Revolution & Counterrevolution in Latin America

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HIS494_Fall 2021

Revolution & Counterrevolution in Latin America

Professor Kevin Coleman

Teaching Assistant Erica Toffoli

Mondays, 5:10-7pm

Virtual Office Hours By appointment

Course Description

Why did people struggle to overthrow military dictatorships in Central America? How do we know about what happened there? And how best to tell the stories of those who envisioned more free and equal societies but had their dreams violently taken from them?

This seminar examines the civil wars that ripped Guatemala and El Salvador apart during the 1970s and 1980s. Alongside the United Nations Truth Commission Reports, we will read Rigoberta Menchú and Kirsten Weld, Carolyn Forché and Augustine Sedgewick. Reading these works will enable us to join Lynn Hunt in asking broader questions. What is history? Why does it matter? Who is writing it? Who reads history now? Each student will produce an original review essay.

Class Meetings

Our class meetings will take place on Zoom:
Join our Zoom Meeting: Meeting ID: 989 4097 6639
Passcode: 301677

Learn how to use Zoom at UTM.

Learning Objectives

  1. Analyze different genres for recounting historical events: testimonial, memoir, human rights reports, and film.

  2. Examine the causes of revolutionary uprisings in El Salvador and Guatemala, and the justifications given for counterrevolutionary terror.

  3. Write a review essay that evaluates five works on the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala.

  4. Develop strategies for reading and understanding large volumes of nonfictional texts.

  5. Present the readings for one week and facilitate class discussion.


Required Texts

These five books are required and available for purchase at the UTM Bookstore:
What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance. By Carolyn Forché.

New York: Penguin, 2020.
History: Why It Matters. By Lynn Hunt. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2018.
I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. By Rigoberta Menchú. New York:

Verso Books, 2010.
Coffeeland: One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favourite Drug. By Augustine

Sedgewick. New York: Penguin, 2020.
Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala. By Kirsten Weld. Durham:

Duke University Press, 2014.

In addition, you will read the following texts, available electronically:
Guatemala: Memory of silence. By Historical Clarification Commission (CEH).

Guatemala City: Historical Clarification Commission, 1999.

From Madness to Hope: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador. By Belisario Betancur, Thomas Buergenthal, and Reinaldo Figueredo Planchart. New York: United Nations, 1993. Pp. 252.

This is a fourth-year seminar, so you’ll need to put in a fair amount of work reading and thinking critically about what you read. Have the assigned texts on hand during our synchronous meetings.

Explicitly engage with these texts during our discussions of them (for example, “when the author says X on p. 48, I wondered about the evidence used to support that claim”).

Accessibility, Inclusion, and the Academic Skills Centre

“Students with diverse learning styles and needs are welcome in this course. In particular, if you have a disability/health consideration that may require accommodations, please feel free to approach me and/or Accessibility Services as soon as possible. Accessibility staff (located in Room 2037, Davis Building) are available by appointment to assess specific needs, provide referrals and arrange appropriate accommodations. Please call 905-569-4699 or email The sooner you let us know your needs the quicker we can assist you in achieving your learning goals in this course.”

Note: The Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (RGASC) is online only during the Covid pandemic—but you can still book appointments and get help with your writing! “The RGASC offers individual consultations, workshops (many CCR-accredited), and a wide range of programs to help students identify and develop the academic skills they need for success in their studies. Visit the RGASC website to explore their online resources, book a face-to-face or online appointment, or learn about other programming such as Writing Retreats, the Program for Accessing Research Training (PART), drop-in hours for Mathematics, Writing, and Study Skills, and dedicated resources for English Language Learners.”


Course Schedule

Module 1 – Testimonies from the Genocide in Guatemala

September 13

I, Rigoberta Menchú. Introduction.
History: Why It Matters, pp. 1-11.
How to Read a Book, v4.0.
Watch: When the Mountains Tremble.

September 20 *Student presentation by Richard Ribeiro and Brandon Spriggs

I, Rigoberta Menchú. Chapters 1-8. Paper Cadavers, pp. 1-26.
History: Why It Matters, pp. 11-29.

September 27 *Student presentation by Arianne Bissessar-Maraj and Raymond Vardja

  • I, Rigoberta Menchú. Chapters 9-16.

  • Guatemala Memory of Silence: Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification: Conclusions and

    Recommendations, pp. 1-21.

  • Paper Cadavers, pp. 27-49.

  • History: Why It Matters, pp. 30-42.

    October 4 *Student presentation by Krisna Candelario and Wojciech Kozakowski

  • I, Rigoberta Menchú. Chapters 17-24.

  • Guatemala Memory of Silence: Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification: Conclusions and

    Recommendations, pp. 21-33.

  • Paper Cadavers, pp. 50-90.

  • History: Why It Matters, pp. 42-61

  • Outline of your Review Essays must be submitted online through the Quercus assignment portal

    for this class before 11:59pm on October 15.

    *October 12, 4-7pm: Writing Office Hours with Dr. Michael Kaler

    October 18 *Student presentation by David Casazza and Lily Nikolovski
    Michael Kaler from the RGAC will be in class to guide students through peer review of

    outlines for the Review Essay.

    I, Rigoberta Menchú. Chapters 25-32.

  • Guatemala Memory of Silence: Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification: Conclusions and

    Recommendations, pp. 33-50.

  • Paper Cadavers, pp. 91-152.

    October 25 *Student presentation by Isabela Charum Galindo and Kateryna Trofimova

  • I, Rigoberta Menchú. Chapters 33-34.

  • Guatemala Memory of Silence: Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification: Conclusions and

Recommendations, pp. 51-86.


Paper Cadavers, pp. 153-212.

November 1 *Student presentation by Maria Fernanda De Almeida and Hunter Morris

Paper Cadavers, pp. 213-256.
History: Why It Matters, pp. 62-88.

Module 2 — Witnessing Violence in El Salvador

November 8 *Student presentation by Daniel de Bono and Thomas Mckeown

  • What You Have Heard Is True, pp. 1-97.

  • Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador, pp. 1-25.

  • Coffeeland, pp. 1-75.

  • Rough drafts of Review Essays must be submitted online through the Quercus assignment portal

    for this class before 11:59pm on November 10.

  • 5-8pm: Writing Office Hours with Dr. Michael Kaler.

    November 15 *Student presentation by Mya Fellows and Jocelyn Catenacci
    Michael Kaler from RGAC will be in class to guide students on peer review of the rough drafts

    of Review Essays.

    Read the rough draft of a peer’s Review Essay, and provide written and oral feedback on it.

  • Watch: Romero (1989).

  • Coffeeland, pp. 76-147.

  • Upload to Quercus: the comments you gave to your partner on the peer-review sheet. Due at the end

    of class.

    November 22 *Student presentation by Jonathan Kleiman

    What You Have Heard Is True, pp. 99-194.
    Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador, pp. 26-42. Coffeeland, pp. 148-213.
    History: Why It Matters, pp. 89-103.

    November 29 *Student presentation by Melissa Nwafor Green

    What You Have Heard Is True, pp. 195-293.
    Coffeeland, pp. 214-296.
    Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador, pp. 43-79. History: Why It Matters, pp. 103-115.

    *December 1, 4pm-7pm: Writing Office Hours with Dr. Michael Kaler

    December 6 *Student presentation by Melissa Peralvo

  • What You Have Heard Is True, pp. 295-390.

  • Coffeeland, pp. 297-362.

  • Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador, pp. 114-147.

  • Due on December 7: Final version of Lit Review Essay + cover sheet describing feedback received

    and how they responded to it or incorporated it + feedback they gave their peer.


Assessments and Grading

Over the course of the semester, each of you will create the following:

Literature Review Essay (70%)

• There are three parts to this assignment: an outline, a rough draft, and a final draft. You will receive feedback on your outline and rough draft from a peer, and you will also give feedback on their drafts.

• Write an essay that reviews five of the assigned texts. Explain the subject matter, approach, arguments, and conclusions found in this group of books and articles. Show how these texts relate to each other and current scholarship on the topic.

•This paper should be between 3,000 and 4,000 words-long (points will be deducted from papers that are too short or too long); that is, between 9-13 pages, typed double-spaced in Times New Roman. Submit via Quercus as a Microsoft Word file with your name; for example, “Coleman.docx.”

• You will be graded both on the content of your essay and on the clarity of your presentation.

15%—Outline of your Review Essay must be submitted online through the Quercus assignment portal for this class before 11:59pm on October 15.

20%—Rough draft of your Review Essay must be submitted online through the Quercus assignment portal for this class before 11:59pm on November 10.

5%—Provide a peer with comments on the rough draft of their Review Essay. This is an in-class activity that you must be present to earn the points. No make-up opportunities will be provided for students who miss class on November 15. Submit through Quercus by 7:10pm on November 15.

30%— Final version of Review Essay due + cover sheet describing feedback you received from your peer reviewer and how you responded to it or incorporated it + typed feedback you gave your peer. These documents must be submitted as a single Word file through the Quercus assignment portal for this class before 11:59pm on December 7.

Discussion Board Posts (10%)*

• Submit 5 reading responses of about 200 words/each over the course of the semester.

• Due by 12noon on the day we are discussing the readings being responded to.

Presentation and Facilitation of Discussion (20%)

• Sign up to present the readings for one week. Explain the crucial arguments and evidence presented in the assigned readings for that week. Your presentation should be about ten minutes long and end with four questions for group discussion.

• Facilitate class discussion for twenty minutes.


Policy on Missed Work or Late Assignments

This is a fourth-year course that meets twice a week and is driven by class discussion. So students must come to our virtual class meetings on time and having read and thought about the assigned material. Attendance is necessary for success in this class. Students are required to declare their absence on ROSI in order to receive academic accommodation for any missed coursework. Students are allowed one excused absence over the course of the semester. Five percentage points will be deducted for each additional absence.

For anyone who cannot regularly attend our class meetings, you should prepare a 3-5 minute video summarizing your thoughts and constructively engaging with the discussion board posts of at least two of your peers for the days that you miss class. In addition, you must explicitly respond in your video to at least one comment made by your peers in our class discussion immediately preceding the one you missed (this will indicate that you are watching the recordings of our class meetings); build on what your peers are saying, make new connections to reading material. I will find a way for you to post these in our Quercus webspace for this course. Your videos must be uploaded at least two hours before class. Because this is listed by the Registrar as a synchronous class, it is a huge accommodation. I will accept ten of these videos in lieu of attendance and in-class participation. Any absences after the ten videos will be counted against you. I hope this is helpful and that you understand that upper-division classes are dependent upon students thoughtfully engaging with each other to refine their understanding of ideas and issues being studied.

Out of fairness to those who turn their work in on time, late papers will be penalized by 2 points per day.

If you have missed a term test/quiz/in-class assignment or will be submitting an assignment after the due date, due to extenuating circumstances, please review the policy on our web site and follow the instructions to submit a request directly to the Department: Special Consideration. Alternatively, you may wish to submit a request to your professor directly. Please note, your request must be submitted to EITHER the professor OR the Department, not both.

Equity and Academic Rights

“The University of Toronto is committed to equity and respect for diversity. All members of the learning environment in this course should strive to create an atmosphere of mutual respect. As a course instructor, I will neither condone nor tolerate behaviour that undermines the dignity or self-esteem of any individual in this course and wish to be alerted to any attempt to create an intimidating or hostile environment. It is our collective responsibility to create a space that is inclusive and welcomes discussion. Discrimination, harassment and hate speech will not be tolerated. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns you may contact the UTM Equity & Diversity Office at”

Accommodations for Religious Observances

“It is the policy of the University of Toronto to arrange reasonable accommodation of the needs of students who observe religious holy days other than those already accommodated by ordinary scheduling and statutory



As a student at the University of Toronto, you are part of a diverse community that welcomes and includes students, staff, and faculty from a wide range of backgrounds, cultural traditions, and spiritual beliefs. For my part, I will make every reasonable effort to avoid scheduling tests, examinations, or other compulsory activities on religious holy days not captured by statutory holidays. Further to University Policy, if you anticipate being absent from class or missing a major course activity (like a test, or in-class assignment) due to a religious observance, please let me know as early in the course as possible, and with sufficient notice (a minimum of three weeks is recommended), so that we can work together to make alternate arrangements.”

Fostering Academic Integrity

“Normally, students will be required to submit their course essays to for a review of textual similarity and detection of possible plagiarism. In doing so, students will allow their essays to be included as source documents in the reference database, where they will be used solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism. The terms that apply to the University’s use of the service are described on the web site.”

With regard to remote learning and online courses, UTM wishes to remind students that they are expected to adhere to the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters regardless of the course delivery method. By offering students the opportunity to learn remotely, UTM expects that students will maintain the same academic honesty and integrity that they would in a classroom setting.

Potential academic offences in a digital context include, but are not limited to:

  1. Accessing unauthorized resources (search engines, chat rooms, Reddit, etc.) for assessments.

  2. Using technological aids (e.g. software) beyond what is listed as permitted in an assessment.

  3. Posting test, essay, or exam questions to message boards or social media.

  4. Creating, accessing, and sharing assessment questions and answers in virtual “course groups.”

  5. Working collaboratively, in-person or online, with others on assessments that are expected to be

    completed individually.

All suspected cases of academic dishonesty will be investigated following procedures outlined in the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters. If you have questions or concerns about what constitutes appropriate academic behaviour or appropriate research and citation methods, you are expected to seek out additional information on academic integrity from your instructor or from other institutional resources.”

Intellectual Property of the Instructor and Others

“Please be advised that the intellectual property rights in the material referred to on this syllabus and posted on the course site may belong to the course instructor or other persons. You are not authorized to reproduce or distribute such material, in any form or medium, without the prior consent of the intellectual property owner. Violation of intellectual property rights may be a violation of the law and University of Toronto policies and may entail significant repercussions for the person found to have engaged in such act. If you have any questions regarding your right to use the material in a manner other than as set forth in the syllabus, please speak to your instructor.”


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