Putumayo: the history and culture of a Latin American conflict zone

Module code: SP3155

Module co-ordinatorDr Lesley Wylie

Module Aims

This module will focus on the history and culture of the Putumayo, a region of the Colombian Amazon which shares a border with Ecuador and Peru. Although geographically isolated, the Putumayo has been of great strategic, economic, and cultural significance throughout Latin America’s postcolonial history. This module will explore the history and culture of the Putumayo from the late nineteenth century to the present, drawing upon a range of materials, including travel writing, journalism, testimony, fiction, and documentary film.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, you will be able to identify the key historical developments in the Putumayo from the late nineteenth century to the present, and connect these to national and international events. You will have developed a critical awareness of discourses about the region, both by Colombians and non-Colombians, and will be able to demonstrate your knowledge of different cultural traditions from the Putumayo, including that of indigenous and mestizo communities.

Teaching and Learning Methods

Each new topic will be introduced by a lecture, followed by seminar presentations and group discussions.


  • Essay of 2,500-3,000 words (50%)
  • Three-hour exam (50%)

Topics covered

  • Travel writing
  • The Rubber Boom
  • Yagé
  • Political violence: Paramilitaries, the FARC, and the US war on drugs

Recommended background reading

  • Grace Livingstone: Inside Colombia: Drugs, Democracy and War (LAB, 2003).
  • Frank Safford and Marco Palacios: Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society (OUP, 2002).