Introduction To The Undergraduate Program

The Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia is a leading institution for Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian studies, with a faculty of experts in fields covering all historical periods, from the medieval to the contemporary. The LAIC Undergraduate Program is conceived as a research program that helps students develop highly creative and intellectual projects. The following Major and Concentration programs are offered:

Your study in the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (LAIC) would focus on the history and culture of Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. You would also have opportunities to learn about the varied places around the globe where the Spanish and Portuguese empires once reached or where communities of Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan speakers have settled—think North Africa and the Philippines as well as Spain and Brazil. Experimental Mexican film, social movements in the Amazon, the Spanish Inquisition, Latin American modernism, the music and language of Spanish Harlem, and colonial feather art and sculpture are among the artifacts you would encounter as a major or concentrator in Hispanic Studies or a concentrator in Portuguese Studies, the two undergraduate tracks in LAIC. The dual aim in LAIC courses is to reconstruct Latin American and Iberian history and culture and to understand their meaning and relevance in the present.  

In addition to intensive language study (in the classroom and on the subway), the department emphasizes primary-source research and analysis. Expect trips to the Museo del Barrio, the Hispanic Society of America, and the rare book room of the New York Public Library, in addition to small discussion courses and enthusiastic mentoring. With the help of LAIC faculty and campus librarians, you will also have the chance to cultivate your technological skills, since your research projects may require GIS mapping, text editing software, or other digital tools   

Majors and concentrators in the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures hone their reading, writing, and speaking skills in Spanish (and sometimes Portuguese and Catalan), and they develop a deep knowledge of the history and culture of the Hispanic world. Like other humanities students, LAIC students learn to think critically about textual and visual artifacts—though we believe that the multilingual and transnational nature of the Latin American and Iberian culture both demands and produces particularly sophisticated thinking. In addition to their course work, LAIC majors and concentrators curate a film series and publish a journal. After graduation, students go on to work in print and radio journalism, political organizing, business, not-for-profit organizations, elementary or secondary school education, and cultural institutions, like museums and libraries. Some students enter law school, medical school, or another professional school, where their multilingualism and sensitivity to cultural difference are undoubtedly crucial. Other students pursue masters or doctoral degrees, usually in a humanities or humanistic social sciences field, like literature, history, art history, or anthropology. 

Most undergraduate students first join the LAIC community through language courses in Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan. Talk to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Seth Kimmel (srk29@columbia.edu), and the relevant language program coordinator to decide what level course makes sense for you. If your language skills are already advanced, you could perhaps jump directly to one of the several “Advanced Language through Content” courses (SPAN UN3300), which help you to deepen your fluency while also delving into particular topics, which change each semester. The two-course “Hispanic Cultures” sequence (SPAN UN3349-UN3350) then provides an overview of the field, from Islamic Spain in the 8th century up to present-day Hispanic art, literature, and history. Although the historical and geographic context in these courses may be new to you, some of the authors and artists will be familiar from the Core Curriculum: Ibn Tufayl, Francisco de Vitoria, Miguel de Cervantes, Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, not to mention as well the Bible and the Qur’an.

Majors in Hispanic Studies are encouraged to propose an Honors Thesis project at the end of their junior year. The thesis, which is optional, is developed during the senior year, and enables a student to compete for departmental honors. The faculty also awards prizes in recognition of exceptional performance in the program.

If you decide to consider a LAIC major or concentration, talk to the Director of Undergraduate Studies at the beginning of the year and/or the semester, when you’re still thinking about what courses to take. The Director of Undergraduate Studies, Seth Kimmel (srk29@columbia.edu),  is your main contact, but the coordinators of the language programs always have helpful advice, too. You’re of course also welcome to get in touch with any of the LAIC faculty members in order to talk about specific research interests or to brainstorm project ideas.

The LAIC Undergraduate Program has been designed in close consultation and cooperation with Barnard’s Department of Spanish and Latin American Cultures. All courses taken in one department may be used to fulfill the requirements of the other.

Student Initiatives

The LAIC department’s vibrant intellectual life results from a close dialogue between students and professors. Students are encouraged to propose initiatives at any time of the year by contacting the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) with a tentative project. You can visit PORTALES: The LAIC Undergraduate Journal, for instance, to learn more about this outstanding undergraduate initiative in the department.

Each spring, a small team of undergraduates curates a departmental film series, which
comprises a mixture of movies from Latin American and Iberian directors. The movies are
usually in Spanish or Portuguese, with English subtitles, and free food and conversation
accompany the screenings.

Contacts

For information about the Major or the Concentrations please contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Seth Kimmel, at srk29@columbia.edu.

If you have questions or need information about the language requirement, language placement, or the Spanish Language Program in general, please contact Lee B. Abraham, Director of the Spanish Language Program.

Please contact  José Antonio Castellanos-Pazos, Director of the Portuguese Language Program, for questions regarding the Portuguese language courses.

For questions about the Catalan language courses, please reach out to the Director of the Catalan Language Program, Elsa Úbeda.