Teaching a course for the first time is often just as much of an education for the instructor as it is for their students. One of the biggest lessons that I took from my first experience teaching a historical and cultural survey of the Spanish-speaking world was that students were much more engaged when working with primary texts than with secondary sources. When discussing a chapter from the textbook, students struggled; they had trouble understanding the materials and, more importantly, the importance what we were studying in their own educational journeys. But whenever I introduced primary texts, it was a different story. They felt a sense of accomplishment in deciphering tricky medieval phrases, asked poignant questions of the texts, and better connected them to their education, their other classes, and their own ideas of history. Palabras propias was born from this observation.
The goal of this project is to provide high-quality, accessible primary sources to those teaching and studying the histories and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world and the indigenous peoples of Latin America. Our modules cover a wide range of topics, but all consist of the same essential parts:
- A brief introduction that provides socio-historical context for the primary document.
- The text itself, often glossed for improved comprehension by non-native speakers of Spanish.
- A set of activities that range from comprehension to analysis, from using new vocabulary to answering creative writing and essay prompts.
Our goal is to someday have enough modules that this text could be backbone for a cultural survey course, and we are close (and always looking for new collaborators). But the module style also makes it easy to use this text “a la carte,” employing select modules to complement any curriculum.
This project was made possible by a grant from the University of Kansas libraries dedicated specifically to the creation of open access educational resources. From the beginning, all of that money was earmarked for supporting graduate students. For that reason, all of our module authors were either graduate students who were compensated for their work or faculty volunteers.
One of the through lines of this project is equity. That is why all funding on Propias palabras was distributed to graduate writers. That is why it is and always will be free to anyone with an internet connection. It is another reason that we choose to organize around primary texts, and a deciding factor in what texts we use and how they are presented. Propias palabras, or “One’s own words,” makes central the question of whose stories are being told, who is represented in history, and who is left out. On one hand, we want to share histories that students will need to know from dominant discourse, like that of Christopher Columbus, but to do so in a way that is nuanced and that recognizes those who are silenced in the story. We also want to share histories that are less commonly told, less often included in textbooks, and less known to students. That is why we include modules on pre-Columbian poetry and on the #NiUnaMenos movement, to name just a couple. We are driven to provide students with approachable documents that will help them understand the complex histories (and present moments) of the Spanish speaking world.
Our modules are loosely organized in two ways. First, by geographic area of focus, with modules focusing on Latin America, on Spain, and a third group of modules with a more Transatlantic or global focus. This final section is sparsely populated as of now, but we are looking to add modules focused on the Philippines and on Equatorial Guinea, among others, in the future. You will also see that each module’s subtitle includes one or more hashtags that represent the central themes of Propias palabras with which it connects: #LoIndígena, #MitosYLeyendas, #MovimientoYMigración, #LaOtredad, and/or #Sistemas(In)Justos. These themes, included prominently at the top of each module, provide a sense of what to expect, helping readers to identify which modules will best fit their interests or curriculum.
Please read and share the modules that we have prepared. Let us help to contextualize these documents, but our hope is that you will ultimately hear what these histories have to tell us, in their own words.
Sean Gullickson, editor