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Southwest Studies- SW 175: The Southwest: An Introduction

Blocks 1 and 2: Santiago Guerra 

The two-block course meets either the Critical Perspectives: The West in Time, the Critical Perspectives: Global Cultures, or the Critical Perspectives: Social Inequality requirement.

Our course introduces students to our fascinating backyard by using diverse perspectives on the region's physical settings, histories, and cultures to explore the Southwestern United States. We will develop a set of interdisciplinary and intercultural approaches to answer important questions: how can we give context to current debates over immigration and the border? How can we both protect and use distinctive landscapes and cultural forms? How do water, altitude, and atmosphere shape the region? How does the past influence the present and future?

The course explores the complex place we call the Greater Southwest and the varied peoples who have lived, fought, traveled, written, raised families, farmed, and survived there. We will examine the strands of culture, both indigenous and imported, that intertwine in the Southwest beginning in the fifteenth century. The course asks how people have constructed and articulated a sense of place over time; we will explore the implications of how “place” manifests in the relationships people develop between themselves, the environment, and others.

The course will start with an examination of the deep past by looking at historical and anthropological records and the debates over whose voices get to define the region. We will then use a series of primary texts to examine the artistic and literary traditions of the region and assess the enduring impact of conquest. Our work will often consider the relationships between indigenous nations, the large Hispanic/Latino population in the region, and various Euro-American groups. Conflict, cooperation, and cultural blending among these groups, the various ways each group understands and affects landscape, and the ways in which land/nature has forged relationships within and between these groups are central concerns.

Students will do research on issues of concern to the region and will include their discoveries in a final 12-15 page essay.

A two-block course with one instructor; one grade will be given for the course as a whole.


  • This course serves as a gateway to the Southwest Studies major.
  • The course will require attendance at some on-campus Southwest Studies afternoon/evening lectures.
  • The course includes a one-week field trip during block 2 to a few significant sites.