Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Sophomore Brendan Rivage-Seul (Berea, Ky.) immersed himself in the rich history of Cuba this semester.

“The aim of the course was to analyze historical texts, events, and individuals in Cuban history ranging from the arrival of sugar cane with Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in the early sixteenth century, to Fidel Castro’s ‘History Will Absolve Me’ speech, to the recent debates in the Cuban National Assembly over constitutional amendments,” says Rivage-Seul, who intends to major in both International Affairs and Spanish.

He worked on the project with Richard Sharpless, professor of history. Sharpless is coauthor of The Kingdom of Coal: Work, Enterprise, and Ethnic Communities in the Mine Fields, which was nominated for several prizes and reissued by Canal History & Technology Press. A seven-part National Public Radio series by the authors based on the book won first prize in the Excellence in Broadcasting Competition. He also is author of a biography of Colombian populist Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and articles on Latin America and United States history.

“Brendan became interested in Cuban history after a trip he took. He also comes from a liberal progressive background, so he wanted to pursue this topic,” says Sharpless.

“I went to Cuba to take part in the 20th annual meeting of ‘Philosophers and Social Scientists’ for a three-week study,” says Rivage-Seul. “My parents originally got me interested in it; they have both been to Cuba numerous times.”

During his trip, Rivage-Seul visited much of the island, including Santa Clara, Santiago, Guanabacoa, Varadero, and Havana.

“In our studies at various universities and Cuban think tanks, we were exposed to historical, economic, political, racial, and gender issues concerning Cuba. We had a great time, not just studying, but also enjoying the culture. It was a time to brush up on some Spanish, meet very interesting people, and learn about a culture that would have otherwise remained rather foreign to me, as it is to most Americans,” he says.

After being struck by a political system that, as he says, “is producing much better results than almost any other Central or South American country,” Rivage-Seul was inspired to delve into Cuban history.

He examined the first war of independence in 1868, the Spanish American War, and the role of the Platt Amendment in Cuban independence in 1898. He is also researching recent Cuban history, including the social, economic, and political elements that brought about the 1959 Communist revolution, as well as the present day status of Cuba. He read the works of Jose Martí, Che Guevarra, Fidel Castro, and Juan Ruiz, among others.

“In short, the course was a thorough analysis of Cuban history and the role the United States has played in that history,” says Rivage-Seul. “It also highlighted the continued struggle by Cubans to overcome American oppression by way of the trade embargo and the recent Helms-Burton Act.”

Rivage-Seul was particularly pleased to study a country often overlooked by American historians.

“Having the opportunity to experience Cuba first hand and then learn about its political, economic, and cultural history was a real eye-opening experience. I can’t say enough about how good this study has been. I really enjoyed it,” he says.

“Dr. Sharpless was been a great help over the course of this independent study,” adds Rivage-Seul. “He has a wealth of knowledge to share not only about Cuba, but about life in general. It was a real pleasure to work with him.”

Though unsure about his career plans, Rivage-Seul cites a newfound interest in Latin American studies due to both his travel and academic work. He was also struck by the ease with which he could create his own curriculum to pursue specific academic areas.

“Lafayette is a good environment for this type of study,” he says. “My proposal for an independent study was welcomed. Lafayette has a history of taking student groups to Cuba under the guidance of Dr. Sharpless, so it was convenient for me to hook up with him for this project. The work has been steady and very interesting.”

“This is my second year here at Lafayette, and I’m really enjoying it,” he adds. “Aside from being a great school with good people and a strong academic environment, it is a lot of fun. In addition to all those things, the school has an abundance of resources and great opportunities for students who want to go outside the standard curriculum, much like the independent study I’ve done with Dr. Sharpless.”

Rivage-Seul is a member of International Students Association, Students for Social Justice, Investment Club, and the junior varsity basketball team. He plays violin, is a referee for intramural basketball, and works as a substitute in Kirby Sports Center. He has played on the varsity golf team and occasionally contributes opinion articles to The Lafayette.

Categorized in: Academic News