Hortencia Chavez Reyna: Pre-Texts in Mexico



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Dr. Vialla Hartfield-Méndez, Professor of Pedagogy (Department of Spanish and Portuguese), Director of Engaged Learning (Center for Community Partnerships), Senior Faculty Fellow (Center for Ethics), Emory University

Dr. Vialla Hartfield-Méndez from Emory University designed two different projects using the Pre-Texts approach for her course Drawing the Line: The Mexico-U.S. Frontera and Its Stories (Spring 2015). It was a learning experience that  “yield[ed] closer readings of the texts, as well as astute observations about texts” from her students.

For the first project, students read two articles that presented contrasting points of view about the pre-U.S.-Mexican War: Stewart Brewer’s “The Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny, and the Mexican War” in Borders and Bridges, (2006)–an interpretation of the war from the U.S. perspective–and Josefina Zoraida Vázquez’s “Introduction” and “México y la Guerra con Estados Unidos” in México al tiempo de su guerra con Estados Unidos (1997)–an interpretation of the war in the Mexican context. Students chose various passages from each text and re-cut/pasted them to create their own by fusing them together. Then they published and discussed these new interpretations. Dr. Hartfield-Méndez noted that during the “What did we do?” portion of the exercise, “all the observations that would have been emphasized in a more traditional class were prevalent, such as picking up on bias, sociological and political trends.” Through the Pre-Texts approach the students not only engaged with content-based learning but experiential as well, “as they practiced the process the authors of the articles themselves followed.”

The second project was led by two students. After reading the “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo” (1848), along with lessons on the Us-Mexican War from elementary school textbooks, the class chose 5 words or phrases from the texts. Then they created texts that reflected either a U.S. or Mexican perspective. These texts were then published, explained, and reflected upon.

Overall, the projects succeeded in encouraging deep comprehension and literacy. Dr. Hartfield-Méndez’s students will continue to facilitate workshops and experiment with different ways of implementing Pre-Texts protocols.

Javier Suárez, graduate student in Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

Participating in Pre-Texts has probably been the most enriching experience I have had at Harvard University. In my city (Lima, Peru), I am part of the Interdisciplinary Group TXT which began its activities in August 2009 with the motto: ¡las humanidades a la calle! (Humanities to the street!). Our goal is to transform the traditional idea of humanities as something written. In other words, what the TXT Group does is strive to re-understand humanities not as written knowledge but as collective experience whose end is the happiness of any community. In this sense, we promote critical thinking within any community without reducing the collectivity to the plain exercise or reading. In fact, text is just a point of departure, a means that permits the encounter with other knowledge or poetics that can as well promote critical thinking in diverse communities, and this is the strongest point of connection with Pre-Texts.

Being a PhD student, I spend a lot of time researching; thus I was worried about the possibility of not being able to find a space where I could connect my academic work with my other passion: taking humanities to the streets. Pre-Texts allows for the convergence of my two passions. It helped me to reaffirm my conviction that being a scholar is not only being a researcher: much more can be done! During my first semester at Harvard, I took the seminar “Cultural Agents.” I remember two notions that have been really helpful to rethink my labor as a “humanista,” “gestor cultural” and/or “cultural agent.” First, considering the text as a pre-text for interpretation. The idea that one single text (a poem, a short story) is always the point of departure to become a good reader. Second, the necessity of not being afraid of considering the labor of the humanist as inserted in the market: if we want to be recognized by society we need products that stimulate critical thinking but, simultaneously, we need to attract the attention of the potential consumers. Moreover, I learned that instead of asking at the end of any activity “What did we learn” to the participants, it is more helpful to ask “What did we do”; and everybody should answer. The participants should know that the goal of participation is not saying something “deep” or “complicated”; this technique promotes one of the basic tenets of a good democracy: every person has the right to be heard but also the duty to participate. Read more