HL 90FX: Imagining Latin America

Classes start in just two weeks and HL90 applications are due next Wednesday! If you’re looking for classes, consider taking an HL90 seminar! Take a look at Jen Alpert’s new course, “Imagining Latin America.” (Psst, Hist & Lit concentrators, you have the option of using it to fulfill the language requirement!)

What inspired you to teach this class?

When I immigrated to the United States from Argentina, I was approached by someone who heard me speak Spanish that congratulated me for how fluent I was but warned me that I still needed to work on my accent. This curious interaction has become a funny story I tell at parties, but also a starting point to think about how (and what) ideas about Latin America circulate, so this class looks to complicate these and aims to highlight the many ways that different groups have imagined the region. Additionally, Latin America’s history of colonialism has engendered strong cultures of anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity. We will think through those legacies to understand how Latin America as a concept is imbued with grave power differentials and urgent inequalities that have erased many rich cultures and forms of knowledge that have fought for existence since Spaniards forced the Americas to be “discovered.” In short, we will probe what we mean when we say “Latin America,” and who gets to belong to it (or not).

What’s something you’re excited to share with students?

The films! There is much to love (and much that we will love to hate, I’m looking at you, colonial imaginaries of Latin America). I am also excited to share with students the very recent HBO show Gordita Chronicles, which I binged in record time because it beautifully captures the immigrant experience. Additionally, there is a text by indigenous Brazilian thinker Ailton Krenak, Ideas to Postpone the End of the World, which was transformational for me. I look forward to sharing his urgent manifesto with students and I hope they will enjoy his sense of humor as much as I do every time I revisit his writing.

What’s something surprising students might not know about this topic?

The name “Latin America” is a result of colonialism and is not synonymous with Spanish America. While the region is closely associated with the Spanish language, this moniker came about in an effort to stake a claim that differentiated French, Italian, and Spanish colonies from those dominated by Anglo (and German and Dutch) populations. The “Latin” part of Latin America is actually most closely tied to France (not Spain, as most people think!). 

Are you doing any cool projects?

Absolutely! When professors design a course, inevitably there is much that we must leave out, so one of our assignments asks students to imagine a week on a topic we did not discuss. Given that this class questions many of the colonial ideas related to Latin America, I find this assignment apropos to imagine ways of learning that go beyond Euro and Anglo-centric forms of knowledge construction that often erase structurally oppressed students. Similarly, the final project will offer the opportunity to engage in creative work as an alternative to a traditional research paper (though students are welcome to do the latter!), including making a short film, curating a museum exhibit, or creating a series of educational TikToks that reflect on the themes of the class.

Your class offers the opportunity to fulfill the Hist & Lit language requirement, can you tell us a little about how that works?

Let me start by saying that Spanish knowledge is not required to enroll. Students who want to satisfy the language requirement through Spanish reading proficiency should get in contact with me during the first week of classes so we can arrange for them to work with Spanish versions of some of the course materials. I should note that the focus on Spanish in a class about Latin America in no way tries to diminish or erase the richness of languages present in the region (and we will encounter languages other than Spanish!)—it is informed by the number of heritage speakers in the concentration and the availability of materials translated to English. I am excited about facilitating a multilingual conversation, particularly since it is the first time an HL90 can be used to fulfill the language requirement so enrolled students will be making Hist & Lit history! 

How can students learn more?

Students can visit the course’s Canvas site, attend the Hist & Lit preview on Aug 24th, or reach out to me at jalpert@fas.harvard.edu.

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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