An Introductory Course                                                                                      

Open-Access, Shared Syllabus

Designed by Blanca Serrano Ortiz (Institute for Studies on Latin American Art, ISLAA),  Juanita Solano Roa (Universidad de los Andes), and Kevin Coleman (University of Toronto) 

Course Description: This course is an interdisciplinary introduction to the history of the banana. This humble fruit has had a surprisingly large impact on Latin America, where it is produced, and North America, where it’s consumed in huge quantities. The course traces the history of the banana, beginning with its introduction to the Americas in the early sixteenth century up to the present. Our aim is to better understand how this food staple has altered political, social, and cultural relations in the hemisphere.

Each class meeting features a scholarly reading, a primary source, and a cultural object (such as an artwork or a film). Students are expected to use these varied sources as tools to comprehend how our food systems have reshaped the lives of people and the environment, and to consider how myriad sources, including both literary and visual testimonies, contribute to our study and research of these historical processes. 

Learning outcomes:

  • Learn the history of the banana in Latin America, including political and economic milestones, environmental consequences, and cultural reflections on the growth of this fruit
  • Analyze primary source documents
  • Develop analytical tools for analyzing non-written sources such as photographs, artworks, and film.

Class Sessions:

  1. Origins of the banana in South East Asia and how it came to the Americas
    1. Reading: Koeppel, Dan. “Chapter 5: Asia,” in Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World (New York: Plume, 2008)
    2. Primary source: Charles Saffray, Etude de Bananier, 1869. 
    3. Artwork: Miguel Cabrera, De español y mestiza, castiza, 1763. 
  2. Smallholders, Poquiteros
    1. Reading: Soluri, John. “People, Plants, and Pathogens: The Eco-Social Dynamics of Export Banana Production in Honduras, 1875-1950.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 80, no. 3 (2000): 463–501.
    2. Primary source: Photograph from UFC photographic collection at Baker Library, Harvard University.
    3. Artwork: Ramón Amaya Amador, Prisión verde, Tegucigalpa: Editorial Universitaria, 1990
  3. The United Fruit Company
    1. Reading: Koeppel, Dan. Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World (New York: Plume, 2008), chapters 9-14.   
    2. Primary source: UFCO Map, 1920. 
    3. Artwork (Film): Mathilde Damoisel, When Banana Ruled, 2017. 
  4. The Era of Banana Republics
    1. Reading: Herrscher, Roberto. Crónicas Bananeras (Bogotá, Tusquets, 2021), 17-101.
    2. Primary source: The United Fruit Company Letters, Visualizing the Americas.
    3. Artworks: Moisés Barrio’s oeuvre and Victoria Cabeza’s performance Banana Thesis
  5. 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers
    1. Reading: Coleman, Kevin. “The Photos That We Don’t Get to See: Sovereignties, Archives, and the 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers in Colombia,” in Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism, edited by Daniel Bender and Jana Lipman, 104–33. New York: NYU Press, 2016.
    2. Primary source: Photograph of the Cienaga workers 
    3. Artwork: José Alejandro Restrepo, Musa Paradisiaca, 1996
  6. Advertising and the Aesthetics of Banana Consumption
    1. Reading: Roberts, Shari. “‘The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat’: Carmen Miranda, a Spectacle of Ethnicity.” Cinema Journal 32, no. 3 (1993): 3–23.
    2. Primary source: “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat,” in The Gang’s All Here (1943) and the first Chiquita Banana video commercial
    3. Artworks: Voluspa Jarpa, Altered Views, 2019 and Alberto Baraya, Frutales Carmen Miranda, 2011.
  7. 1954 Coup d’Etat in Guatemala 
    1. Reading: Schlesinger, Stephen, and Stephen Kinzer. Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).
    2. Primary source (practically): Nick Cullather, Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999; also available here.
    3. Artwork: Diego Rivera, A Glorious Victory (1954).
  8. Cuban Revolution 
    1. Reading: Zanetti, Oscar and García, Alejandro. “The United Fruit Company in Cuba“. The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics, edited by Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr, Alfredo Prieto and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff, New York, USA: Duke University Press, 2019, pp. 268-272.
    2. Primary source: Raúl Corrales, Caballería, 1960
    3. Artwork: Celia Irina González, Deshijar, 2019.
  9. Race and Ethnicity in Banana Production
    1. Reading: Chambers, Glenn. “Eradicating the Black Peril: The Deportation of West Indian Workers from Tela and Trujillo, Honduras, 1930-1939” in Race, Nation, and West Indian Immigration to Honduras, 1890-1940 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2010), pp. 115-135.
    2. Primary source: Letter from P. Chittenden to Victor M. Cutter, United Fruit Company, May 3, 1922.
    3. Artwork: Jonathas de Andrade, 40 nego bom é um real, 2013
  10. Environmental Issues of the Banana Monoculture (organic issues)
    1. Reading: Soluri, John. “Introduction: Linking Places of Production and Consumption” in Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States. (University of Texas Press, 2005); also available here.
    2. Primary source:  Frederik Gertten, Bananas!, 2009 
    3. Artwork: Milko Delgado, Problemas conceptuales sobre el extractivismo bananero en Barú, 2021
  11. Free-Trade vs. Fair Trade Bananas
    1. Reading: Frundt, Henry J. “The Fair Trade Alternative” in Fair Bananas! Farmers, Workers, and Consumers Strive to Change an Industry (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011), 30 – 48. 
    2. Primary source: Fairtrade International website  
    3. Artwork: Adriana Martínez, Tutti Frutti Market, 2017.
  12. Paramilitarism and Banana Plantations
    1. Reading: Chomsky, Aviva. “Globalization, Labor, and Violence in Colombia’s Banana Zone.” International Labor and Working-Class History, no. 72 (2007): 90–115.
    2. Lectura: Barbosa Vargas, Julián Eduardo. “CONFIGURACIÓN DIFERENCIADA DE LAS AUTODEFENSAS CAMPESINAS DE CÓRDOBA Y URABÁ EN EL URABÁ: Norte de Urabá, Eje Bananero, Sur Del Urabá Antioqueño y Urabá Chocoano.” Análisis político (Bogotá, Colombia) 28.84 (2015): 39–57. 
    3. Primary source: Proyecto Las Franciscas 
    4. Artwork: Forensic Architecture, Disposition and the Memory of the Earth, 2022
  13. Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the Banana Industry
    1. Reading: Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases. Making Feminist Sense of International Politics (Oakland: University of California Press, 1990).
    2. Or, Lara Putnam, The Company They Kept: Migrants and the Politics of Gender in Caribbean Costa Rica, 1870–1960 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); also available here.
    3. Primary source: Jem Bendell, “Towards Participatory Workplace Appraisal: Report from a Focus Group of Women Banana Workers”, New Academy of Business, 2001. 
    4. Artwork: Rachelle Mozman Solano, The Dying Cavendish, 2019
  14. Banana and Consumer Culture
    1. Reading: Shana Klein, “Seeing Spots. The Fever for Bananas, Land and Power” in Fruits of Empire (Oakland: University of California Press, 2020), 105-136.
    2. Primary source: Banana Republic 1986 catalog cover
    3. Artwork: Gonzalo Fuenmayor, What is this? A Banana Republic, 2019 and Moisés Barrios, Vitrinas Banana Republic, 2012
  15. Recipes for Cooking with Bananas  
    1. Reading: Ali Berlow, “Why Bananas: Because they have a lot to say”, Curious Kitchen, 2021 and Chris Baraniuk,  “The Secrets of Fake Flavors”, BBC, 2014. 
    2. Primary source: United Fruit Company, A Short History of the Banana and a Few Recipes for Its Use, 1904. Recipes by Janet McKenzie Hill. 
    3. Artwork: Daniela Kohn, La piel de la banana, 2021 and Leonardo González, From the series Cabbages and Kings, 2016-2018.