Program Description

Spain and Latin America share not only the Spanish language but also an intertwined history of complex cultural crossings. The cultures of both arose from dynamic and sometimes violent encounters, and continue to be shaped by uneven power relationships as well as vibrant forms of resistance. In Spain, Jews, Christians and Muslims once lived side-by-side during a period of relative religious tolerance and cultural flourishing, known as the medieval convivencia. Military campaigns and the notorious tribunals of the Spanish Inquisition eventually suppressed Jewish and Muslim communities, but legacies of these communities have persisted in Spanish society. The first Spanish encounters with Latin America involved violent clashes between the Spaniards and indigenous peoples, as well as Africans brought to the Americas as slaves. The long aftermath of these initial clashes—wars of conquest, religious missions, colonization, and slavery, all confronted continuously through resistance—gave rise to new, hybrid Latin American communities.

In the 20th century, Spain and several countries of Latin America experienced oppressive dictatorships as well as the resulting emergence of social movements that enabled democratization. The question of regional identity and difference has also defined several countries’ experiences, from Catalonia and the Basque region in Spain, to various indigenous ethnicities from Mexico to the Southern Cone. More recently, the context of economic globalization has given rise to unprecedented levels of international migration, with flows from Latin America to Spain and the U.S., as well as from North Africa and eastern Europe to Spain. All of these cultural crossings have involved challenges and conflict as well as rich and vibrant exchanges.

Students will engage in an intensive study of the Spanish language and explore the literature remembered, imagined and recorded by Spaniards and Latin Americans in historical context. We will critically analyze selected texts from medieval times to the present. Every week during the fall and winter quarters will include seminars on readings in English translation, Spanish language classes, a lecture delivered in Spanish and a film in Spanish.

During the fall and winter, we will explore various themes that define and describe key moments in the intertwined histories of Spain and Latin America.  These include conquest and colonization, national and regional identity, dictatorship and resistance, linguistic crossings and immigration.  Spring quarter will offer opportunities to study abroad in Quito, Ecuador, or Santo Tomás, Nicaragua, as well as internships with local Latino organizations for those who stay on campus. The Ecuador program is co-coordinated with CIMAS (Centro de Investigaciones en Medio Ambiente y Salud), an Ecuadorian non-profit academic and research organization; the Nicaragua program is co-coordinated with the Thurston-Santo Tomás Sister County Organization in Olympia and the Comité de Desarrollo Comunal in Santo Tomás.  There will be an application process in the fall for the Nicaragua program (as it is small, 5-8 students only).  All classes during the spring quarter, whether in Olympia or abroad, will be conducted in Spanish.

Guiding Questions

•    Individual and collective identities are socially constructed, and are constantly changing.  How have different writers attempted to understand personal, group, regional and national identities in their work?  Why have these themes been so persistent in Spain and Latin America?

•    How has migration impacted the construction of identity as represented in cultural forms (literature, film, art)?   How do structures of power in society (e.g., class, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc.) impact both migration and cultural production?

•    Are there some artistic strategies (i.e., certain styles of literature or film) that work more effectively for particular aims, such as resistance, self-determination and collective memory?  Are the some strategies that tend to undermine those aims?

•    How can artistic production persist in the context of dictatorship, and how does ongoing creative work foster democratization?

•    Why are certain moments of the past (i.e., the medieval convivencia between Muslims, Christians, and Jews; the conquest of the Americas) revisited, and literarily reconstructed, by contemporary writers?

•    What are some of the key connections between the Spanish reconquest and the conquest of the Americas?

•    How did the rise of the Spanish Inquisition impact literary forms?

•    At the end of the 15th century, Antonio de Nebrija stated that “language is a tool of empire.” In what ways has the Spanish language functioned as such a tool, and in what ways has it served to unify communities to resist domination in Latin America?

•    How can we study about, learn from, and engage with other cultures in non-dominating ways?

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