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November 14 , 2003

Gudmundson to Teach New Latin American Studies Course


Lowell Gudmundson, professor of Latin American studies and history

Vowell Gudmundson, professor of Latin American studies and history, will offer a course this spring on attitudes in Latin American countries toward people of African descent as well as their unique historical experiences. According to Gudmundson, these people have traditionally been seen in their countries as part of the mixed-race majority of Hispanic and mestizo heritage rather than being identified based on their African heritage. Gudmundson’s own research on Central America shows that a large portion, anywhere from 10 to 70 percent by region, of the non-Indian population is of African descent. Gudmundson believes that ignoring the specific contributions and experiences of this group was based not only on early success in legislating full legal equality for those of African descent, but also a desire to avoid discussions of the legacies of slavery and the persistence of racism despite these advances.

The course, Afro-Latin America: From Slavery to Invisibility, is a one-time-only offering. It grew out of research under a National Endowment for the Humanities collaborative research grant awarded in 2001 to Gudmundson and two Costa Rican colleagues. It closely follows a course he taught last year to graduate students at the University of Costa Rica. His students will examine a broad range of materials from the independence era of the early nineteenth century, when most Latin American countries abolished slavery, through the mid-twentieth century. These include contemporaneous tracts about race; census, economic, marriage, and criminal records; and anthropological and autobiographical works. In addition, Gudmundson said, “Some of my own work from this project will no doubt filter in as well, dealing with Guatemala and Nicaragua during this period and communities that have rarely if ever been seen as ‘of African descent.’”

Julia Sorcinelli ’04 has been assisting Gudmundson with his research and will be recording information about property ownership from copies of original documents. “It’s an interesting experience to be able to see the whole process from research to writing an article and then a book,” Sorcinelli said.

Latin American studies is an interdisciplinary program that emphasizes critical approaches to the culture, history, society, and political economy of the region. Gudmundson believes that the LAS program is particularly strong “on the history and culture of what some have called the Caribbean Basin,” and also in terms of faculty whose work focuses on peoples of African descent in the area, including Roberto Marquez, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Dorothy Mosby, assistant professor of Spanish. “This topics course on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries dovetails with what I am currently working on,” Gudmundson said, “but also seeks to respond to persistent student questioning of what came after slavery and why the seeming invisibility of Afro-Latin American populations, even in the Caribbean where they constitute large minorities or even majorities.”

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