Cities have occupied Latin American writers, artists, and scholars since the early decades of the sixteenth century. Mapped on to preexisting settlements of indigenous importance, colonial cities became the center of Iberian administration in the New World. They imparted justice, granted citizenship rights, set the standard of civility and religious orthodoxy, and held the promise of economic improvement. The preeminence of cities in Latin America continued into the modern period. Mexico, Buenos Aires, and Rio de Janeiro became opulent and unequal metropolitan centers in the nineteenth century. Unconstrained growth brought about the megalopolises of our current day.
This seminar will explore Latin America's major urban centers in significant moments from the pre-Hispanic period until the present day. Through chronicles, travel narratives, photography, legal writings, newspaper archives, maps, and film we will reconstruct the many dimensions of urban culture in the region. The course will be organized thematically and geographically. We will begin by studying the ways in which Latin American writers have understood the role of the city, and its dwellers, in shaping the trajectory of their various nations. We will pay particular attention to themes like the city and modernity, the every-day experiences of urban residents, racial, gender, and social inequality, the city as a site of historical memory and violent contestation, the environmental challenges of urban growth, and the rise and fall of counter-cultural and protest movements.