Centre for Continuing Education

Latin America History Course: The New World and Five Centuries of Colonialism

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

This Latin American history course looks at the creation of the Americas starting with the 1492 arrival of Columbus. It is a paradigmatic history (a discovery, encounter or invasion) that is fundamental to understanding the formation of the modern world.

This course begins by examining the spectacular indigenous pre-Columbian civilisations (Aztec, Mayan, Incan and others) followed by the European conquest. We will then consider the lasting legacies of colonisation, which is crucial for any comprehension of contemporary Latin America, and of any Western colonial nation.

This course covers the political, ethnic, socio-cultural and economic changes that formed Latin America. We will then look at ways in which indigenous and later African cultures meshed with European cultures in a unique, world-first process of syncretism. Students will have access to revealing primary sources and original documents, and will be shown a wide range of enlightening pictorial and audio-visual material.


This course aims to expose you to a global historical view by focusing on Latin America, a key region in the world that is relatively unexplored in Australian education. The course aims to expose, through dynamic and multiformat content, the deep history of a contemporary region which has bridged continents and civilisations.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • describe the general trajectory of Latin American history since pre-colonial times until the modern era
  • conduct evaluation and analysis of primary sources and audio-visual material related to Latin American history
  • formulate historical questions related to the creation of Latin America and strive to answer them using argument and evidence
  • think critically about the concepts of “discovery”, “encounter” and “invasion” in relation to the European arrival to the Americas and the ensuing conquest and colonisation
  • identify and analyse the inclusions and relations between indigenous, European, African and mestizo cultures in the formation of Latin America
  • identify the main political, social, economic and ethnic factors in the creation and development of modern Latin American nations.


Week 1 – Introduction

Pre-Columbian indigenous civilisations, the first contact in 1492 and the creation of the New World.

Week 2 – Conquest

The end of the Aztec and Inca empires and the subjugation of indigenous civilizations (16th century).

Week 3 – The 'Spiritual Conquest'

The Catholic expansion, syncretism and indigenous identity (16th to 18th centuries).

Week 4 – The invention of slavery

African and Native American enslavement in colonial Brazil, the Caribbean and other regions (16th to 18th centuries).

Week 5 – Colonial Latin American society

The origins of machismo and gender issues, imperial decadence and rebellions against colonialism (17th & 18th Centuries).

Week 6 – Modern Latin America

Independence, the fragmentation of the new subcontinent, and indigenous peoples under modernity (19th to 21st Centuries).

Intended audience

This course is intended for all audiences or anyone interested in world history, Latin America and/or indigenous cultures. This course can benefit students taking Spanish language courses in search of a history and culture class, to gain deeper context for their learning, as well as people who have visited or are planning to visit Latin America.

Delivery style



All reading material will be made available online before class.

Recommended reading

Burns, E. B. (ed.) 1966. A Documentary History of Brazil, New York: Alfred Knopf.

Chomsky, N. 1993. Year 501: The Conquest continues, London, Verso.

Columbus, C. 1961. Four voyages to the New World. Letters and selected documents, New York, Corinth Books.

Conrad, R. E. (ed.) 1983. Children of God’s fire: A documentary history of black slavery in Brazil, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Cortés, H. 2001. Letters from Mexico, New Haven, Yale University Press.

De Las Casas, B. 1974. The devastation of the Indies: A brief account, New York, The Seabury Press.

De Las Casas, B. 1992. In Defense of the Indians, DeKalb, Northern Illinois University Press.

Galeano, E. 1985. Memory of Fire. Volume One – Genesis, New York, Pantheon Books.

Galeano, E. 1987. Memory of Fire. Volume Two – Faces and Masks, New York, Pantheon Books.

Katzew, I. 2004. Casta painting: images of race in eighteenth-century Mexico, New Haven, Yale University Press.

Nesbitt, N. (ed.) 2008. The Haitian Revolution, London & New York: Verso.

Poma, H. 1978. Letter to the King. A Picture-History of the Inca Civilisation, London & Sydney, George Allen & Unwin.

Restall, M. & Lane, K. 2011. Latin America in Colonial Times, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Sahagún, F. B. D. 1975. Florentine Codex. General History of the Things of New Spain, Santa Fe, The School of American Research & The University of Utah.

Salomon, F. & SCHWARTZ, S. (eds.) 1999. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the America. Volume 3: South America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Seed, P. 2001. American Pentimento: The Invention of Indians and the Pursuit of Riches, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Staden, H. 1874. The Captivity of Hans Staden of Hesse Among the Wild Tribes of Eastern Brazil, London, The Hakluyt Society.

Stein, S. (ed.) 2012. The Cambridge history of religions in America. Volume I, Pre-Columbian Times to 1790, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zinn, H. 2012. Howard Zinn Speaks: Collected Speeches 1963-2009, Chicago, Haymarket Books.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.