HIST 2110 History of Early Modern Societies: Spanish Rule in Latin America


Dr. William Riordan

Email:  Riordan@Colorado.edu


In this course we will examine the history of Spanish Colonial Latin America from 1492 to the early 19th century. We will end the course with a brief examination of the Latin American wars of Independence. The theme of 2110 classes is Early Modern Society, and so we will also engage with the role that the Spanish discovery, conquest, and colonization of Latin America played in the historical transition from Late Medieval society to modernity. We will do this by examining what I am calling “The Polemics of Possession.” The Polemics of Possession refers to the debates and writings that took place in Spain, Latin America, and Europe on the question of Spain’s right to political rule in the “New World,” in Latin America. The class will be composed of lectures on the historical events and institutions that Spain established in Latin America, along with a look at some of the key arguments both for and against Spanish rule. These debates constituted the first engagement by European theologians and intellectuals on the issue of “empire,” and continue to inform contemporary issues of politics, International relations, and international law. These debates not only influenced modern political thought. We will also see the influence they continue to exercise on the literary imagination in both a modern novel and a film.


History 2110 is not a course for history majors and I do not expect the students in this course to continue in historical studies. I do passionately believe, however, that it is not possible to understand our present moment without engaging with our past. For me, it is only through an engagement with our shared past that it is possible to form a humane and knowledgeable understanding of where we are today. My hope is that by taking this class, the student will become an informed and critical reader of contemporary events: in short, to be able to read the New York Times, or a novel, to watch a dramatic film, or to read a popular political or historical work and engage with them critically and with a passion for the human experience.


*Edwin Williamson, The Penguin History of Latin America (Penguin Books, 2009)
*Alejo Carpentier, The Harp and the Shadow. There are two editions of this work and either one is acceptable. Out of print! Purchase at Amazon or to find it in a library
*The film, The Mission, 1986. Available in D2L.


Your grade will be based on two exams, two papers, and five discussions. Each exam will count as twenty percent of your grade, and the discussions will also be twenty percent of your final grade.

A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D F
93-100 90-92 87-89 83-86 80-82 77-79 73-76 70-72 60-69 <60


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Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado