Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Latin American Studies



Undergraduate Degrees

Latin American Studies offers an exciting and diverse undergraduate major, one of the few area-studies majors at Penn State. The major requires 43 credits; an undergraduate minor is also offered with a 30-credit requirement.

The degree is offered by the College of Liberal Arts. Depending on individual students’ interests, it can include courses in the departments of Anthropology, Economics, History, Political Science, and Spanish and Portuguese, as well as courses in the Department of Art History in the College of Arts and Architecture, and in the Geography department in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. There are also a number of LAS-related Education Abroad programs.  If you have any questions regarding the suggested courses or would like to know if a certain course would be approved for the major or minor, e-mail the program director,  or any of the faculty on the Latin American Studies Steering Committee.

The major and minor in LAS are designed to be combined with other majors and minors to create a multidisciplinary degree that will enrich the student’s educational experience at Penn State and be appealing to potential graduate programs and employers. Most LAS majors go on to law school or graduate school; others find jobs with corporations that have Latin American interests or with US government agencies such as the NSA and State Department.

The following is a list of typical courses that can be counted toward the Latin American Studies undergraduate major or minor:

African-American Studies

AFAM 83: First-Year Seminar in African-American Studies

A general introduction to human and cultural elements of African origin in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America.


HIST 178 Section 001: Colonial Latin American History (listed as Latin American History to 1820)

An Honors class that will take the form of a seminar, prioritizing discussion over lectures, covering Latin America’s history from the 1490s to the 1820s.

HIST 178 Section 002: Colonial Latin American History (listed as Latin American History to 1820)

This lecture/discussion course explores the history of Latin America from the conquest of the New World and the development of colonial institutions, their impact on native cultures, the maintenance of slavery and forced labor systems, to the origins of independence movements. We will also study colonial-era documents produced by or about actual people who lived in colonial Latin America, including Spaniards and Portuguese; African slaves and free blacks; Mayas, Nahuas and Aztecs, Incas; and women, men, and children.

HIST 179: Latin American History Since 1820

This course focuses on Latin America (with limited coverage of the Caribbean) from the early 1800s through the present. For the colonial period (c.1500-c.1820), it is easy to see why Latin America has a “common history,” as most of it was ruled by two quite similar countries, Spain and Portugal. But after the colonial system collapsed, giving rise to over a dozen independent countries by the 1830s, the issue becomes more complicated. What do these dependence upon markets in developed countries for their economic prosperity? How can we explain the continuing similarities between these countries, without losing sight of their diversity? The approach of this course is broadly chronological, but for each period we will focus on one or more countries that illustrate (however imperfectly) the trends of the period. The goal of the course is not to provide an encyclopedic knowledge of Latin America, but rather to provide a framework for understanding how current issues are rooted in past historical processes, and to offer a better sense of how key historical themes are “lived” by ordinary people in Latin American society. A related goal of the course is to acquaint students with the historiography of Latin American: the different approaches that historians have used to understand the region. Students will be evaluated on two sets of essay exams and a paper, as well as participating in classroom discussion.

HIST 320 Section 001: Modern Bondage in the Americas (Undergraduate Seminar)

Divided evenly between lecture and discussion section, this course will examine the importance of slave labor in the establishment of the Americas. We will focus plantation and urban slavery, and will focus especially on the United States, Brazil and Cuba.


SPAN 355: Topics in the Cultures of Latin America

This course offers a comparative study of literatures, artistic manifestations, intellectual traditions, and cultural productions of the Latin American region.

Prerequisites: SPAN 200 and SPAN 253W


ANTH 422 : Meso-American Archaeology and Ethnography

Survey of ethnohistorical and ethnographic patterns of Meso-American society; origin and development of ancient civilization in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Prerequisites: ANTH 8, ANTH 9Nor ANTH 11


HIST 302W.004: Environmental History of the Americas

This seminar is about the long-term transformation of the environment in the American hemisphere, from present-day Alaska to the southern tip of Chile. Our goal is to study how different peoples have grappled with natural forces such as hurricanes, overcome (or been defeated) by environmental challenges, and transformed the natural landscape. Environmental history is an innovative and exciting subfield because it emphasizes inter-disciplinary work and addresses present-day concerns. Historians have partnered with scholars in the natural sciences to ask new research questions about society’s impact on the physical world and our interactions with non-human historical actors.

In this class, we will study environmental history for its obvious relevance to contemporary issues, as well as to understand change over time. Current climate change is historically unprecedented, but it is a fact that human settlement has always brought about some level ecological transformation. We need to know about the past to face the future. So, during the first half of the semester, will study a number of exemplary historical cases, including: the so-called “Maya Collapse”; the destruction of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil; the near-eradication of the American bison; and the catastrophic effects of insecticides like DDT, among other topics. In doing so, students will learn about historical methodology, including primary-source research, data analysis, and theory. With this foundation, each student will then develop his or her own historical question, carry out research, and work on a project that presents his or her findings in a traditional research paper or in a digital medium, such as a public wiki. All projects will articulate a historical argument, be based on primary sources, include images and figures, and contain an extensive review of the scholarly literature.

Prerequisite: 4th semester standing

HIST 467: Latin America and the United States

Historical development of policies of the United States with regard to Latin American affairs from colonial times to the present.


SPAN 297B: Introduction to Latin American Visual Culture

Photographs, cartoons, graffiti, movies, cartels, blogs, advertisement, music videos, newspapers, underground magazines, blogs, are some of the manifestations of the contemporary visual word. This course offers an introduction to the Latin American visual culture in its nearly infinite manifestations. Through careful looking, reading, writing, and discussions, students will be encouraged to think the visual word in the construction of the historical, political, social and subjective dimensions from the end of the 19th century to our times. Among the issues to be examined are: the function, production, and consumption of visual images in different cultures; the foreign gaze; war and propaganda (Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War), the margins of the city; sexuality and abjection; political power; death and memory.

Prerequisite: SPAN 100

SPAN 355: Topics in the Cultures of Latin America

This course offers a comparative study of literatures, artistic manifestations, intellectual traditions, and cultural productions of the Latin American region.

Prerequisites: SPAN 200 and SPAN 253W

SPAN 472: The Contemporary Spanish American Novel

The regionalist and social novel since 1910, together with the social background.

Prerequisite: SPAN 253W

SPAN 497A: Detective Fiction (Ink and gunpowder)

The goal of this undergraduate course is to give students the theoretical grounding to analyze detective texts, and to introduce them to major trends in Spanish and Spanish-American detective fictions. By reading a collection of short stories, which adopt and adapt different elements of the genre (the criminal, the law, the motivation, the investigation, etc.), we will examine how several Spanish and Spanish American writers use the crime model as a pre-text and a pretext to undergo social criticism, self-inquiry and meta-fictional questionings that expand the scope of the classical whodunit.

Prerequisite: SPAN 253W