This page provides a list of all of the old examination questions used since 1975 at Idaho State University by Dr. J. B. Owens, Professor of History, during past semesters in History 251, Latin America, and in earlier versions of the course, that are relevant to its current content and organization. Its sole purpose is to provide students enrolled in the course with a resource they can use to get more out of the assigned readings, understand better the class lectures, and prepare well for the essay examinations. Answers to the questions are not linked to this web site and will not be provided by Dr. Owens.

You may return to the Latin America syllabus or to the course main page.

HISTORY 251, Latin America: Old Exam Questions

This page contains the examination questions used in earlier versions of J. B. Owens' sophomore-level course Latin America. Its sole purpose is to provide students currently enrolled in the course with a resource they can use to get more out of the assigned readings, understand better the class lectures, and prepare well for the essay examinations.

Questions and comments about this course should be sent to owenjack_at_isu.edu, or you may send a message now. Please include your name and e-mail address in the body of your message.

For information and ideas useful for the formulation of responses to these and other relevant questions, you may wish to consult other Latin America information sites.

Old Examination Questions

  1. How do you account for the destruction and/or transformation of the priest-centered polities of Central America prior to European conquest?
  2. What elements of their historical experience prepared the Portuguese and Castilians for the conquest and government of vast overseas territories?
  3. Why were Castilians able to conquer so quickly the well-developed polities of the Aztecs and Incas?
  4. How do you account for the differences between the Portuguese and Castilian conquests of America in the first half of the 16th century?
  5. What specific interests shaped labor policies in the Iberian (Portuguese and Castilian) monarchies' American domains? Illustrate your thesis, where possible, with specific examples.
  6. Why were law and judicial administration so important in the government of Iberoamerica (Portuguese and Castilian domains in North and South America and the Caribbean)? Illustrate your thesis, where possible, with specific examples.
  7. Why were creoles and mazombos allowed such an important role in municipal government from 1550 to 1650 when they were excluded by the Crowns of Castile and Portugal from so much of the rest of American administration?
  8. What was the impact on Latin America of the deterioration of important elements of Castilian and Portuguese royal administration in the seventeenth century (1600s)? Be sure to make clear what these elements were.
  9. Relative to certain other European countries, Castile and Portugal declined in the 17th and 18th centuries (1600s and 1700s) from their early global leadership positions in economic, political/military, and cultural affairs. Why? In defending your thesis, be specific about the other European countries involved.
  10. Why were the Dutch unable to maintain their control over Brazil in the 17th century?
  11. Why were the Jesuits (members of the Society of Jesus, S.J.) expelled from all territories of the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies in the 18th century?
  12. What factors produced significant violent attacks on Castilian and Portuguese royal administration in Latin America in the eighteenth century (1700s)? Be sure to refer to specific conflicts and discuss both Brazil and Spanish-speaking territories.
  13. How do you account for the dissatisfaction with Castilian rule among creoles in the late 18th century?
  14. What role did Enlightenment thought play in Latin America between 1750 and 1850?
  15. Why was the Haitian Revolution the only one of the great late eighteenth-century revolutions to free the slaves?
  16. Why did so many of the Hispanic Monarchy's American domains seek independence between 1810 and 1824?
  17. Why did the Portuguese and Spanish Monarchies lose control of most of their American domains between 1810 and 1825? Be sure to discuss the problems of the Portuguese and Spanish royal governments, the major independence movements in the Americas, and the ideological issues illustrated in Simón Bolívar's Jamaica letter of 1815. Your essay will be evaluated on your responses to each of these three issues.
  18. Why did the caudillo emerge as the typical political leader in Spanish America in the early independence period? Illustrate your thesis with several examples.
  19. What were the major causes of instability in post-independence Latin American politics in the 19th century?
  20. Why was the political life of 19th-century,post-independence Latin America so unstable? Illustrate your thesis with specific examples, including reference to Brazilian instability in the period 1831-1850.
  21. List (and I mean a numbered LIST) all of the factors that made the political life of 19th-century, post-independence (to the 1890s) Latin America so unstable. In your list, make reference to Mexico, 1830-1880, and to Brazilian instability in the period 1831-1850. PAY ATTENTION TO DATES! Your list will be evaluated on the basis of its length and on your ability to provide examples of all of the relevant factors. The examples need not be limited to the Brazilian and Mexican cases.
  22. Why did Mexican Liberals have to fight two major wars in support of the Constitution of 1857 and what factors led to their ultimate victory in the summer of 1867?
  23. What factors allowed the reform movement (La Reforma) to beat Conservative opposition in Mexico?
  24. Why was the Brazilian Monarchy overthrown in 1889?
  25. What factors contributed to the declining support of the Brazilian Monarchy, which permitted its overthrow in 1889? Be sure to discuss the groups that made it possible for Brazil to become an independent Empire in 1822, the erosion of the support of each of these groups over the course of the 19th century (1800s), and the growing importance of new interests that were potential opponents of the Monarchy. Your essay will be evaluated on the basis of your ability to discuss each of these three issues.
  26. Why did the establishment of a republic so closely follow the abolition of slavery in Brazil?
  27. Why did so many Latin American intellectual and political leaders of BOTH the Conservative and Liberal camps embrace Positivism and then allow the resulting alliance to dissolve?
  28. Why has land reform been such an important issue in modern Latin American history (19th and 20th centuries)? Use specific examples to illustrate your thesis. Among these examples, you will wish to discuss the cases of Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru.
  29. Why was Positivism so appealing to Latin American intellectuals with political ambitions? Illustrate your thesis with several examples.
  30. What factors contributed to the declining support of the Brazilian Monarchy, its overthrow in 1889, and the final definition of the "First Republic" (and of the Constitution of 1891) by the coffee interests in the election of 1894?
  31. Why was Francisco I. Madero unable to stabilize his version of the Mexican Revolution?
  32. What factors motivated Mexican leaders to produce in 1917 "...the first example of a constitutional document reflecting indigenous experiences and needs rather than merely copying the political ideologies of western Europe and the United States" [quoting E. Bradford Burns]? Be sure to identify clearly the revolutionary groups and leaders involved and the most innovative constitutional provisions.
  33. List (and I mean a numbered LIST) all of the factors (not just the ones that fit your interpretation) that motivated Mexican leaders to produce in 1917 "...the first example of a constitutional document reflecting indigenous experiences and needs rather than merely copying the political ideologies of Western Europe and the United States" [quoting Burns]. Be sure to identify clearly the aspects of the regime of Porfirio Díaz (as defined by Justo Sierra) against which Mexican revolutionaries were reacting, the revolutionary groups and leaders involved, and the most innovative constitutional provisions. Your list will be evaluated on the basis of its length and on your ability to provide examples of all of the relevant factors.
  34. Why were men like Obregón, Villa, and Zapata, who were from humble, impoverished mestizo families and virtually illiterate in childhood, able to become great Mexican leaders?
  35. In what ways was the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) a reaction against Positivism? In your essays, be sure to discuss Justo Sierra's defense of Porfirio Díaz, José Martí's Our America, the Manifesto of Ayala, and specific provisions of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Your essay will be evaluated in part on the basis of your ability to use these four primary sources to defend your thesis.

  36. Pretend that you are a reporter covering all of Latin America for a French newspaper during the 1920s.
    You are charged by your editors to write stories about developments in Latin American cultural and intellectual life, including work in the visual arts, literature, music, and prose writing (especially prose essays published in Latin American newspapers or book collections). Your editors tell you that French readers especially want to know about the assumptions about their countries, Latin America, and the world, which help explain the types of work done by Latin American writers, artists, and composers.
    As a guide for your work, list these assumptions held by the Latin American intellectuals and cultural leaders about whom you will write. For each of the assumptions you list, explain how it influences the nature of cultural production. Include specific references to prominent visual artists, composers, and writers, identifying the relevant cultural and social environments of intellectual life in the countries where they work.

  37. Why have so many Latin American upper class intellectuals become interested in the cultural perspectives and products of African Americans (i.e., Afro-Brazilians, etc.), Native Americans, and other non-elite groups? Use specific examples to illustrate your thesis, with special attention to Brazil, Mexico, and Peru.
  38. In what ways did Latin Americans react against the cultural and political consequences of Positivism? In your essay, discuss the cases of Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru, along with any others you would like to include. Be sure that you make clear what the cultural and political consequences of Positivism were in each of these countries. Use specific examples of anti-Positivist reactions to illustrate any thesis you defend.
  39. Why did Marxism become so popular among Latin American intellectuals? Make sure that you explain clearly the basic principles of Marxism. Note that this question refers to how those who work with ideas, such as José Carlos Mariátegui, understand the world around them. It does not refer to any particular political movement.
  40. Why did European-style fascism achieve some popularity in certain Latin American countries (e.g., Argentina and Brazil)?
  41. Why did Juan Perón become the dominant figure in the history of his nation in the period from 1945 until his death?
  42. Why were men such as Juan Perón and Getúlio Vargas able to dominate the political life of their nations? Be specific (a) about when each was prominent, (b) about the problems of their respective countries during the periods of their political prominence, (c) about the groups that supported them, and (d) about the ways they interacted with these supporting groups. Your essay will be evaluated on how you respond to each of these four tasks.
  43. Why has the post-1940 leadership of the Mexican revolutionary party turned away from the cultural and social programs that were characteristic of the period 1920-1940?
  44. Why did the United States overthrow the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954?
  45. Why did Cuba become a Marxist-Leninist state closely tied to the Soviet Union? Be specific (a) about the period of time involved and (b) about the specific events and people involved. Your essay will be evaluated on how you respond to each of these two tasks.
  46. Why did the Brazilian military reject the programs of leaders such as Getúlio Vargas and João Goulart in the period after 1964?

  47. Pretend that you are a reporter covering all of Latin America for a news publication of the United Nations in the late 1950s.
    You are charged by your editors to write a story in 1958 to mark the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (prepared under the leadership of the representatives of the United States) in the context of Latin American history since the beginning of the 20th century. In particular, your editors have assigned you to pay particular attention to the following articles of the Declaration (all quotations are from the document):
    List the specific situations and events from the early 20th century until 1958 about which you would write, and write a statement about the characteristics of each of these situations. Be specific about the individuals and places you include.

  48. In the twentieth century, why did the United States government so often fail to achieve its proclaimed goals of democracy and economic development in Latin America? Use specific examples to illustrate your thesis (Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Peru ...). Pay particular attention to the assumptions of U.S. leaders based on: (1) common U.S. ideas about the peoples of Latin America; (2) the role of "Anti-Communism" as a political ideology used by political leaders in both the U.S. and Latin America since the Russian Revolution of 1917; (3) the types of U.S. economic interests in Latin America; (4) the relationships between the Latin American and U.S. military organizations; (5) and the way that U.S. foreign policy has been formulated.
  49. Why did Latin American economies sometimes grow but not develop (to use Burns' distinction between growth and development; explained in the glossary in the Burns/Charlip book) between the late 19th century and 1960? Use specific examples to illustrate your thesis. Pay particular attention to how your examples have been important to the global economy within which Latin America has been a major world region, to the issue of land tenure, to the control of major "national" resources, to the roles of the military, to "constitutional" questions of political participation and human rights, to the rise of the "welfare state" and large "public works" projects, to political corruption and large-scale organized crime, to the rise of revolutionary movements, and to foreign intervention.
  50. Why have Latin American economies grown but not developed (to use Burns' distinction between growth and development; see the glossary in the Burns/Charlip book) since the late 19th century? Use specific examples to illustrate your thesis. Pay particular attention to how your examples have been important to the global economy within which Latin America has been a major world region, to the issue of land tenure, to the control of major "national" resources, to the roles of the military, to "constitutional" questions of political participation and human rights, to the rise of the "welfare state" and large "public works" projects, to political corruption and large-scale organized crime, to the rise of revolutionary movements, and to foreign intervention.
  51. Why has it been so difficult to establish democratic political institutions in Latin America? Use specific examples to illustrate your thesis.
  52. Why has economic failure been characteristic of Latin American military governments since the Second World War? Use specific examples to illustrate your thesis.
  53. What is the most serious problem faced NOW by the majority of Latin American countries? How and by whom should the problem be dealt with? In justifying your choice of the most serious problem and in defending your recommended solution, build your arguments on the basis of specific information you have learned about the history of Latin America. Your essay will be evaluated on both your justification and your defense.

You may return to the Latin America syllabus or to the course main page.


All contents copyright © 1995-2007.
J. B. Owens
All rights reserved.

Revised: 9 May 2007

URL: http://www.isu.edu/~owenjack/latam/oldques.html