Ships: Nina, Pinta, Santa MariaCaribbean Environmental History




A biological, geographical & cultural history of the Caribbean and northern Latin American regions with an emphasis on native American, African, and European cultural contact, diffusion, and survivals. Among the oldest civilizations of the region the Toltec and Mayan peoples persist along the western fringes of this tropical archipelago and volcanic mountain shores long after the European landings in 1492 and subsequent colonization of the West Indies. The course retraces the steps of Alexander Von Humboldt’s 1799 trip to the Americas so that we focus on how conquest, enslavement, colonization, climate, migration and an impoverishment of nature reshaped the many peoples of these extensive islands and coastal expanses. This course is an inquiry into past changes in ecological conditions as they influenced the origins of contemporary agriculture, economy, and social realities of this place where numerous European peoples mingled intimately with native and African descendants to create a new world of fusion.





Alfred W. Crosby, Germs, Seeds and Animals.W. E. B. Dubois

Keen & Haynes, A History of Latin America, recent edition.

Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude.

Sydney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power.


On line

Study Guide: Nature, History & Place in the Caribbean by J. Siry.



V. S. Naipaul, The Middle Passage. (a novel).

W. E. Burghardt DuBois, The Negro.

Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place.           

Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, (a novel).

Graham Greene, The Comedians (a novel).

Derek Walcott's, The  Antilles.

Edward W. Said, Culture & Imperialism.


bookEach of the above books should be read by focusing on a key paragraph or page that embodies most or all of what that chapter or essay means. Discussions center on these key paragraphs or pages; frequently read aloud and examined in class. Books must be used in all your assignments.


 Grades: all assignments are graded with careful attention to each of these criteria:  {CLIFS}

                 1. C         clarity, coherence, spelling, grammar & logical consistency

                 2. L         length & development of your arguments, ideas, or presentations

                 3. I           information from the class texts, library research, or interviews

                 4. F         frequency of examples from the lectures, journal, notes & readings

                 5. S          subject developed & discussed in a thesis, introduction, summaries, & conclusion.


Late assignments are severely penalized, but going to TJs, the writing center, & Olin Library is rewarded. (Read more about grades and evaluating your work on pages two and three.)



What must you do?


MapYou are evaluated by what you write, to do that well, you must read, and you are asked to revise and rewrite your formal essays in order to do exceptionally well in this course.


Effective College education consists, in part, of a discourse among the writers of the past, the class and me with you. Without sharing all of these ideas, we cannot ably confront the exigencies of the present. The current problems include poverty, racism, gender inequality and exploitive tourism and manufacturing with respect to our southern neighbors in Middle America and the Caribbean basin.


For that reason all writing in my classes requires a statement as to the explicit sources from which you took your inspiration, ideas, or quotations. Note the sources for your writing even if a slight influence by others helped you to visualize a problem better, understand an incident, or conceptualize your thoughts about the assignment. If you write a page per class you will have a good source of material to use in our conversations and in your papers.


Formal essays must always have a list of all the authors and titles of the books and periodicals you have read, notes, and all sources listed with explicit page numbers.


You are to print all written work, with numbered pages, and turned in on the date the assignment is due. So, please plan ahead and start writing one to two weeks before the assignment is due. Since all writing is redrafting, I encourage you to write drafts and discuss them with me well before the due date. All collaborative work must be proposed in writing and pre-approved by me.


Take notes on your readings and refer to those in class. Discussions of material during class time should draw from the examples in the assigned readings for that day. Vocabulary is a significant key to your success in the class. Consult my web page, as there are several vocabulary entries—from basic terms to obscure words—on that site.


Failure to do the above, suggested activities could lead to your failing the course.



My Intentions in this course are for you to:

To practice a writing component of this course, my intent is for you to critically think and reflect on all of the texts' contents. Write down our discussion’s focus during class and integrate concepts by informal writing. In addition, writing formally requires you to rewrite your papers.


Read all the books carefully, take notes and think critically so you may synthesize several authors around themes in order to express your ideas more clearly in a variety of writing formats.


Write frequently in a variety of forms such as notes, e-mail, free writing, letters or essays to convey complex ideas in a simple, clear and direct fashion. Use the Internet to communicate with others to exchange electronic writing on the documentary evidence for change in the Caribbean.


Rewrite formal papers for class, by using the writing center at different stages in the composition process from invention and development to early draft and final production of essays, papers, speeches, or summaries.

Verbally present aloud to the class your questions drawn from notes on the texts, at least, every two weeks and to practice informal writing every week from the perspective of oral interpretation of crucial sections of the texts discovering the significance of spoken words in cultural advances.


Compare and contrast concepts demonstrating a chronological understanding in your writing; drawn from books by our varied authors, whose experiences in describing the diversity and unity of the Caribbean experience allows you to convey different information in an historical context.


Select a theme and examine its interpretive power with respect to informing the public about traditions, facts and social problems of wide community concern, thus reflecting your readings tying historical to contemporary matters in the Antilles, Mexico and Central America.



Central Themes are

An ecological vision ties organic and inorganic facets of existence together to explain human social developments based on three principles:

Von HumboldtScientific reality as Von Humboldt insisted is a set of interdependent geological and biological relations in which humans act, are influenced by, and affect other life.

The Earth, then, is a partner in our endeavors and not some inanimate stage upon which we act out our desires.


Cyclical systems of feedback and response are a means by which physical (El Nino events) and biological changes (introduced species) occur in ecosystems over time that influence the course of human events (Crosby, Mintz, Dubois, Kincaid, & Diamond).

    Humans are ecological actors (Crosby) and moral agents (Paz) who nonetheless     use machinery with far reaching regional & unpredictable planetary influences     (Kincaid).

Education requires a community commitment to honestly convey information to allow for an adaptive response. Knowledge, reason and morality always inform effective action to allow people to improve their conditions.

Alexander Von Humboldt, explorer, diplomat, scientist author of Ksomos.


Grades: in order to receive an:

                 Average grade in the course you must complete and comprehend the contrasts in each of the above author's perspectives in response papers short essays & a comprehensive final paper. An oral presentation based on the paper and the above texts is the final exam.

C is 70 to 79 percent.

                 Above average grade, students will tie the lectures & discussions to the texts in writing.

B is 80 to 89 percent.

                 Excellent score, exceptional students will participate in text-based discussions and do additional research from the reserve readings and independent inquiry.

A is from 90 to 96 percent



What must you do to do well in this course? You are judged every week by your comments in class based on the books; your grades (see below for details): rest on reading texts, working in a community of learning (TJs, library, groups), & completing all the assignments on time.


                 %; value                What to do;                                             When to do it                                        

 20           attendance or compensation field work.

 20           interview at Career Services, prep with office interview & class presentations.

 20           1st essay on ecological invasion and oral presentation from Crosby.

 20           2nd  essay on Mintz and Keene with oral presentation on texts.

 20           final essay and oral presentation contrasting Paz to Dubois.





                 What is due?                                                                             When due?                             Grade value              


Participation -- speaking in class, e-mail, & attending             2 pt./week                                                 20 %;

Asking and answering questions based on the text, reading aloud and presenting verbal reports, demonstrate alertness in class and is rewarded as are the outcomes of group work.


1st Essay -- understanding an ecological invasion, written draft & corrections                                   20 %;

This is an (6 pp.) essay developed from the Crosby, Mintz and Haynes texts, primarily but including class        discussions, my web site and reserve readings.


Oral --   (Class presentations) interview and office preparation meeting for 4 talks to class             20 %;

Each month you put together selected readings around the monthly themes of slavery, revolution, Latino identity and cultural syncretism (the blending of African and Ibero, with Euro-American traditions into an Afro-Caribbean heritage). From Crosby, Paz, Mintz and Dubois readings.


2nd  ESSAY --  “synthesizing ideas”  from Mintz, Dubois, Paz & Keene draft & rewritten paper          20 %;

This is a process you must participate in fully to pass a credit/no credit pretest, short answer responses to questions on the above texts and a corrected short (3 to 5 pp.) essay.


Final  --  “The Caribbean,” written essay: & verbally* present a summary                                            20 %;

This is a comprehensive written draft and final essay (7 pp.), & 250-word abstract, a summary of which is verbally presented at the final exam. Essay must include all the authors on defining and preserving Caribbean cultural & natural resources with specific references to all readings, specific places. Discuss and analyze a reasonable means for us to understand how the region’s societies, or Mexico is best seen as a fusion of resilient cultural traditions that must be protected & preserved.

All work must be your own, other's ideas or words must be attributed by a specific reference, or else you have committed a fraud, and you are guilty of plagiarism, for which you can fail this class.




Keen & Haynes, A History of Latin America & the Caribbean: should be read throughout the first three months for geographical and historical details, especially Chapters 1-8, 11-12, 17-18, 20-21.

The other books form the focus of discussions, as follows each month so keep notes on these authors:


booksJanuary-February – The Mayan legacy and Columbian Exchange

Alfred W. Crosby, Germs, Seeds and Animals

                  Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life

February – Von Humboldt, Slavery & the role of trade and plantations

Sydney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power

March – The Mexican identity as a model of mestizo culture

Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude

April – Race prejudice, imperialism and US Foreign policy

Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place

W.E.B. Dubois, The Negro


A summary page of most web links to the class.

Map index to maps in the course.




Dates                      MONTH, Days, & topics                                    


16 Who are we and what do we desire to feel, know, and say?

18 An introduction to ethnic studies; master narratives & places in our minds

                 Crosby, vii-xvi, Keen & Haynes, pp. xii-4 (ten pages).

23 The biological elements of culture: expression, food, and range.

Crosby, pp. 28-44. Keene & Haynes, pp. 5-27.

24 Global Warming teach-in; Crummer Auditorium 12:30 – 1:50 PM.

25 16th Century: A holocaust, or "discovery," or a mere disruption?

                 Juno Diaz, pp.  1-7. Crosby, pp. 3-27 and pp.180-190.

28 Ecology of Europe in the Caribbean; Turtles, manatees, mangroves, and more!

                 Crosby 45-61. Keene & Haynes, pp. 35-74.

30 European Wars of imperial rivalry 1660-1715: the Indies as a prize.

                 Crosby, pp. 62-96. Keene & Haynes, pp. 75-108.

Do make an appointment at the Career Services Office for a taped interview.



1 Oral presentation of Crosby selections [Choose any chapter except for 8 or 11, to summarize]
Explain your selections & questions, in light of the Columbian Exchange,

                 by defining ecological elements of disease, vegetation, domestic animals, & place.             

4 What is ethnicity? Social Aspects of Culture: language, faith, food, names, stories & collective memory – see Juno Diaz, pp. 11-118.

                 6 European hegemony & the Wars of imperial rivalry 1710-1815: revolutionary change.

                                   Keene & Haynes, pp. 131-156.

     8 Who was Alexander Von Humboldt and what did he do? A study in Euro-hegemony and a means of organizing knowledge about the world. Keene & Haynes, pp. 157-175.

                 11 Food for thought: diet & domain, impacts of food preferences on the terrain of places.

Crosby, pp. 148-179. Mintz, pp. xv-18.


     13 Von Humboldt, Herder and historicity as Herodotus’ gifts: Ecological elements of climate, vegetation, domestic crops & animals, disease,                  settlements and place, Crosby, pp. 82-119. Keene & Haynes, pp. 108-117.

                 15 Ecological Invasion” essay (6 pp. typed excluding a time line) due -- Crosby.                

                 18 Sweetness and Power, Continuity & change in dietary habits, fashion and desire.         Mintz, pp. 19-73.                 

                 20 Sugar growing & processing as the industrial revolution’s origins. Mintz, pp. 74-150                

                 22 Power of taste, fashion, and class identity Mintz, pp. 151-214.                

                 25 formal (practiced) oral presentation of Mintz material his words & your interpretation                 

                 27 Getting real: Ethnicity and Food. Are we any more, or less than what we eat?         Keen & Haynes, pp. 175-192.


                 29 (Leap Year celebration) day off in lieu of the field trip or the Teach-in attendance. 



Set up fifteen-minute meetings with me in my office to discuss your final comprehensive essays.  




                 3 The Labyrinth of Solitude: What is the meaning of identity in the modern world?

                                   Keen & Haynes, pp. 217-226.  Paz, pp. 9-64.

                 5 The Mestizäje Republic: Estados Unidas de Mexico -- final redraft of adding Mintz to Crosby essay due

                                   Paz, pp.  65-116

                 7 What do our culture’s languages & symbols mean with respect to knowing our history?    Paz, pp. 117-173.

                 10-14 Spring Break

                 17 Independence to Revolution: defining laissez faire & nationalism.                                    Juno Diaz, pp. 119-233.
                 19 Deconstructing nations and nationalism, what constitutes a people?

                                   Keen & Haynes, pp. 243-317.

                 21 Present Day & Dialectic of Solitude: Is there a means of knowing lies from facts? Paz,  pp. 175-194.
24 oral presentation of Octavio Paz selections and their historical meaning.   Paz, pp. 195-212.

     26 oral presentation of Octavio Paz selections and their historical meaning. Paz, pp. 213.
                 28 oral presentation of Octavio Paz selections and their historical meaning. The Other Mexico: Paz, pp. 213-283.      
                 31 West African Slaving: Are war, human bondage and capitalism related? Paz, pp. 284-325, Dubois, pp. 8—29, 47-103, 143-159.

Your final essay’s early draft due (or make an appointment at the Writing Center! ) about, “The Caribbean” a theme based on all of the author’s views. April                  2 The moral problem of Slavery in Western Civilization: the colonizers & colonized.

Dubois, pp. 160-192.

What are the "badges and the symbols" of slavery today?                                    Dubois, pp. 232-272.

     7 Contemporary voices select a passage from Dubois to interpret

                 9 Contemporary voices-- Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place ( Antigua )                                    Kincaid, pp. 3-74.

     11 Creativity & resiliency of African American island cultures. Paz, pp. 329-398

Last due day for final essay’s early draft , “The Caribbean” a theme from all of the authors                

               14 Eric Said, Culture & Imperialism (library reserve) Keen & Haynes, pp. 424-520.

               16 Haiti and the embarrassing legacy of rebellion. Read hand-outs and web page.                 

               18 Vodun and resistance: web site and web research.                

               21 How do we judge one culture through the eyes of another?                 Keene & Haynes, pp. 521-554.                 

               23 Contemporary voices select a passage from Dubois to interpret                 

               25 The fragmented and hybrid ecology: values and sense of biological diversity.              Keene & Haynes, pp. 555-593.                     

               28 Fractured past, fragmented present, hybrid ecology: Making sense of diversity.            Juno Diaz, pp. 233-307.                

               30 “Protecting the Caribbean,” Your revised essay’s final draft (7 pp. typed) due              Juno Diaz, pp. 311-335,

                           “The Caribbean” a theme derived from all of the authors that you fully develop, such as “Protecting Our Past, ”          

                           “Persistence of the Past,” “Haunted by the Past,” “ The Past as Prelude” etc.  


May    1Final Exam: A Comprehensive Final Exam,   Thursday: 8-10 AM

A 5 minute verbal synopsis of your written essay--“The Caribbean” a comprehensive theme derived from all of the authors, that you fully develop, on topics such as: “Protecting Our Past,” “Recovering our Past,” or “Making Peace with our Past.” What elements define the Caribbean today from its history and its experiences?




What do you have to demonstrate? The written and verbal articulation of some extended familiarity with all of the authors, my web site and the lectures. I do this in the following way:  

20           attendance or compensations. 

20           interview at Career services & prep with office interview.  

20           essay on ecological invasion and oral presentation from Crosby & Mintz.  

20           essay on Mintz, Dubois, Kincaid, and Keene with oral presentation on texts.  

20           final essay and oral presentation contrasting Paz to Dubois.




My desire is to make you at least as smart as the U. S. State Department concerning the history of our associated nations: Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.



Compare this map to a map of the Caribbean and Mexico, or New Spain and New Granada in 1570.


 All written work is formal, in that references with page numbers and citations based on a bibliography must be clear and consistent. You must attribute ideas and not just quotations to their respective authors. Few of us are original thinkers, so cite your influences in all written work as a matter of scholarly habit.  By formal, I mean minimally, a six page, typed (12 point double spaced), paper with either footnotes or endnotes, a list of at least ten sources, a timeline, and 200-word abstract. Brevity is the soul of wit.” A total of 15 pages of writing is a minimum for the entire course. More is not better, but I keep track of how much you write and the sources you consulted in addition to your grade and the important concepts you define. The essay's abstract or summary is presented (not read) in a rehearsed five minute verbal presentation at the final exam period, including every author's opinions on preserving Caribbean cultural & natural traditions with specific references to all assigned readings, specific places from the texts and a clearly explained, reasonable means of employing existing mixed populations, and indigenous people’s in the future. 

Note on continuity.
Before every essay is due, you are asked to select a chapter, or sections from the readings to interpret orally to the class. The purpose of this sequence is not arbitrary, so select passages, you will use in your forthcoming essays and raise questions for the class to consider or ask questions you feel you want answered before placing these passages into your essays. Each author builds upon the previous one, so as you read keep a running journal of your notes, but summarize those notes weekly to begin to pick out themes that you can use in your final essay in explaining the Caribbean and Mexican cultural legacies. Bring those notes to meeting with me in April.



It is my desire for you to excel in this class. To improve your verbal presentations I am asking you to tape an interview in the career services office, so schedule an appointment there in January.  You excel in that interview and the class by reading carefully and asking serious questions about the texts, the evidence they present and the conclusions drawn about how social systems persist despite imperial conquest and cultural domination. I am here to assist your intellectual and emotional development with respect to understanding ourselves as public members of a society, ethnic heritage, and cultural tradition we inherit. I reward you for working hard and developing your own answers to the rather deep and challenging questions posed weekly in the class. For every hour of class, three hours of study is expected.  


A significant product of my wanting you to perform at an excellent level is that you may discover the value of persistence: personally and culturally. There are peoples in the America’s today; such as Tarahumara, Hopi, or Arawak societies, whose resilience in the face of five centuries of European colonization is a testimony to human endurance, creativity and genius.  


Life a bit like a play, into which we—as walk-on actors—enter in the midst of the action, without being aware of what came before we entered the script. This class tries to reveal to each of you a bit of the ongoing plot with respect to our neighboring actors in the Antilles.


Books | Grades | My Intentions | Central Themes | Assignments | Readings | Calendar | Final | Continuity

Paz | ConclusionStatement on Excellence | Survival tips | What you have to do | Study Guide | Honor Code

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