Puzzled as to what you need to know for the exams? Puzzled about why the lectures don't just follow the textbook in structure and repeat selected information from the text? Puzzled about all those hypertext links on the syllabus page on the internet, and wondering how much of them you are responsible for reading? Puzzled about how the course is structured? Here's some information that may help.
RATIONALE for the format and content of the course
This course deals with the indigenous peoples of greater Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize), and in order to cover the material it consists of 1) lectures, 2) films, 3) a textbook, 4) various readings (primarily books that could be considered community studies) and 5) hypertext links on the syllabus that include various sorts of information, such as illustrative images, maps, sample exams, notes reviewing lecture material, notes expanding lecture material, information for persons interested in pursuing a topic in more depth than is possible in the class, films, or assigned readings, and in a couple of cases instructions for how to do an assignment.
LECTURES - with more than 80 language groups represented in greater Mesoamerica, I've picked 12 to talk about in relatively greater detail, in a lecture format, preceded by an overview of geography, Mesoamerica as a culture area, prehistory, history, languages, and cultures of Mesoamerica as a whole, (a culture area delineated by Kirchhoff and expanded into the greater Mesoamerica under consideration). Most of the 12 groups are representatives of three main language families in the region. I expect it will be necessary, or at least very useful, to take notes during the lectures. Since I don't grade on a curve, I imagine it would be profitable to share notes, to compare notes, and to form study groups, and I encourage you to do so.
I could have taken some standard topic (e.g. kinship, religion, law, subsistence, life cycle, gender, etc.) each week and traced its manifestations in various groups in Mesoamerica, but I have found through experience that such an approach is less appreciated by students than taking a different language group as the focus each week and going through selected topics with respect to that group. Having chosen the latter approach to exposition, I have also found it useful to begin with a brief overview regarding each group's population, language, location, subsistence, and life-cycle, and then to select topics particularly appropriate for the culture to explore in rather greater detail. These topics are named in the syllabus for each week's class.
FILMS - a picture is worth a thousand words. Seeing some of the peoples spoken of will be invaluable for visualizing and remembering what is heard and read. Further I've added two films about a group not otherwise considered in the lectures (the speakers of Totonac, not a member of the three major language families in the region), as well as a couple of films on the Mam Mayans of Guatemala (in order to increase the number of peoples we will have dealt with in the course. I don't expect you to have to take notes during the showing of the films in order to succeed on the exams, although I believe that everyone should at least remember the name of the group that is discussed in each film, and a few other facts present in the film, particularly information that is also presented in the lectures and the assigned reading.
TEXT - the text selected is the best currently available, and it is very good. With some 300 pages on prehistory and social historical overviews of the region it has far more detail on these topics than could be conveyed in my lectures. The second half of the text gives overviews of selected topics, including religions, gender, land, labor and the global economy, languages, and indigenous literature. The lectures will consider several of these topics with respect to specific cultures on an individual basis, but will have no overview, because I'm taking one culture/society at a time. Thus the text will augment and complement the lectures by providing historical context as well as additional context of topical overviews. I do expect the reading assignments in the book to be read at least once. I don't expect you to take extensive notes on the text, but of course the more carefully you read it the more you will know about the subject.
COMMUNITY STUDIES (mostly) - These are the books that are assigned, often as alternates, weekly during a portion of the semester as homework to be read. When the assignment says to read one or another book, then I expect at least one of the alternatives to be read. Once, and without necessarily taking notes, should be enough to satisfy this expectation. A couple of the books suggested are written by an indigenous author, and I recommend them. The Popol Vuh is not a community study, but rather is a complex narrative from the oral tradition of the Quiché that was committed to written form shortly after the conquest of Guatemala, in the mid 16th century. Yucatan Before and after the Conquest is a mid 16th century account of what a Spanish priest observed about the customs and language of the Yucatec Maya. The book report/review is primarily a tool to get you to read one more book, pretty much of your own choosing (i.e. from within a large specified list of books), so don't let the simple assignment cause any stress. The point of the written review is only to make sure that you have read the book.
HYPERTEXT LINKS IN THE SYLLABUS - Most of the syllabus links are supposed to be helpful (rather than vital), particularly in providing illustrations (verbal or images) for the concepts named by the link, giving extra information that might help to visualize or remember a concept or topic, or maybe simply to clarify an issue. In some cases the link leads to notes that are outlines for or expansions of lectures that I either gave or was going to give in class. I have identified some links orally in class
In essence, if a link in given under the heading of Week X has no parenthesis you should click on it and read the material even if you won't be tested on it. If it is enclosed within a parenthesis, you can consider it optional, and any link found within a linked webpage that is not the syllabus itself can also be considered completely optional.
If a link on the syllabus has no parenthesis, it is most often something I wrote (or copied), and I would like you to read it and to consider it to be a refined version of one lecture topic or another. Except in two cases named below, it will be useful, though not obligatory to click on all the links that are not enclosed with parentheses, (and in those two cases it will be obligatory for exam preparation). Several of these unparenthesized links lead to lecture notes. If you attend all the lectures you won't need to know the extra material on those notes that didn't come from the lecture (unless it is found in the list of words and concepts on the syllabus referred to as 'Identify').
In the special cases of 'flora and fauna' and 'Aztec cosmology' I probably will not have time to go over very much of the material in class, but you will be responsible for any of the terms on the syllabus that I isolated under the heading IDENTIFY that you will find in these two web pages anyway. Of course I hope you find the time to read all the links, but the parenthesized links are more useful than essential for the grade in the course. I do consider the unparenthesized links to be part of the assignment.
And speaking of the grade, I expect the exams to focus more on lecture materials (the objective questions), but some questions, both objective and short essay, will require knowledge derived from the films, text, and community studies as well.
Sample exams should make clear the format and nature of what needs to be known for both the midterm and final exams. The exams may seem to be nitpicky about some information that might seem to not have overriding importance in understanding a people or their situation, but that is the nature of exams. The really important information is assumed to be known by all by the end of the course, and it is through some of the more specific and sometimes seemingly nitpicky information that one can get a sense of how well an individual is doing or has done in learning things from a course.