professor
Ricardo Salvatore

Dec 2010

Please kill me. Salvatore is that brand of professor who is a tireless researcher, decent theoretically, and has published a ton. But as a teacher, he is deeply self-absorbed, oblivious to opinions not his own, and a lazy, indifferent grader. Our class was a small grad seminar of six students, four of whom I personally know to be really insightful students of cultural studies and political history. We might as well have been cardboard cutouts for as much as Salvatore let us engage his monotone rambling "lectures" (i.e. summaries of the articles for the week) or offer criticisms of his own relatively pedestrian geopolitical theories. Even for presentations, he would interrupt the presenter and steer conversation back to his own take, which we basically heard week after week ad nauseam. I have never slept in a seminar before, but I nodded off on multiple occasions, and he didn't even notice.

May 2010

The class has the potential the be really good; I would highly recommend it to anyone who's a) an amazingly good and efficient reader and b) has the background knowledge to coherently pull together your own understanding of a million different viewpoints on a very complicated subject. If you're interested in Latin America or economic history in general, you'll find this class interesting--in order to truly enjoy it, though, you have to be a crazy super student. I think the problem was in the structure. Each week you address a component of economic history, like schooling or government control or physical welfare, and read a million million-page articles on the subject, many which contradict each other (and all of which are very data-based, FYI, I felt stupid for not realizing this beforehand). Then you listen to two very sweet old professors summa-ruminate-chuckle over the subject and meet up in a discussion section to sit awkwardly and be confused. I ended up falling so far behind in reading and understanding that even though I had learned a lot about different concepts in economic history, I couldn't really apply them to Latin America, specifically. Maybe it's just really difficult to fit the economic history of Latin America into one class. The professors were wonderful--Coatsworth really is as funny and down to earth as all the other reviews imply, and Salvatore was so sweet. They are the kind of professors that you wish you could get to know if you had the time, or have as your grandpas or uncles or something. Likewise, this was the kind of class that you wish was your favorite and to which you wish that you had hours and hours of time to devote.

May 2010

descriptive haiku: economic his tory of latin amer ica: why so long? I came into this course struck by Coatsworth's (former) golden nugget CULPA rating, my interest/major in economics, and a searing fervor for all things Latin American. I came out of it with an addled, uneven understanding of Latin American economics tinged with a superfluous degree of actual history. In some ways, this class could have been brilliant (and for a friend of mine, it was). The organizational structure of the lectures are, as mentioned in other reviewed, centered on weekly questions. The questions did a very good job of stringing together the various articles we had to read that week, but the problem was that sometimes they did not flow together quite as well from week to week. It felt as though we were jumping around from topic to topic, and only were able to put things together several weeks later, when we had fuller pictures of what we were talking about. Some of the other issues that were brought up in my discussion session was that as a survey class, we were never able to fully delve into one country's economic history as a case study. Of course, this was supposed to be resolved by the case study papers we were to write for the semester, but these were nothing compared to an officially led discussion on the matter. The syllabus showed great organizational potential; it just never came together. This is partially the fault of the readings. At the beginning of the semester, we were presented with a manageable number of articles (3-4) at manageable lengths (20-25pg). I'll admit, the readings were hard for me to understand at first (even having taken Principles of Economics), but under the advice of my TA (Ben Lyons) and my own experience of a few weeks of reading, it became easier and thought-provoking to do the readings. Slightly tangential, but I have to say this: Ben is probably the best TA I have ever had at Columbia. He encouraged our class to read the articles strategically how to skim, what to skip, and how to boil them down to three sentence summaries. This was beyond helpful for studying for the midterm and final. He also always let us speak about the articles before he put in his own interpretations, which were always helpful and raised new questions for our section to discuss. If it wasn't for him and our weekly discussions, I probably would have dropped this class. This is not even his area of specialty! The lectures, in contrast, were astoundingly disappointing. Salvatore, who taught half of the lectures, was hard to understand, and when you strain to understand him, you find out that he's only summarizing the articles of the week in a less articulate way. No new ways of interpreting the texts, or help on how to read them. Coatsworth, on the other hand, may have been easy to understand, but he gave out so much information at such a quick pace that it was almost impossible to take comprehensive notes of his lectures. Not that you would be missing much--his lectures were basically summaries as well, with interjections of his own opinions in between (usually found in one of the articles anyway, as we read his stuff rather frequently). None of this helped after the midterm, when the readings became denser and longer. Overall, what I'm trying to say is this: don't take this class unless you really, really like economic history.

May 2010

This was one of the worst classes I've taken here. The readings were either too dense or were disjointed. Coatsworth was an interesting lecturer and very impressive with his encyclopedia-like knowledge of Latin America. But Salvatore, who taught half the classes, was a complete bore and could not speak English quickly enough or well enough to communicate what he was trying to say. Salvatore must have gotten the idea that the students found his lectures terrible, since on the days he taught less than half the class showed up (and then kids left in the middle) but he failed to improve or organize his lectures. Also, whatever you do, DO NOT have Carlos as a T.A. This guy was such a self-absorbed prick. He rarely stayed on topic in class, preferring to talk about his phD work and to namedrop the professors he has worked with. I found him very annoying both on an academic level and on a personal level.