Description: The question of “truth” and its importance (or its unimportance) is at issue now more than ever. Oxford Dictionaries have declared that their “word of 2016” was “post-truth.” The idea of “post-truth” is that people are less concerned with whether something is true or not, than with how it makes them feel. It is argued that some of the most decisive political events of the past year–not least the rise of President Elect Donald Trump in the USA–can be explained by this phenomenon.
If research (fact-checking, investigation) no longer seems to count, or to make much difference to how people think or act, its usefulness or legitimacy is now in question.
So we will not simply be practicing research in this seminar. We will also be thinking about what it means to do research, what is the point of doing research, and how our ideas about research might have changed over time.
As a way to think about these issues, we will be reading a series of books and films from Latin America that deal with testimony, witnessing, and historical investigation. They include Rodolfo Walsh’s Operación masacre, Miguel Barnet’s Biografía de un cimarrón, Elizabeth Burgos and Rigoberta Menchú’s Me llamo Rigoberto Menchú, and Mario Vargas Llosa’s El hablador. These often deal with issues of great importance for ordinary people: state violence, human rights, cultural identity. But their truthfulness has also been questioned, or they have even questioned what we think to be true. We will look therefore at the controversies and debates that these texts have provoked. And we will research them, but we will also ask ourselves about what we are doing (and why) as we do such research.
Among your assignments you will be asked to contribute to an article on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is perhaps the first place we tend to look to find out a fact (in other words, to research a topic), yet whose fundamental principle is not truth at all, but verifiability.
In class: You must do the reading in advance of each class, and bring a copy of the text to class. The texts are all available online, so you can either bring a laptop if you have one, or print the text out. Please, no cellphones in class; there will be no tolerance for cellphone use. Printing out the texts will still be far cheaper than if we had ordered the texts from the bookstore.
Blog: You will write twelve weekly c. 400-word responses to the reading on a blog (either one you already maintain, or one you set up specifically for the class). You will also comment (a sentence or two) on at least two other students’ blogs each week.
Assessment: a Wikipedia project (45%), and an 8-10 minute video (40%), which will be posted publicly on YouTube. Your blog entries and comments, plus attendance and participation, will constitute the final 15% of your grade.
The grades for the Wikipedia project and video will be broken down as follows:
Wikipedia project: article assessment (10%), research exercise (15%), final contribution (20%)
Note that if your Wikipedia article becomes a “artículo bueno,” you will automatically receive (at least) an A for the entirety of this assignment.
Video project: rough cut (10%), script (15%), performance (10%), creativity and technical expertise (5%).
The Wikipedia project will be in Spanish; the video can be in either Spanish or English.
There are no exams in this course, and no final paper.
Note that if you miss more than three classes over the semester without written justification (such as a doctor’s note), your grade will be affected: for each extra absence, it will be reduced by 5%. Moreover, each week that you do not write your blog entry or comment on other students’ blogs will be counted as an absence from class.
Plagiarism: Plagiarism (the uncredited use of other people’s words or thoughts) will be seriously penalized. Don’t even think about it.
Course convenor: Jon Beasley-Murray (firstname.lastname@example.org). His office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays, BuTo 808, 12-1pm, or by appointment. You should feel free to get in touch with him if you have any queries or problems. It is always better to deal with problems when they arise than to keep quiet and hope they go away!