AMERG001: Researching the Americas: Latin America and the Caribbean

Course convenor: Dr Graham Woodgate

The course reflects on the particular challenges of researching Latin America and the Caribbean, taking into consideration the wide variations in research conditions across the region, the particular issues involved in locating and interpreting research material in and on the region, and exploring how a range of research methods might be applied to Latin American and Caribbean societies and research problems.

The seminars will consist of lectures combined with practical group work based around Latin American and Caribbean case studies.

What are the particular challenges associated with doing fieldwork in a Brazilian favela or in a tiny underfunded archive in the Caribbean? How can researchers access elite and non-elite actors in Latin American and Caribbean societies? What are the ethics involved in researching in politically sensitive contexts such as Cuba, or interviewing in contexts where there may be adverse consequences for the interviewees or indeed the researcher? How do theories of social and historical research – often generated in the developed societies of the West – translate to contexts where the same conditions may not obtain?

In reflecting on these issues, the course will provide students with preparation in the research methods and skills necessary to undertake independent research on Latin America and the Caribbean, and in particular the skills required to facilitate the research and writing of their dissertation.

The assessment is based on a presentation (20%) and a research proposal (80%).

20 contact hours
15 credits


  1. Introduction to Research and the Dissertation
  2. Doing Research
  3. Qualitative or Quantitative Research Methods?
  4. Interviews
  5. Oral History
  6. Working with Printed Primary Materials
  7. Working with ‘non-traditional’ sources: film, visual arts, internet...
  8. Research Ethics
  9. Writing the Dissertation
  10. The Dissertation Proposal – workshop and presentations (breakaway groups)

Aims and Learning Objectives

This module will give students a practical introduction to theories and methods of research and how they can be applied to the study of Latin American and Caribbean societies. Students will learn to evaluate and apply research methods and gain an understanding of the principles of investigation and inference necessary for carrying out original research. In particular, the module will provide students with preparation in the skills required for researching and writing the dissertation.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this course you should be able to:

  • Distinguish between different methods of research
  • Understand how to apply different methods of research to the study of the Americas
  • Understand how to plan and execute independent research based on primary and secondary materials

Teaching and Learning Methods

The course is divided into ten seminars of 2 hours. Each seminar consists of lectures and practical group work generally based around case studies of relevance to the Latin American and Caribbean research context.

In the final session, students are divided into smaller breakaway groups based around discipline/research topic. In these sessions, students will give a presentation on their proposed research, applying the insights of the course to their proposed dissertation.

Assessment is on the basis of a 3000 word dissertation proposal (80 percent of the final mark) and an oral presentation (20 percent). The oral presentation must be passed in order to pass the module as a whole.

The assignment consists of a dissertation proposal that applies the insights of the course as a whole to the proposed dissertation project. Thus the assignment should reflect on matters including:

  • The research questions
  • Methodology
  • Primary sources
  • Relation of the proposed research to the existing field
  • Research Ethics

Suggested Reading

  • Robert Alford, The Craft of Inquiry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Howard S. Becker, Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about Your Research While You're Doing It. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1998.
  • Alan Bryman, Social Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008 (3rd edition).
  • William Creswell, Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. London: Sage, 2008 (3rd edition).
  • Nigel Gilbert, Researching Social Life. London: Sage: 2008 (3rd edition).
  • Alessandro Portelli, ‘What Makes Oral History Different,’ in Perks and Thomson, The Oral History Reader, 1998, pp. 63-74.
  • Doña María’s Story: Life History, Memory and Political Identity (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2000).
  • M. Punch, The Politics and Ethics of Fieldwork (Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, 1986).
  • Stephen Devereux and John Hoddinott, eds., Fieldwork in Developing Countries (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1993).
  • Margaret Proctor and C.P. Lewis, New Directions in Archival Research, LUCAS, 2000.