History of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean
Julia Rodriguez, University of New Hampshire
George Mason University
The History of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean website, HOSLAC, allows users to approach its content through two distinct lenses: the history of science through the story of Latin America, or the history of Latin America and the Caribbean via thematic concepts of science and discovery. The main repository of primary sources, accessed through the Archive section, contains 234 items from pre-Columbian to modern history. Students, and educators in particular, will find a useful list of sources in the Index that provide citations for primary sources found in the archive. The About section, an often brief and perfunctory overview of any site, here serves as a very useful contextual overview—thematic in its approach and addresses HOSLAC’s place in the historiography of both fields.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the project team delivers an important addition to the fields of the history of science and the history of Latin America and the Caribbean, with a stated mission of providing a “digital archive of primary sources, web links, and references for students and professors.”
The overall layout of the HOSLAC site is easy to navigate and explore, with the bulk of resource materials contained in the Archive section located in the main menu on the sidebar. Items can be sorted alphabetically (A to Z and Z to A), by type, or by date (Adobe Flash Player 9 or above is required to launch the Virtual Gallery). In addition, items within the Virtual Archive can also be accessed using features in the horizontal navigation bar above the photo gallery: by type, by topic, and using the search bar. Sources are well tagged; entering a variety of terms, such as “Costa Rica,” “church,” “Peron,” and “children,” all yielded multiple results.
Each item contains valuable features for researchers: date, owner, source type, citations, id numbers, an introduction, and a transcript (if applicable). As a collection, the materials presented offer both a wide geographic scope and a broad chronological range. Reproduction qualities are very high, for both images and text. Zoom features help provide students and educators with the fine details important to many of these sources, and other features are very helpful for research—such as print, email, and a 24 hour save feature.
HOSLAC can be used for educators of all levels. For middle school teachers, the abundance of sources allows for interdisciplinary approaches, such as social studies and science, which are an integral part of the middle grades curriculum across the country. Middle school instructors, however, should be cautioned that the readability levels of most of these descriptions are quite high. Some thought and planning is needed to determine how to best engage students of this age in the subject matter, how to make the text accessible, and how to read images (such as indigenous codex and ritual sites) for historical context.
High school students (particularly upper-grade students) and undergraduate students will find these materials challenging—yet satisfying—as a resource tool. Educators at these levels should be able to guide students through the use of the site, and then monitor students’ use of HOSLAC in reaching their targeted goals.
HOSLAC does possess some limitations worth noting. As a product of the NSF grant, more attention could have been paid to curricular applications to science classrooms, as well as ways in which science can be incorporated into the curriculum of other disciplines, such as history and foreign language. Sample lesson plans would be a great addition to the site. The archival nature of the site also limits the stated purpose of “advancing historical teaching and understanding”: what can students do with HOSLAC besides conducting research? Does the site make it clear for educators how its resources can further historical understanding, and how it advances teaching? In addition, the field of Caribbean history is a bit misleading. Only five of the 234 documents deal with states outside of what is considered Latin America (two documents for Haiti and 3 for Jamaica). Perhaps future additions could cover a wider breadth of non-Latin American areas in the Caribbean.
A technological concern is the excusive use of Adobe Flash player 9 to display all 234 items. Many schools are woefully underfunded when it comes to upgrading hardware, software, and connection speeds. The project team could offer multiple viewing options that could address the inequality of resources among schools. Also, few (if any) transcripts exist for items such as video files in the Virtual Gallery. It is very likely that as the archive grows with additional video and sound files, the transcript fields will be more populated. Finally, several of the text sources are in Spanish and it might be useful for a translation into English to serve as an option for non-Spanish readers, especially for students accessing the archive in grades 6-12.
Regardless of the approach users employ in viewing the HOSLAC materials, its simplistic and elegant design, ease of navigation, and the breadth of historical sources makes it a useful tool for students and educators alike seeking to expand their knowledge of science in Latin America and the Caribbean. The fields of science and Latin America have considerably grown in recent decades, and HOSLAC addresses these disciplines by seamlessly merging both fields in a manner that seems natural and relevant to a wide range of users.