This course offers an introduction to the Amazon (primarily, but not only Brazil) through a series of key readings and films. It discusses some of the concrete changes taking place in the Amazon today as well as a number of transformations in the way that the region is represented in scholarly and journalistic texts and in fictional and documentary movies. Recent archaeological discoveries that prove that the Amazon has for millenia been a blend of forests and cities gives a new dimension to examinations of lived realities and the time-honored images frequently summoned up in outsiders’ minds. As a result, the course focuses on both concrete and imaginative spaces in order to forge a comparative perspective of use to students not just in the Humanities, but also in fields as varied as Architecture, Urban Planning, Anthropology, History, and Environmental Studies.
We will draw on colonial texts and their reappearance in contemporary writing, indigenous testimonies, maps and art work, literary texts about Amazonian forests and cities, and cinematic works in which the authors and narrators speak from vary different perspectives. Many of the readings are classic works—Henry Walter Bates’ The Naturalist on the River Amazons; Michael Taussig’s Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man; Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Storyteller. Others are newer additions—Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa’s The Falling Sky, anthropologist Lucas Bessire’s Behold the Black Caiman and novelist Milton Hatoum’s Orphans of El Dorado. Students will incorporate insights from their own disciplines into class discussions and a final project that will attempt to see the Amazon from multiple points of view.