Before our class can take off for Havana, Cuba in early January, we will have two introductory classes to prepare us for the two weeks spent studying and researching at the University of Havana. Tonight was our first meeting, and after quickly introducing ourselves we got down to business. There are a few things to keep in mind when doing research on Cuba, and maybe it’s more important to remember these things than for conducting research on any other state in the region.
First, check multiple sources to make sure the translation is correct and not biased. You might be reading an extremely right-sided version or left-sided version of a story, and though this is inevitable with such a volatile subject, you need to be aware of this as it’s happening. The best way to get a middle-ground viewpoint is to read as many sources as possible and then draw your own conclusions. (For all intents and purposes, we’re talking about culture, economy and contemporary politics.)
Figure out the analytical and critical framing for your sources. If reading about the history of Cuba, who wrote it, what is their background and potential influence? Yes, you may be reading an English version, but it could be coming from a 5th generation Cuban who was forced to leave after Castro took power. Think about how that might affect their view of history, especially the revolutionary history.
In terms of political science, you need to re-conceptualize the idea of civil society. Civil society refers to ways in which a society will gather to discuss and debate, among other things. The United States, for example, is a very open civil society, with book clubs, church groups, softball clubs, etc. You might think that these kinds of activities are banned and non-existent in Cuba, but there are other ways in which a civil society can exist.
Identify the causes of the revolution. Are we looking at only what is presented in an American history book, or a Cuban book, British book, Colombian book, etc? Read the historical evidence but also think of context and other events occurring in the world at the time. We will be looking at multiple viewpoints of Cuba, and though I’ll go into this with an open mind, I will also try to keep clear of accepting everything I hear from my hosts as the absolute truth. Investigation and objective research will be my task.
With less than two months until the trip, the wheels are already in motion. Our visas are being processed and arrangements for hotels and airfare are underway. I might need to check in with a travel clinic to see if I need any booster shots (even though I received a few goodies before Ecuador), and then I’ll get to experience Cuba firsthand.