Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies/Department of History

School of Arts and Sciences

The History of Puerto Rico
LatCar 371/Hist 371
Last updated

Dr. Aldo A. Lauria Santiago
B200 Lucy Stone Hall-LIV
Office Hours: Thursday 9-10AM or by Appt.

This course will provide students an advanced introduction to the history of Puerto Rico in Caribbean and American contexts.  The study of the post-conquest history of Puerto Rico history covers over five centuries.  Four hundred years under Spanish rule and over 100 under US rule.  Because of this persistent colonial history Puerto Rico is often presented as an exceptional place with a history unlike any other. Puerto Rico presents some unique characteristics because of its hybridity-a self-identified nation that is thoroughly integrated into the United States; a mostly Spanish-speaking country that considers itself part of Latin America and the Caribbean; a diasporic nation with millions of island born people living on the US mainland.

But Puerto Rico, an archipelago of three inhabited islands, also shares many aspects of Caribbean and American history. Despite its long history as an unsovereign territory it shares even its lack of sovereignty with other parts of the Caribbean that continue being part of European or North American states.  It also shares many experiences with "national" places like Cuba and with entities within the US state like New York City.
We also can't study colonial places independently of their colonial metropolis or in some shared framework with similar other places.  It would be a mistake to teach the island’s history as if it could be detached from the history of the US and the actions of its government, military and colonial office. Yet, at the same time, Puerto Rico's history is most definitely not the history of the US. In addition to all the familiar social categories that historians consider (class, political economy, gender, development, exploitation, etc.), colonial rule poses some special challenges that aren’t always solved by any particular theoretical or conceptual resources that derive from the comparative study of colonialism.

Perhaps the only constant that we can find in the colonial matrix of Puerto Rican history, beyond the ideologically driven debates between political factions, is the constant search for autonomy, reform and effective but not systemic anti colonial demands--in a sense--the constant compromise by its local elites with different levels of support with the larger status quo.
What all of this means is that this course will emphasize three distinct threads: political, economic and social history, with only a cursory glance at cultural history. And whe examined through these three dynamics the history of Puerto Rico becomes additionally complicated when placed in comparative and colonial frameworks.
Those of you familiar with the history of Puerto Rico will know that there are a few themes that dominate discussions of Puerto Rican history: the political “status” issue, the alternation of political parties, the long-term fiscal and economic crises and the reassertion of colonial rule.  We will discuss these issues at the end of the semester, but I will not allow our discussions to constantly return or be reduced to these issues.  It would be a mistake and a waste of our time to try to learn the rich history of Puerto Rico as if the current or contemporary issues were inevitable or predictable.  And as much as we will be talking a lot about nation, nationalism, colonialism, etc. it is important that we make an effort to not start with a political or cultural nationalist reading of the history we are studying.  In other words, suspend political ideology until the appropriate time.   If you are don’t want to have historical research and discussions challenge your political ideas then don’t take this course.
As a 300 level course it will require significant student work. Expect about 100 pages of readings per week (3 chapters, articles or equivalent). We will also have documentaries, historical photos, newsreels, and probably some guest speakers.
Every week I will try to post an alternative or supplemental reading in Spanish by Puerto Rican or other historians. Also, if you are interested in pursuing further any of the themes we will introduce let me know and I will recommend additional materials.
After completing this course, the attentive and responsible students who do the required work should be able to: 

Students are expected to read all required readings, view all scheduled films, attend class on time, and participate actively in the discussions that follow every lecture, films, and in-class group assignments. Grades will be based on attendance and active participation in class discussions and group work, written work, and exams according to the formula listed below.

  1. Attendance, class participation, and improvement: 20%
  2. Eigh semi-weekly writing/analysis assignments: 5% each (40%)
  3. First partial exam: 20%
  4. Second partial exam: 20%

Final grades will be calculated according to the Department's current grade policy:

A (93-100) / B+ (89-92)/ B (81-88) / C+ (77-80) / C (70-76) / D (65-69) / F (64 and Below)
Readings might change as the semester develops but I will let you know a week ahead of time.  I will also call on students in class and there may be unannounced quizzes on the readings throughout the semester.

  1. Electronic gadgets
Cell phones and ALL other electronic devices and software not necessary for your readings or notes must be turned off during class.  If you look at your phone once or twice in the semester because you are expecting some important text reply that’s acceptable if you put your phone away immediately.  If you do this more than a few times I’ll ask you to leave.  I am standing in front of all of you and I can see all of you!  Failure follow policy on electronic gadgets will result in a deduction of points from class attendance and participation.  If a student persistently violates this rule she or he will be asked to leave.  It is not acceptable to be doing ANY online work other than what is required by our course or social interactions electronically during class time.  Tablet use for PDF readings is encouraged but I have zero tolerance for in-class social media and email use.  PUT IT AWAY AND CLOSE IT FOR 80 MINUTES!!

  1. Class attendance and participation.
Attendance and active participation in this course is mandatory and absences will only be excused under extraordinary circumstances such as medical emergencies. In such cases, students must email me and bring a doctor's or US Marshal’s note for the following class. Missing classes without presenting proper documentation will affect your final grade for this course. Students will sign the attendance sheet at the beginning of class. Lateness is very disturbing to the development of class dynamics and will not be tolerated. If you arrive more than 5 minutes late you will lose points on the attendance portion of your final grade!  Failure to turn off electronic gadgets will result in a deduction of points from class attendance and participation.  You are also expected to use the University absence reporting website to indicate the date and reason for your absence.  An email is automatically sent to me generated by this system.

  1. Communication with professor
I value direct and clear communication with students. If you have any sorts of issues which are affecting your participation in this class, come to my office hours or contact me via email to set up an appointment. In general, students are encouraged to use the office hours to seek help with processing course materials and to discuss your progress in the course. Information regarding this course will be circulated on email via Sakai. It is your responsibility to check your email the day before class for important updates.

  1. Writing assignments
Any sources informing your writing for this class must be cited appropriately and included in a bibliography at the end of the paper or assignment using standard social science citation practice (in-text citations and an appropriately formatted final bibliography at the end-we will go over this in class before the first assignment is due). Students must proof-read and run spell-check before turning assignments in. Points will be deducted on written assignments that do not meet such basic standards. Students are strongly encouraged to seek help with writing assignments from any of the Campus Writing Centers. Assignments must be submitted to your Sakai dropbox before the beginning of class. No hardcopies are necessary unless otherwise indicated by the Professor. No late assignments will be accepted and make-up work may not be requested for missed assignments unless exceptional circumstances such as medical emergencies inhibit a student to hand in work on time.

  1. Plagiarism
Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else's ideas, words, or artistic, scientific, or technical work as one's own creation. Using the ideas or work of others is permissible only when the original author is recognized. Paraphrasing and summarizing, as well as direct quotations, require citations to the original source. Plagiarism may be intentional or unintentional. It is the student's responsibility to recognize the difference between statements that are common knowledge (which do not require documentation) and restatements of the ideas of others. Paraphrase, summary, and direct quotation are acceptable forms of restatement, as long as the source is appropriately cited. Lack of dishonest intent does not necessarily absolve a student of responsibility for plagiarism. Students caught copying from another source without due credit will automatically receive an F on the assignment in question and will fail the course. In addition, they will be reported to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs (SJA) and appropriate sanctions will be applied. Please familiarize yourself with Rutgers' policy on academic integrity available at If you still have questions about what constitutes plagiarism, ask!

  1. Students with disabilities.
Rutgers University welcomes students with disabilities into all of the University's educational programs. In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, a student with a disability must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation: If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus's disability services office will provide you with a Letter of Accommodations. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. To begin this process, please complete the Registration form on the ODS web site at:
The course materials consists of journal articles, legal documents, essays, text selections, and book chapters that are available from the Sakai site at To access the readings, log in with your Rutgers net-ID and click under "resources" tab. If you have any problem downloading the assigned readings, please let me know ahead of time via email.
Week One (Sept 6): Requirements and Goals; Geography and Demographics
Week Two (Sept 11/13):  Conquests, Settlement and Marginalization in Caribbean and Imperial Context, 16th-17th Centuries

Week Three (Sept 18/20): Cows, Crosses, Plebeians and Forts: 18th Century

Read three or more of these articles for Wed:

Week Four (Sept 25/27): Reconquests, Slavery, Peasants, and Commercial Agriculture, 1812-1868

Week Five (Oct 2/4): Spanish Colonial Rule and the Landlord Economy, 1868-1898

Week Six (Oct 9/11): Liberation by Invasion: 1898:  The Transition to US Rule in Caribbean Context 

Week Seven (Oct 16/18):

Week Eight (Oct 23/25): Elite Politics of Negotiation, Adjustment and Accumulation--Colonial Rule and Transformation through 1920s  

Week Nine (Oct 30/Nov 1): Working Class Life and Politics, 1898-1930s

Week Ten (Nov 6/8): The Depression and Crisis: Elite Crisis, Labor Revolt and Nationalist Insurgency, 1929-1939

Week Eleven (Nov 13/15): New Deal, War and Reform Restructure the Colony, 1939-1952

Week Twelve (Nov 20/22): Economic Transformation and the Public Sector, 1948-1980

Week Thirteen: (Nov 27/29) Emigration and Diasporic Culture

Week Fourteen: (Dec 4/6): Crisis, Recovery and Crisis, 1980-2017

Week Fifteen (Dec 11/13): The Never Ending Debate: Autonomy and Colonial Rule