Myth vs. History in Latin American Fiction and Film

Fall 2013


Robert C. Schwaller

3631 Wescoe Hall


Office Hours:

T & Th 11am – noon, or by appointment



How do we understand out past? Most cultures have used mythology and history to record and pass on their conceptions of the past. This course will examine how cultures construct a narrative of their past. From Pizarro to Pancho Villa this class will use the example of Latin America to examine the relationship between myth and history. Like the contemporary American myth about George Washington and the apple tree, Latin Americans have also melded history with myth as a tool for understanding their past. Using a variety of materials including films, novels, and historical documents, students will explore the process of making myths and writing history. What makes a good myth? What distinguishes myth from history? How do Latin American mythologies differ from those familiar to most Americans? By exploring varied mythologies in film, literature, and history students will develop the skills of analysis, interpretation, and communication that will help them better understand how their own past has been constructed.


Learning Objectives

·       Students should be able conduct basic historical inquiry

·       Students should be able analyze and critique literary and cinematic texts

·       Students should be able to explain how myth and history are related

·       Students should be able conduct research using resources available at KU

·       Students should be able to express themselves in writing and in-person


Discussion and Attendance

This course is based around in-class discussion. In order to get full credit for these discussions, students must have read the assigned readings and be active participants in class. I reserve the right to hold pop-quizzes over reading material. Attendance is mandatory. Students may have up to two (2) unexcused absences during the semester. Students should make all due effort to inform the instructor of any excused absences in advance.


Required Books

1.     Restall, Matthew. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. (ISBN: 9780195176117)

2.     Matto de Turner, Clorinda. Torn from the Nest (ISBN: 9780195110067)

3.     Fuentes, Carlos. Aura (ISBN: 9780374511715)

4.     Gamerro, Carlos. An Open Secret (ISBN: 9781908968340)


Optional Textbook

1.     Chasteen, John. Born in Blood and Fire (ISBN: 9780393911541)


Grade Assessment

Student’s grades will be assigned as follows:

Class Attendance and Participation (including any pop-quizzes): 10%

Short Writing Assignments (Blog posts, in-class writings): 10%

Conquest Myths Essay (1200 words) (10/1): 10%

19th century Struggles Essay (1500 words) (10/22): 10%

Dirty War Essay (1500 words) (12/5): 10%

Research Topic and Bibliography for Research (11/5): 5% (requires at least 1 out of class meeting with instructor)

Thesis for Research Paper(11/12): 5%

Rough Draft of Research Paper(11/26): 10%

Class Presentation (2 times): 10%

Research Paper (12/17): 20%


Grade Scale:

A = 100-93           D+ = 69-67

A- = 92-90            D = 66-63

B+ = 89-87           D- = 62-60

B = 86-83              F = 59-0

B- = 82-80

C+ = 79-77

C = 76-73

C- = 72-70


**IMPORTANT** Students must complete all grade segments to receive a passing grade! Failure to complete a graded assessment may result in a failing grade in the class.


Late Papers:

Papers received late will suffer a loss of one letter grade per day! After 5 days I will not accept any papers for any reason. Students with a verifiable illness, emergency, or other university approved excuse should inform me of any problem as soon as possible to avoid late penalties.


Academic Misconduct:

The University of Kansas defines Academic Misconduct as follows:


6.1 Academic misconduct by a student shall include, but not be limited to, disruption of classes; threatening an instructor or fellow student in an academic setting; giving or receiving of unauthorized aid on examinations or in the preparation of notebooks, themes, reports or other assignments; knowingly misrepresenting the source of any academic work; unauthorized changing of grades; unauthorized use of University approvals or forging of signatures; falsification of research results; plagiarizing of another's work; violation of regulations or ethical codes for the treatment of human and animal subjects; or otherwise acting dishonestly in research. (


Academic misconduct will not be tolerated in this course. Should academic misconduct be identified the assignment will receive no credit and a report will be submitted to the College. In all cases of academic misconduct, History Department and College procedures will be followed. If a student has questions concerning citation, quotation, sources, or any other issue relating to academic honesty they should contact the instructor prior to submitting the assignment in question.



The KU office of Disability Resources coordinates accommodations and services for all students who are eligible. If you have a disability or require an academic accommodation and have not contacted DR, please do so as soon as possible. Their office is located in 22 Strong Hall; their phone number is 785-864-2620 (V/TTY). Information about their services can be found at Please also contact me privately in regard to your needs in this course.


Class Topics


¡¡¡IMPORTANT!!! Blog assignments are not listed below. Blogs will be posted to Blackboard. Students are required to check Blackboard regularly in order to complete Blog assignments!!!


Week 1

8/27 – Introduction

8/29 – What is history? What is mythology?


Week 2

9/3 – Lecture/Discussion – Spanish Conquest

9/5 – Discussion Seven Myths

Read – Seven Myths, Intro and Chapter 1


Week 3

9/10 – Discussion Seven Myths

 Read – Seven Myths, Chapter 2-3

9/12 – Discussion Seven Myths

 Read – Seven Myths, Chapter 4-5


Week 4

Film: Watch Road to El Dorado by 9/24

9/17 – Discussion Seven Myths

 Read – Seven Myths, Chapter 6-7, Epilogue

9/19 – Discussion – How to critique a film.

 Read – Handout Available on Blackboard


Week 5

Film: Watch Road to El Dorado by 9/24

Film: Watch La Otra Conquista by 10/1

9/24 – Discussion Road to El Dorado

9/26 – How to write an academic essay.


Week 6

Film: Watch La Otra Conquista by 10/1

10/1 – Discussion La Otra Conquista

10/3 – Lecture - Independence in Latin America and National Struggles

How to develop a research topic

Conquest Essay Due 10/3


Week 7

Film: Watch Camila by 10/17

10/8 – Discussion Torn from the Nest

10/10 – Discussion Torn from the Nest

How to evaluate sources.


Week 8

Film: Watch Camila by 10/17

10/15 – No Class – Fall Break

10/17 – Discussion Camila


Week 9

10/22 – Meet at Spencer Art Museum

Due 19th c. Stuggles Essay 10/22

10/24 – No Class


Week 10

10/29 – Meet at library for specialized research session

10/31 –


Week 11

Film: Watch Like Water for Chocolate by 11/7

11/5 – Discussion Aura

Read Carlos Fuentes’ Aura

Research Topic and Bibliography Due 11/5

11/7 – Discussion Like Water for Chocolate


Week 12

11/12 – Presentations on thesis statement and preliminary research

11/14 – Presentations cont.

Thesis Statement Due 11/12 or 11/14


Week 13

Film: Watch La Historia Oficial by 11/21

11/19 – Lecture – Military Rule in the Southern Cone

Read Ariel Dorfman’s “Reader” – Available on Blackboard

11/21 – Discuss La Historia Oficial


Week 14

11/26 – Discuss La Historia Oficial

Rough Draft Due 11/26

11/28 – Happy Thanksgiving!! (No class)


Week 15

12/3 – Discuss An Open Secret

12/5 – Discuss An Open Secret

Dirty War Essay Due 12/5


Week 16

12/10 – Presentations

12/12 – Presentations


Finals Week

12/19 – Final Drafts Due via Blackboard