Anthropology 205/Comparative Literature 225

Peoples and Cultures of Mexico and Guatemala

Fall Term 2003


Syllabus of 9/3/03



Meets: T 12-1:50, Th 12-12:50 in Powdermaker 113                    John Collins

Office hours: Tuesdays 10:00-11:00                                            

Office Phone: 997-5524                                                          email:



Introduction: This class is designed to help you develop an ethnographic, literary and historical understanding of the peoples and cultures of Mexico and Guatemala. We will focus on the geography, multiple ethnic and racial groups, social classes, historical development, and cultural forms found in the political entities now known as “Mexico” and “Guatemala.” This in turn involves considering issues of ethnogenesis (or the social construction of groups and boundaries); of different ways of writing and telling histories; of battles over land and political autonomy; of definitions of community, family and personhood; of the construction of nation-states and the legacy of colonialism; and of the phenomenon that many commentators today refer to as “globalization;” and the politics of indigenous resurgence as a contemporary phenomenon in many areas of the world.


This class is based upon the premise that it is difficult to understand, or even approach, ethnic or cultural groups without first understanding their historical construction and contemporary shape. Since most everyone lives in a nation-state today, an important part of our consideration of peoples and cultures involves understanding the historical links between different groups and the formation of the Guatemalan and Mexican nation-states. For this reason I have divided the course into two parts. In Part I we will gain a historical and theoretical background that will permit a deeper analysis of the case studies, developed around specific communities, presented in Part II of the course.




Requirements: Regular class attendance and reading of all assigned materials, a midterm (10/14), a final exam, and a short research paper or critical book report (8-12 pps.) due at the end of the semester. Class participation means coming to class prepared to discuss each week’s subject matter with your peers and professor. There will be occasional quizzes and short writing assignments that will be an integral part of your participation grade. These cannot be made up if you miss class.


Class Meetings: We will meet for almost two hours on Tuesdays and 50 minutes on Thursdays. I expect to lecture for approximately one hour on Tuesdays, with class discussion in the second hour. Thursdays will alternate between lecture and discussion, to be decided over the course of the semester.


Grading: Your grade in this course will be computed as follows:


Midterm            20%

Final                 30%

Paper               20%

Participation      30%




Required Texts (Books Available at Queens College Bookstore):

-  Coursepack (required)

- Castellanos, Rosario. 1998. The Book of Lamentations. Trans. Esther Allen. New York: Penguin (ISBN: 0-14-118003-X)

- Fink, Leon. 2003. The Maya of Morgantown: Work and Community in the Nuevo New South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2003 (ISBN: 0-8078-5447-6)

- Menchú, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. New York: Verso (ISBN: 0-86091-788-6)

Given the wealth of interesting material available on different peoples and cultures in Central America, we will rely primarily this semester on a hefty course pack. It is important that you purchase and read these materials closely.


Academic Rules: Please acquaint yourself with all College rules regarding academic ethics. All students should cite clearly the sources of their ideas and data following guidelines discussed over the course of the semester. You must make clear the sources of materials taken from the internet, from published materials, or from unpublished papers written by another person or by you in another class. Failure to do so constitutes plagiarism. Note that the penalties for plagiarism include a failing grade in this class or even expulsion from Queens College.


An Important Note: I reserve the right to alter this syllabus (readings and requirements) as necessary over the course of the semester.








Sept. 2             Introductions


Sept. 4             Aztec Ascendancy in Mexico’s Central Valley


Michael Smith. 2003 “The Rise of Aztec Civilization” and “The Commercial Economy.” In The Aztecs. Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. 28-55 and 106-124


Sept. 9             Cities and Empires


Michael Smith. 2003 “Family and Social Class,” “City-State and Empire” and “Cities and Urban Planning.” In The Aztecs. Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. 125-191


Sept. 11           Conquests


Cortés, Hernán. Selection from “Introduction” and “Third Letter.” In Five Letters of Cortes to the Emperor.J. Bayard Morris, ed. and trans.New York: Norton, pp. xli-xlvii and 135-241.


Sept. 16           Rule


Gibson, Charles. 1964. “Production and Exchange” and “The City” in The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 335-402.


Film: Cabeza de Vaca + Quiz


Sept. 18           Revolutions and Nation-Building


Peter Smith and Thomas Skidmore, “Mexico: The Taming of a Revolution” in Modern Latin America, 5th Edition. New York: Oxford, pp. 217-258.


Sept. 23           Land, People, Power, and Community


Wolf, Eric. 1959. “Retreat from Utopia” and “The Power Seekers” in Sons of the Shaking Earth, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 202-256.


Wolf, Eric. 1966. “Peasants and its Problems.” In Peasants. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, pp. 1-18.


Sept. 25           Race and Mexican Modernity


Nancy Stepan. 1991. “National Identities and Racial Transformations.” In The Hour of Eugenics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 135-153.


Stern, Alexandra. 2003. “From Mestizophilia to Biotypology: Racialization and Science in Mexico, 1920-1960.” In Race and Nation in Modern Latin America. N. Appelbaum et al, eds. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, pp. 187-210.


Sept. 30           Indigenous Peoples and National Culture


Stephen, Lynn. 1991. “Contested Histories: Women, Men, and the Relations of Production in Teotitlán, 1920-1950s.” In Zapotec Women. Austin: University of Texas Press, pp. 87-117.


Oct. 2              Gender and the Life of the Mexican Nation

Paz, Octavio. 1985 “The Sons of La Malinche” and “The Conquest and Colonialism.” In The Labyrinth of Solitude. New York: Grove Press, pp. 65-116.

Paredes, Américo. 2003. “The United States, Mexico, and Machismo” In Perspectives on Las Américas. M. Gutmann et al, eds. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 329-341.




Oct. 9              Indigenous Communities, State Reform, and Neo-Liberalism


LaFrance, David. 2002. “Labor, the State, and Professional Baseball in Mexico in the 1980s.” In Sport in Latin America and the Caribbean. J. Arbena and D. LaFrance, eds. Wilmington: SR Press, pp. 89-116.


Nathan, Debbie. 1999. “Work, Sex, and Danger in Ciudad Juárez.” NACLA Report on the Americas 33(3): 24-30.


Oct. 14                        ********Midterm Exam********




Oct. 16            Indigenous Struggles in Chiapas, Mexico


Castellanos, Rosario. 1998. The Book of Lamentations. Trans. Esther Allen. New York: Penguin, Intro + 1-70.


October 21      Race and Gender in Chiapas


Book of Lamentations, pp. 71-134.


October 23      Mayan Histories from a ladina Perspective


Book of Lamentations, pp. 135-181.


October 28      Mayan Saints and Roman Catholic Spirits


Book of Lamentations, 182-280.


Oct. 30                        Anthropological Approaches to Mayan Histories


Finish Book of Lamentations


Eiss, Paul. 2002. “Hunting for the Virgin: Meat, Money and Memory in Tetiz, Yucatán.” Cultural Anthropology 17(3): 291-330.  


Nov. 4                         Guatemalan Insurgency and Indigenous Communities


Menchú, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. New York: Verso, pp. “Introduction” + pp. 2-42, 102-116


Nov. 6             Personal Histories in Guatemala: Assessing and Presenting Evidence


Menchú, 56-58, 79-101, 117-130


Nov. 11                       The Politics of Revolution and Truth, the Rigoberta Menchú Controversy


Required: Menchú, 141-152, 172-187


Larry Rohter, “Tarnished Laureate” pp. 58-65; Interview by Dina Fernández García “Stoll: ‘I Don’t Seek to Destroy Menchú,’” pp. 66-69; Danilo Rodriguez, “About Rigoberta’s Lies,” pp. 70-72; Jorge Palmieri, “Lies by the Nobel Prize Winner,” pp. 73-75; Rosa Montero, “Her,” pp. 76-77; Interview by Luís Aceituno, “Arturo Taracena breaks His Silence,” pp. 82-94; Eduardo Galeano, “Let’s Shoot Rigoberta,” pp. 99-102; David Stoll, “David Stoll  Breaks the Silence,” 118-120; and Interview by Juan Jesus Aznarez, “Rigoberta Menchú: Those Who Attack Me Humiliate the Victims”, pp. 109-117.


Suggested: Mary Luise Pratt, “I, Rigoberta Menchú and the Culture Wars,” 29-47.


Assignment Due in Class: Select one of the articles surrounding the Menchú controversy read for today. In a 2-3 page double-spaced paper (respect page limits!) discuss the perspective from which it is written. Without doing too much outside research, can you infer something about the goals, background and ideological persuasion of the writer? Finally, what is the author’s main point about the importance of the charges leveled against Menchú?


Nov. 13                       Late 20th C. Indigenous Organizing in Mexico and Guatemala


June Nash. 1995. “The Reassertion of Indigenous Identity: Mayan Responses to State Intervention in Chiapas.” Latin American Research Review 30(3):7-41.


Warren, Kay. 1992. “Transforming Memories and Histories: The Meanings of Ethnic Resurgence for Mayan Indians.” In Americas: New Interpretive Essays. A. Stepan ed., New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 189-219.


Nov. 18           Discussion of Research Projects + Film


Film: El Norte

Begin Maya of Morgantown

Bring 2 page discussion of research topic + working bibliography to class



Kobrak, Paul. 1997. Village Troubles: The Civil Patrols in Aguacatán, Guatemala.  Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan. (selections t.b.a)


Nov. 25                       Politics, Labor, and Capital – Guatemala at the end of the 20th C.


Maya of Morgantown, pp. tba


Nov. 27                       NO CLASS – THANKSGIVING BREAK


Dec. 2              The U.S. and Central America in Geohistorical Perpective


Maya of Morgantown, pp. tba


Dec. 4              Cultural Politics and Borders


Fusco, Coco. 1995. “The Other History of Intercultural Performance” In English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas. New York: New Press, pp. 37-63.


Dec. 9              Conquest and 21st C. Communities: Land, the Maya, and Cyberspace


Nelson, Diane. 1999. “Maya-Hackers and the Cyberspatialized Nation-State.” In A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincentennial Guatemala. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 245-282.


Dec. 11                        Conclusions: Zapatismo and the New Politics of Indigenousness


Selections from Womack, John. 1999. Rebellion in Chiapas: An Historical Reader and Subcomandante Marcos’ internet communiqués (coursepack).