History Department
History Department

Elizabeth A O'Brien

PhD Candidate
Elizabeth A O'Brien



The history of medicine, science, and surgery; Mexico, Latin America, and the World; gender, race, and cultural studies; reproductive politics; the Catholic Enlightenment, political philosophy in history.


Elizabeth O'Brien is a PhD candidate and Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellow (2018-2019). Her dissertation, "Intimate Interventions: The Cultural Politics of Reproductive Surgery in Mexico, 1790-1940," examines religious, state, and popular struggles to influence sexual reproduction in Mexico between 1790 and 1940, with a particular emphasis on surgical interventions. This research has been published in Mexican Studies/Estudies Mexicanos and Endeavour, and has been supported by Fulbright, The National Science Foundation, the Foreign Language and Area Studies program, the Tinker Foundation, and a University Continuing Fellowship. O'Brien holds a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University, with concentrations in Chicano/Latino Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and American Indian Studies. Her 2012 M.A., awarded by UT Austin, is in Latin American Studies with concentrations in Anthropology and History.


HIS S306N • Sex/Revltn Modern Lat Amer

82959 • Summer 2018
Meets MTWTHF 10:00AM-11:30AM PAR 206
(also listed as LAS S310, WGS S301)

This course will investigate two important topics in modern Latin American history: (1) sex and gender, and (2) revolution. These themes have usually been understood independently of each other. While sex and gender are often viewed as "private" topics, for and about women only, revolution is usually understood as a political process driven by men. Yet, as this course will explore, the two themes have historically influenced each other in surprising—and even, contradictory—ways. Proceeding chronologically, from the beginning of the nineteenth century through the mid twentieth, this course will use five case studies in order to interrogate the following interrelated questions: (1) How have political, social, scientific, and cultural revolutions in Latin America been influenced by sexual politics, reproductive politics, and grassroots movements for gender and sexual equality? (2) How can we use sexual politics as a lens through which to understand (or, revise our understanding of) revolutionary movements? (3) Do revolutions always signify "progress" for women and other groups that are marginalized on the basis of sex, sexuality, and gender? (4) Why or why not?

Course Objectives

Students will develop strong definitions of the terms "sexual politics" and "reproductive politics," and they will be able to apply their knowledge of these concepts to a variety of historical circumstances. Students will also develop an understanding of the multiple and complicated meanings of revolution(s) throughout Latin American history. They will be able to discuss key differences and similarities between political revolutions, social revolutions, and cultural revolutions in modern Latin America. By the end of the course, students will give detailed examples of each, and will write short critical and analyticalessaysabout the relationship between sexual politics and political change.

Course Breakdown

Each unit will be one week in duration (7.5 lecture and discussion hours) 


Unit One:                  Scientific Revolutions in Nineteenth Century Latin American 

Unit Two:                 Liberal and Political Revolutions in Nineteenth Century Latin America 

Unit Three:               Mexico's Social and Cultural Revolution (Twentieth Century) 

Unit Four:                Cuba's Political Revolution (Twentieth Century)

Unit Five:                 Chile's Democratic Socialist Revolution (Twentieth Century)


Course Assignments

Essays: Students will write two short essays in this course (five pages, double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman Font). These essays will respond to a prompt, which will be provided two weeks before the due date. Expectations for essays will be discussed in class. 


Essay #1 is due Wednesday, August 1. This essaywill cover weeks one and two (Nineteenth     Century Scientific and Political Revolutions in Latin American). 


Essay #2 is due Monday, August 20, the last day of class. This essay will cover weeks three,      and four, and five (Mexico's Social and Cultural Revolution, Cuba's Political Revolution,                   and Chile's Democratic Socialist Revolution). 


Late Assignment Policy: One third of a letter grade will be deducted for each day that an essay is submitted late. Thus, if an essay would have earned a B+ but was submitted one day late, it will earn a B instead. Essays are considered late after the beginning of the class period in which they are due.  


Final exam: Students will have a short test on the last day of class. The exam will consist of twenty multiple choice and ID questions based on readings and lectures. There is no make-up for the final exam. If students anticipate being absent for the final, they will need to contact the instructor in advance in order to make arrangements. 


Participation: Students will benefit from active and engaged participation in the course. In order to receive full marks in participation, they will need to complete reading assignments before class. Students should bring reading notes, questions, and study materials to class, and should be prepared to engage with these in the classroom. 


Attendance: Students will be permitted one absence with no negative consequence to their grades; they do not need to notify the instructor about this absence. However, after using their "freebie" absence, students will lose one (1) participation point for each subsequent absence. In case of emergency or illness, students should email the instructor as soon as possible.



Grade Breakdown (in points): 


Essay one                                                                      20

Essay two                                                                       20

Attendance and participation                                  30 

In-class final                                                                20 

Total possible                                                               100 points


All grades will be given in points. For example, a student might receive 17.5 of 20 points on their first essay. This would be 87.5% of the total possible points for the assignment—or, a B+. 

At the end of the semester, all points will be totaled in order to calculate the final grade according to the following scale. 


Total Points                              Grade


93-100                      A 

90-92.99                                     A-

87-89.99                                     B+

83-86.99                                     B

80-82.99                                     B-

77-79.99                                     C+

73-76.99                                     C

70-72.99                                     C-

67-69.99                                     D+

63-66.99                                     D

60-62.99                                     D-

Below 60.99                             F



Course Texts (Posted on Canvas in PDF format)


Students are NOT required to purchase books for this class. All readings will be posted on Canvas as PDFs. Because this is a summer course, they will not be responsible for reading more than 80 pages per week. 


We will read selections from the following texts: 


Nora Jaffary, Reproduction and Its Discontents in Mexico, Childbirth and Contraception from 1750 to 1905

Katherine Bliss, Compromised Positions: Prostitution, Public Health, and Gender Politics in Revolutionary Mexico.

Jocelyn Olcott, Mary Kay Vaughan, and Gabriela Cano, Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico

Lois M. Smith and Alfred Padula, Sex and Revolution: Women in Socialist Cuba. 

Jadwiga Pieper-Mooney, The Politics of Motherhood: Maternity and Women’s Rights in Twentieth-Century Chile

Heidi Tinsman, Partners in Conflict: The Politics of Gender, Sexuality, and Labor in the Chilean Agrarian Reform, 1950–1973.

Pamela Murray, Women and Gender in Modern Latin America: Historical Sources and                Interpretations. 

Katherine Bliss and William French, Gender, Sexuality, and Power in Latin America since          Independence

Laura Briggs, How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics. 

Curriculum Vitae

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