BIS 363: The Americas: Conflict and Connection
Fall Quarter, 2006, Monday and Wednesday 11:00-1:05, UW1-202
Colin Danby, University of Washington, Bothell
Office: UW1-245
(425) 352-5285    danby@u.washington.edu
Office Hours Monday through Thursday 10:00-11:00 AM, and by appointment.

How has the history of the United States been affected by its relations with its closest southern neighbors? How has its history been mixed up with the history of its neighbors, and vice versa? What do the differing histories of Cuba, Mexico, and the United States tell us about the ways in which European colonialism restructured the Americas? How have Native Americans and people from all over the world interacted to form societies and cultures, and how are those societies and cultures related to things we call "nations" and "states"? This class starts with these and other questions; our goal is to pursue answers, and better questions.

This is a core course in the American Studies concentration, and is structured by these ideas:

Knowledge-production: You will learn how to figure things out for yourself and how others have produced knowledge of their own. We will stress research, inquiry, and research questions. We will also stress close, careful reading of historical texts as a way to seek answers to questions and generate new questions.

Comparison: We will compare the cases of Mexico and Cuba in order to notice similarities and highlight differences. While both countries are intrinsically interesting, we will try to step back from those specific cases to consider larger patterns.

Overlapping nations: This is also a class about the United States of America. We will see that in important ways both Cuba and Mexico overlap with the United States, and it is not always clear where one nation ends and the other begins. (In some of your courses this may be called "transnationalism.")

Most essentially, this class consists of a series of structured research tasks, which will produce a research paper at the end of the class. Your individual tasks will also be coordinated with a larger research cluster. The purposes of the cluster are to (a) help individual members with their research (b) take on certain small tasks in facilitating classroom discussion throughout the course (c) conceptualize and facilitate an hour of class during the last two weeks of the course.

Cluster areas
Here is an initial listing of proposed cluster areas, with a few sample starting questions for each. We are not limited to these areas, and their definitions can change, but it seems best to start with specific examples of what clusters might do. You should begin thinking about which of these areas interest you. Clusters will be 4-6 people. I will set them up, based on people's declared interests, by October 16.


∑  Under what legal and material conditions is work done?

∑  How have the different histories of Cuba and Mexico affected how labor is performed?

∑  What have been the effects of having substantial numbers of nationals working abroad?

∑  What are the legacies of slavery and other systems of forced labor?

Trade and commodities

∑  How is the nation's economy influenced by major commodity exports? To what degree is it vulnerable to changes in commodity process and what forms does that vulnerability take?

∑  How have the country's foreign relations been influenced by trade?

∑  What roles has tourism played in the national economy of each country?


∑  When Mexicans or Cubans talk about a national culture, what do they mean?

∑  What has been the role of government in promoting or defining national culture?

∑  In what ways and to what extent is national culture transnational, or hybrid? What are the politics of this? (What, for example, do people mean by Mexican or Cuban music?)

Politics and political institutions

∑  How have national political institutions developed over time?

∑  How do contemporary political institutions actually function? How do different people and groups maneuver within them?  How, for example, do political parties work?  What political roles do military institutions play?

∑  How have political institutions been influenced by foreign interests and foreign relations?

Foreign relations and neocolonialism

∑  How much room for maneuver do national governments have in constructing foreign relations?

∑  How have relations with the United States affected national histories?

∑  How do these countries relate to other countries in the region?

Race and ethnicity

∑  What roles have ideas of race and ethnicity played in the political process of nation-building, and in political divisions?

∑  What roles have ideas of race and ethnicity played in how Mexico and Cuba are seen by foreigners?

∑  What do these terms mean in different contexts?


∑  Who owns land and/or has rights to land? How has the answer to this question changed over time? How has it affected the nation's politics?

∑  What roles does government play in the use of land and other natural resources?

∑  How are questions of environmental policy linked to who owns or has rights to land?


∑  What kinds of religious practice are widespread? Apart from declared affiliation, what roles do religious practice and belief play in people's lives?

∑  What are the relations between government and religious organizations?

∑  What are the relations between different religious organizations?

∑  What are the links between religion and colonialism?

What is the relation of these large areas to your actual work? First, you will want to choose a topic for your individual paper that is (a) comparative (that is which considers both Mexico and Cuba in relation to a particular question) and (b) ideally, related in some way to the cluster that you are part of.  Second, your cluster will be responsible for choosing a facilitation topic that is (a) contemporary (b) comparative and (c) related to its larger area. But both your own topic, and your group's topic, should be narrower than the kind of large area described above.

Note that in the syllabus, we will move historically. There are events in each historical period relevant to each of the topic areas listed above.


  E-responses: 10%

  Research worksheets 25%

  Paper 40%

  Turning in paper outline/bibliography and draft on time 5%

  Class and group participation, facilitations 20%

E-responses need to be posted by 9AM on the day of the class, and you are urged to post sooner than that, ideally the previous evening.  You are expected to (a) contribute on time, (b) contribute thoughtfully, and (c) from time to time, comment thoughtfully on other people's postings.  You are also welcome to post questions and ideas that are not related to the prompts that I post.  My evaluation, therefore, will take into account (a) timeliness, (b) quality of content, (c) overall contribution to the e-discussion of the entire group.

Research worksheets need to be done on time, and thoughtfully. They will contain some questions that ask for reflection. Some of these worksheets will be started during one class session and then finished before the next class. You'll also need to be present in the relevant class sessions to do these.

The research paper will explore a specific question for the cases of both Mexico and Cuba. I will provide more guidance as the course proceeds, and I am always happy to look at drafts and discuss your work. For length, think in terms of 7-10 pages, plus a reference list. Here are a few notes on formats and some words on how I assess writing.

The assignment to hand in a complete draft of the research paper is intended to give you timely feedback, and to be sure that you are writing something that fits the assignment. You will get full credit on this as long as you submit a complete draft, with references, that is in reasonable shape.

Participation is assessed via individual and group worksheets and observation in class. To the extent possible, I try to assess work within groups individually, rather than assessing a group grade. I will ask you on worksheets to describe your own work in the group, and I will ask groups to conduct at least some of their discussion via group electronic discussion boards (which I will set up), so that some of the out-of-class interaction is visible.

More on Research Tasks
On October 4, we will meet in the library for some initial exploration of the scholarly literature in Mexico and Cuba, and their overlaps with the United States. The purpose here is to familiarize yourself with the "info-scape" of scholarship that is out there: what has been explored and what has been ignored, which disciplines are interested in which questions. We will also see that historical and political events have large effects on what kinds of research are done and published. In your worksheet for this session (which you will hand in at the end of the session), I will ask you to indicate a preference for the topic area in which you will work, and you will be asked to do a little bit of followup work after class.

On October 18, we will meet again in the library, this time in our research clusters, and do some structured work on actually finding scholarly research sources relevant to our topic. You will have a longer worksheet for this meeting, which I will collect from you at the beginning of the next week, which will ask you to assess a scholarly article that your group has found, and to come up with an initial idea for the question that your individual paper will pursue. There will probably also be a short group worksheet that will be handed in at the end of that session.

On November 1, we will have another meeting in the library on locating archival material. There will be a short in-class worksheet, and another, assessing an archival source, which will be due a couple of weeks later to allow you time to get hold of that source.

On November 13 I will ask individuals to submit a one-page sentence-based outline of their proposed research paper, and a short bibliography.

During the third through eighth weeks, I will set aside some parts of class time for cluster meetings. I will also ask clusters to report back to the whole class on what they are finding, and to provide their own reflections on class reading. As part of these activities, I may also ask clusters to write up quick in-class summaries of their work and thoughts.

On November 20 I will ask you to submit a draft paper.

In the ninth and tenth weeks clusters will do their facilitations. The term "facilitation" is designed to move us away from some of the associations we may have with the word "presentation." Most importantly, a facilitation is supposed to be interactive, to spark and encourage discussion.  Think of it as puttig on a class discussion.  The facilitations will last fifty minutes. Groups will also be asked to assign the class one short reading, post an e-response prompt, and to incorporate e-responses into their in-class facilitation.

Your individual paper will be due during exam week. Along with that I will ask for a self-assessment that will include reflection on the worksheets and research activities, both individually and in clusters.In case it’s useful, here’s a copy of my grading worksheet for this paper.

I suggest that you choose an individual research topic that is related enough to your cluster's work so that you can benefit from the activities of the cluster. (For example, if your cluster ends up presenting about the comparative development of the Cuban and Mexican film industries, you might write a paper comparing one Mexican and one Cuban film.) But -- and this is important -- the discussion-facilitation presented by your cluster at the end of the quarter should be a coherent whole, not a series of individual reports.

Late work: The worksheets will be subject to my normal late-paper policy, which is that late submissions will be penalized 15% (of the total possible grade) up to the first week they are late; 30% thereafter.  They will not be accepted after December 8.  The final paper and worksheet are also subject to that policy, with the added proviso that if they are more than a couple of days late, I may not be able to read them at all. It's your responsibility to organize your life so work gets done on time, reliably.  Please do not tell me about malfunctioning disks, printers, software, and so forth.  There are no exceptions to the late-work policy -- there simply is no way that I can fairly assess the  personal emergencies, job pressures, and other factors that impinge on different people's lives, and adjust their assignments accordingly.  Please do not try to show me doctors' notes, court orders, or anything like that.  There is however one appeal: if you feel that for any reason, part of your grade does not reflect your learning in the course, write me a short e-mail explaining why, and I will take that into account  when assessing the final grade.

All assignments are due in class. The normal and most secure means of submitting work is on paper, delivered into my hands in the class when the assignment is due.  I am also willing to accept work in e-mailed messages or as e-mailed attachments, but you send things this way at your own risk: I cannot take responsibility for server errors or for any of the other things that might go wrong between your attempt to send a file and my ability to print the thing out.  If you are going to e-mail me assignments please consult these additional notes on sending things electronically.

There is no reason to tell me if you are going to miss class.  However if a serious illness or personal emergency is going to affect course work over a week or more, please tell me so we can plan  how to get you back on track as quickly as possible.  For a few other points see Occasionally-Asked Questions

Our scheduled classes are times for work.  Focusing on the task at hand is important for your own learning; it also makes you a better participant in small-group discussions and other activities that will help others learn.  It is therefore expected that you will use class time for class work, and that you will not distract others from class work.  This means, for example, avoiding private conversations, turning off cell phones, not having anything distracting happening on your laptop screen, and if you have to arrive late, walking in the back door as quietly as possible.  It is my responsibility, and prerogative, to determine what is appropriate classroom behavior.

To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services in the Counseling Center, Room 145, (425) 352-5307, (425) 352-5303 (TDD).  If you have a documented disability on file with the DSS office, please have your DSS counselor contact me.

You are reading a web document.  It can be located by putting "danby" into the faculty directory accessible via the main uwb page, or by putting "colin danby" into a search engine like google.   Changes in readings or assignments will be made on the web version, as well as being announced in class.  If you miss classes you  need to check for any modifications to assignments.

I find contact with students outside of class extremely useful in improving what I do in the classroom, and I encourage you to see the regular class time as only part of the service provided to you in this course. Please feel no hesitation about contacting me outside of class, about using the scheduled office hours, and about setting up meetings at other times. Aside from visiting during the scheduled office hours or chatting after class, the best way to get in touch is e-mail.  I don't use voice mail.

This course includes writing, and it is assumed that written work is your own, and that when another person’s ideas or words are used they are fully acknowledged. This is what the UWB catalog says:

"Plagiarism is the use of the creations, ideas or words of someone else without formally acknowledging the author or source through the use of quotation marks, references, and the like. Plagiarizing is stealing someone’s work and presenting it as one’s own work or thought. Student work in which plagiarism occurs will ordinarily not be accepted as satisfactory by the instructor, and may lead to disciplinary action against the student submitting it. Any student who is uncertain whether his or her use of the work of others constitutes plagiarism should consult the course instructor for guidance before formally submitting the course work involved."


You must use quotation marks and references whenever you use someone else's writing, in any assignment.  Mere paraphrase does not exempt you from this requirement.  Please see these additional notes on plagiarism.  All plagiarism cases will be turned over to the Vice Chancellor’s office.

Chomsky, Carr, and Smorkaloff, eds., The Cuba Reader. Duke University Press, 2004
Joseph and Henderson, eds., The Mexico Reader. Duke University Press, 2003

Think of these as reference books as well as sources of assigned reading. I am not going to assign a ton of reading. The selections are short, and I will usually ask you to read only a few for a class -- I am more interested in close, attentive reading than in "covering" everything imaginable. But whatever your interest, there will be additional items in these books relevant to your work. Please bring to class the reader for the country we are working on that week. You will see that we are doing Mexico and Cuba in alternating weeks.

Main message board : https://catalyst.washington.edu/webtools/epost/register.cgi?owner=danby&id=16968

Cluster Message boards:

Culture and Performance

Culture and Ritual

Human Rights

Labor and Migration

Political Systems

Religion and Politics




Topics, Readings, and Assignments: This may be modified as we go along, but you will always know at least a week in advance what you need to do.  


readings for class

assignments due in class

Wednesday, September 27

Conquest and colonialism


Monday, October 2

Mexico Reader: 95-104, 114-121


Wednesday, October 4

First Library Session, LB1-222

Mexico Reader: 131-140, 160-167


Monday, October 9

Cuba reader: 12-14, 20-25, 39-43


Optional reading: excerpts from Jared Diamond


Worksheet from October 4 Library session due


A few notes on research questions

Wednesday, October 11

Cuba reader: 65-68,74-82, 97-102


Monday, October 16


Mexico Reader: 169-170, 206-212, 220-238, 265-272




Wednesday October 18

Second Library Session, LB1-222

Mexico Reader: 273-291



Monday, October 23

Cuba reader: 122-129, 135-138, 147-149, 157-162


Worksheet from October 18 Library session due

Wednesday, October 25

Cuba reader: 192-200, 212-218, 226-233, 244-256


Monday, October 30


Mexico Reader: 333-371


Wednesday, November 1

Third Library Session, LB1-222

Mexico Reader: 375-386, 398-402



Monday, November 6

Cuba reader: 274-286, 290-295, 298-299


Worksheet from November 1 Library session due.

Wednesday, November 8

Cuba reader: 306-314, 321-332


Monday, November 13


Mexico Reader: 418-420, 428-438, 445-460


Research paper sentence outline/bibliography due

Wednesday, November 15

Mexico Reader: 461-469, 500-510


Monday, November 20

Cuba reader: 344-353, 378-385, 406-411, 419-426

Draft research paper due

This should be a complete written-out paper, and include a full bibliography with complete references.

Wednesday, November 22

Cuba reader: 530-535, 540-556


Monday, November 27

Present Day



Culture and ritual






Wednesday, November 29



Political systems





Monday, December 4


Religion and politics

Culture and performance



Reading: A Secret Society Goes Public

Wednesday, December 6



Human Rights




Wednesday December 13

(no class)

Final paper due at my office by 6 PM with self-assessment worksheet