as early as year one. The concentration’s three introductory courses, listed below, include a team-taught course in which faculty members take turns introducing students to the material the concentration covers and its appeal, as well as surveys that provide an essential grounding in the region’s history.

Selected Course Offerings :

Introduction to Latin American Area Studies
Introduction to Hispano-American History
Contemporary Latin America

Core Courses

Beginning in their second year, students can enroll in the concentration’s core courses, which build on the foundation established in the introductory courses and deepen students’ expertise. The concentration offers about 30 core courses, grouped broadly into two domains, Humanities and Social Science. As students progress systematically through the courses that best reflect their own interests, their individual concerns crystallize and their research topics gradually come into focus. Students are free to straddle the two subject domains, which are intended only to provide a guiding framework.

Selected Course Offerings :

History and Society of Latin American Indigenous Peoples
Latin American Social and Political Issues 
Introduction to Latin American Economy
Latin American Economy
Social Development of Brazil
Special Lecture: Social Development of Brazil
Introduction to Brazilian Sociology
Afro-Brazilian Studies
Brazilian Literature
Brazilian Modern Literature

Seminar Courses

Seminars are small-group classes open to students in their third and fourth years. These are advanced participatory courses in which students read, report on, and discuss materials relating to a theme determined by the course instructor. In the fourth-year seminar, the seminar instructor provides guidance as students devote themselves to completion of a graduation thesis or project that will stand as a summation of their undergraduate education. Seminars offer a level of interaction with faculty and other students nearly impossible to find in other types of courses, and almost no one regrets the time they spent completing a project that testifies to all they learned and achieved as college students. In the Latin American Studies concentration, each of our nine faculty members leads a seminar in the area of his or her expertise in either the Humanities or Social Science domain.

Selected Course Offerings :

Seminar in Hispano-American Literature
Seminar in Latin American Social and Political Issues
Seminar in Latin American Economy
Seminar in Brazilian Political Economy
Seminar in Afro-Brazilian Studies
Seminar in Brazilian Society