Fall 2016 - HIST 459W D100

Problems in the Political and Social History of Latin America (4)

Latin America Drug Wars

Class Number: 6393

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 9:30 AM – 1:20 PM
    HCC 2205, Vancouver

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including nine units of lower division history. Recommended: one of HIST 104, 208, 209W.



Advanced concepts and methodology applied to the study of traditional and contemporary institutions (the church, the great estate, the peasantry, elite structures) and/or political movements (agrarian revolution, populism, the modernizing military). Emphasis placed on changing historiographical interpretations. Content may vary from offering to offering; see course outline for further information. HIST 459W may be repeated for credit only when a different topic is taught. Writing.


The Latin American Drug Wars

For much of the past century, modern nation states have been consumed by drug wars of varying intensity. Beginning in early 20th century, police agencies and militaries in a variety of countries have claimed uncounted billions of dollars in the effort to stem the production, flow, and consumption of commodities deemed illegal drugs. It has been a war without end, fought mainly in poor neighborhoods in the US or in Latin America, and aside from the absurd social, economic and political distortions it has produced, it has also been a war that has never seemed winnable.

This course charts the history of those conflicts and seeks to understand their specific impact on the lives of Latin Americans. We seek to begin, really, at the beginning, to ask difficult questions about how and why certain mind-altering substances became illegal over time while others were marked as illicit. From there we chart the course and impact of the struggles over legality and various ways in which those battles speak to global power imbalances and the vulnerability of Latin American states to capture by special interests. In all of this we cannot really ask for a different history than the one Latin Americans experienced at the hands of traffickers, state officials, and the drugs themselves, but we do hope that a clear understanding of this past might offer the possibility for a different future.


  • Final Exam 10%
  • Weekly Commentaries 10%
  • Class Presentations 10%
  • Peer Reviews 5%
  • Book Review 10%
  • Film Review 20%
  • Primary Document Analysis 20%
  • Participation 15%



Javier Auyero, Philippe Bourgois, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Violence at the Urban Margins. Oxford, 2015. ISBN 978-0190221454

Don Lattin, The Harvard Psychedelic Club. HarperOne, 2011

Shaylih Muehlmann, When I Wear My Alligator Boots: Narco-Culture in the U.S. Mexico Borderlands. California, 2013. ISBN 978-0520276789

Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, Intoxicants. Vintage, 1993. ISBN 978-0679744382

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Sound of Things Falling, Riverhead, 2014. ISBN 978-1594632747

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