Tracing the Legacy of Hispanic Cultures — 1492 to Today

Angela Willis, Hispanic Studies, Davidson College

This seminar meets at UNC Charlotte Center City, in Uptown Charlotte.

This seminar introduces Fellows to some of the most iconic figures and texts (including art works) of Hispanic Cultures in its diverse manifestations. Loosely referring to a chronological structure, we will move back and forth across the Atlantic between Spain and Latin America, attempting to put forth a basic overview of transcendental moments of Hispanic histories. Our goal, beyond gaining a deeper and better appreciation of Hispanic Cultures, is to understand the undeniable relationship between Spain’s Imperial Legacy of the 15th century and some of the most pressing issues of Spain and Latin America today.

The seminar begins in 1492 in the Spain of the “three cultures” (Christian, Jewish and Muslim), reviewing historical events that would quite literally not only change Spain, but also the world, forever: the “Catholic Kings” (Ferdinand and Isabel) fought tirelessly for the unification of a homogenous, Catholic Spain, which involved the Expulsion of the Jews with the creation of the Spanish Inquisition, along with the final moments of the conquest of Granada by Christians from the “Moors”; and, of course, the seismic effects of Columbus’s transatlantic journey.

We then move to the world’s first encounters with what would later be known as Latin America, exploring some of the most influential cultures of the New World, the Aztec (Mexica), Maya, and Inca peoples. Our understanding will be enriched by reviewing historical readings (i.e. by Bernal Díaz) and by visiting the Mint Museum’s collection of Colonial Latin American art.

From there, we will move back to the Old World, studying excerpts of what has been described as the “first modern novel,” Miguel de Cervantes’s masterpiece, Don Quijote de la Mancha. To gain a small appreciation of expectations of women of the time, we make a point to read a chapter whose liberal protagonist is what I would describe as an “early feminist” (Marcela). While enjoying a ride with the great knight errant, we will also dip into Renaissance and Baroque art (i.e. by Velázquez) to appreciate aesthetic sentiments of the time.

While we will explore many moments in between, we then place our attention on the Independence Movements of 19th and 20th century Latin America, focusing in particular on Simón Bolívar, the Great “Liberator,” along with a much slower independence movement in Cuba to develop an understanding of two different reactions to the need for freedom from colonial rule, in part due to the presence of slavery. We ponder the enduring effects of land distribution in the latifundio and plantation systems.

Then, traveling trans-temporally, we move to 20th century Spain, reconsidering the perhaps dubious legacy of the Catholic Kings’ having united Spain in the 15th century; we study the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), along with the current political tensions that indeed date back to the Iberian Peninsula’s period as a place of individual kingdoms. We view films (Butterfly), art work (i.e. Picasso’s Guernica) and texts on the Spanish Civil War, as well as articles regarding contemporary Spain.

Crossing the Atlantic anew, we will focus on Marxist Latin America and the Cuban Revolution (1959). By reading historical texts, studying the pre-revolutionary Cuban economy and society, viewing a film about Che Guevara (Motorcycle Diaries), we will appreciate the initial euphoria of the Revolution that was not only a dream of Cuba, but rather, much of Latin America. We then study the contrast, the disillusion with reality,  by viewing films and reading texts by authors such as Cristina García (Dreaming in Cuban), Reinaldo Arenas (Before Night Falls) and Ana Menéndez (Loving Che).

Finally, we end up in Charlotte, finding Hispanic cultures in our own community. Our seminar concludes with an emphasis on immigration from Latin America to the United States, particularly to Charlotte. Our final conversations will lead us to the NUEVOlution Exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South. The course aims to encourage “big picture” thinking as we explore not only great “ruptures,” such as the “encounter” between the Old and New Worlds, but also, as we emphasize continuities and legacies of dominant policy, culture, and beliefs.

Explore curriculum units developed by Fellows in this seminar here.