The Cuban Revolution as an event (1959) and as a process (1950s to the present) has captured the imagination of many beyond the shores of this small Caribbean island. The polarized political terrain of the post-1945 Cold War in which the revolutionary process developed not only shaped the everyday revolutionary process but also has led to significant misunderstandings of its complex history. To many, Cuba was a symbol of successful anti-capitalist, anti-colonial struggle while for others it was emblematic of the evils of anti-liberal mobilizations (authoritarian rule, censorship, militarization of civil society, and economic scarcity). The reality lies somewhere in between or maybe entirely outside of this dichotomy. This is a seminar so students will be introduced to seminar-style learning based not on lectures but on student-driven, in-depth discussion of diverse materials.
Our intellectual aim is to explore the Cuban Revolution as a site of convergence and contestation of different projects and divergent visions within (and beyond) Cuba about how to chart a new path for a better and more equitable future. We will explore the collusions and negotiations among these aspirations and the resolutions that ended up institutionalized and, once again, reworked. Certainly, the class will cover conventional territory (U.S. interventions, charismatic political leadership, Soviet influences, the Cuban state apparatus) but mostly we will step outside this framework to privilege the making of the revolution from the ground up. In this story, the U.S. and USSR officials and Fidel Castro will be forced to share the stage with the many Cuban peoples that have forged and challenged the Cuban experiment through small and big acts. Similarly, we will focus on long-standing local/regional histories of struggle. That is, we will challenge conventional wisdom: the Cold War did not engender the Cuban Revolution but became a new global stage where those local struggles were played out—where old tensions were magnified—while still acknowledging that it did shape the revolution’s course of action—as new tensions emerged—in very particular ways.
This course is organized thematically and then chronologically, focusing on the various shifts in the direction of the revolutionary experiment, from the beginning of mobilization in the 1950s, the early experimentations with socialism the 1960s, the so-called “sovietization” process of the 1970s, the rectification period of the mid-1980s, and the special period beginning in the early 1990s. Students will examine a variety of sources including critical secondary literature, films, documentaries, newspapers, photography, literary arts, government documents, and many other primary sources.
Assessment for this class includes weekly reading reflections, film reflections, in-class written exercises, in-class quizzes, take-home exams, and a short research exercise.