You will soon drawn a slip of paper from a box. On it are a few details about a person (your “avatar”) whose life you will live (imaginatively) and narrate over approximately 40 years. Among the details, you will find your avatar’s birth year, birthplace and gender. If the avatar lives somewhere other than his/her birthplace, it will be noted. You will also find the occupations of your avatars’ parents, and their birthplace (if different from their current location). If there is no religion given, you should assume that the subject is at least a nominal (if not a practicing) Catholic. Half of you will be in Chile, the other half in Argentina.
Over the course of the semester, you will narrate the experiences lived by your avatar from the late 1960’s/early 1970s until today (2012). You are free to create these lives keeping in mind three rules: (1) your avatar will not die or become totally incapacitated before 2012; (2) if your characters leave their country (Chile or Argentina), they will remain engaged and active in events occurring there. If they choose to return home, the circumstances must be consistent with history. For example, an exile from Chile cannot return before it would have become legally possible to return. A very few exiles were allowed to return after October 1982; a few thousand more in 1984; but most weren’t permitted return until September 1, 1988, and even then some exiles were prohibited from returning. So, if your avatar returns before those dates, he/she will have had to enter the country clandestinely; and (3) you cannot change the course of history. Finally, although difficult, write as if you didn’t know what actually would happen later in history; and try to avoid anachronisms.
You will write weekly entries on a course blog in the voice of your avatar. On the syllabus, for each week beginning September 25, you will note the dates around which you will compose your entry for the week. For example, the first entry (for the week of Sept. 25) will be written as if you were living sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
You will receive instruction in class on Thursday, Sept 20 on setting up and posting to your blog. While most of your entries will be limited to text, you can also add images (feel free to select a photograph of “your” mother/father or yourself, etc. You can upload some video material, but you should only post documentary material from the time in question.
Your blog entries will be accessible by everyone in the class. We will only make the blog itself (which is hosted on a locally installed version of WordPress) fully public outside of class if you as a group agree to this. All your entries will be posted under your avatar’s name only, using the pseudonym you have chosen. I will be the only one to know which of you is tied to which avatar. (You are, of course, free to disclose this information to others.)
You may swap slips if you find a willing swapper, but you can’t advertise them on Craigslist or eBay! Swapping stops as of Sept. 18 when you email me your avatar’s name.
Your first task is to name your avatar. Send me an email to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or simply hand me a slip of paper by class time on Tuesday Sept. 18 with your name, your avatar’s name, and the characteristics given on the slip you have drawn – nothing else. The name should be consistent with gender and family circumstances (e.g., if the family emigrated from Italy or Lithuania, Germany or Croatia, you should use an appropriate surname). All names should follow common practice for Spanish heritage countries: Given (first) name, Father’s last name, Mother’s last name. So, my name is Steven Volk Segal, and I would be Señor Volk or, sometimes in more formal settings, Sr. Volk Segal. It is quite common in Latin America (and among Catholics) for fathers and sons to have the same name, so they would be distinguished by the mother’s last name. Jews will not name their children after a living relative.
The oldest avatars will turn 82 in 2012 (having been born in 1930); the youngest 47 (born in 1965).
What you do with your avatars is up to you as long as you don’t violate the three rules listed above. Please remember that class, social, occupational, and ideological mobility were much more limited in mid-20th century Chile and Argentina than in either the United States or in those same countries but later in the century. If you are the child of a wealthy businessman, the chances are likely that you (if male) will follow in your father’s business; similarly, ideology often (although not always) runs in families, although many families, particularly in Chile, were divided on ideological grounds as tensions rose in the early 1970s. So while you are free to “break ranks” with your family’s class background and ideological orientation in order to position yourself in an identity with which you feel more comfortable, I would urge think carefully before giving in to that temptation. The whole point of this exercise is to move you away from habits of thought (“positionality”) that you are comfortable with, to challenge you to feel what it would be like to be different.
As regards gender, mobility for women was changing relatively rapidly by the 1960s and 1970s in both Chile and Argentina, so that it would not be unusual for women/girls to be getting full access to higher education in the 1960s except as limited by class. Women’s access to employment opportunities grew quickly by the end of the century. In terms of sexuality, obviously there were gays and lesbians in both countries before the 1990s, but it wouldn’t be until that point that many men or women began come out publicly. To reiterate, when thinking about your avatar the point is to attempt to live a life that would have been historically consistent with the period that we are studying. History is not a straightjacket, but it is a sociological template.
In your first posting, due the week of Sept. 25 or before if you want to get started, you will introduce yourself as of the late 1960s or very early 1970s. You will have your name and will want to introduce your parents, other siblings, or other family members as well. If you would be younger than 10 or 15 by 1970, you can write the first few entries from the perspective of your avatar’s parents, if you choose. Your avatar will age as the course progresses. You will want to think about your avatar’s developing personality and be consistent unless there is a reason to change.
Entries will be informed by reading assignments, videos and in class lectures, discussions and any other work you want to do. Sometimes the dates that you are to write on will be quite specific, sometimes they will be more flexible.
As noted, you will find the avatar “assignments” posted for each week in the syllabus. You may post your avatar’s entry anytime during that week, but it must be in by Sunday midnight before a new week begins. I allow a little flexibility here (unlike with “regular” assignments), but do not make it a habit of turning it in late (see “Grading” below).
Comments and Avatar Groups:
I will try to write short comments on all of your entries. The point of my comments will never be to argue with your avatar’s perspective, but to pose questions or approaches that might be useful. I will write in the voice of someone from the time. If your post contains any historical inaccuracies, I will correct them separately, in my own voice.
Because it is important that you also read some other entries, but it will be too much work for you to read all of them each week, you will be divided into groups of 6, with 3 each from Argentina and Chile. You are expected to read the blog posts of your colleagues in your groups and strongly encouraged to post comments to their entries. Again, you won’t know who is writing for the other avatars.
The avatar project will account for 30% of your total grade. I think you will find that you will learn more through this project and engage more with the history of the period and the region than in perhaps anything else you do. I grade your entries on a simple rubric with grades from 0-4 to take account of the timeliness and quality of your posting: “0” for a missed post; “1” for a post that was half-hearted, perfunctory, late and/or unfocused; “2” for a post which contained some details but didn’t develop either the avatar or the history; “3” for a solid entry that was consistent with the history, provided details, and developed the avatar’s character; and “4” for a post which was exceptional in its narrative, emotional power, and detail.
Unless you explicitly decline, you are giving me permission to use selections from your entries (always identified only by your avatar’s pseudonyms) in my research and in articles that I may write in the future about this project. If you do not agree to this, please let me know via email.