NEH Summer Seminar in Spain

Dear Colleague:

In this four-week NEH Summer Seminar in Spain (July 18 to August 12, 2011) we will explore the deeper and broader cultural history of Islamic Iberia, seeking to provide a series of cultural perspectives on both the role of Islam and Islamic culture in European cultural history, as well as upon the complex multicultural civilization that flourished for nearly a millennium in what is present-day Spain and Portugal. The seminar, for 16 participants from around the United States, will be conducted in Spanish and will involve the study of Islam in its historical Iberian context.  Some of the questions that we will pose are:  What role did Islamic Iberia play in the making of western culture?  What were the forces that produced the Muslim conquest of Iberia and the later emergence of al-Andalus (the Arabic name of Islamic Iberia), as the most advanced western civilization between the eighth and eleventh centuries?  How did Iberian Muslims, who were largely converts to Islam, manage to live together with Christians and Jews during this period? When and why did the accommodations that initially allowed them to do so break down?  What was the impact of Islam on Christian Iberia, both in the past and now?  By combining both a cultural and historical approach to Muslim Iberia, the seminar aims to demonstrate that these two areas provide the keys with which to answer these questions and produce a better understanding of early modern Spain, as well as the larger European past and present.

This NEH Summer Seminar has three main goals: 1.) To enhance participants’ knowledge of European cultural history through a close-up view of the complex religious, ethnic, social, and cultural constitution of the Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsula (Muslim, Christian, Jewish); 2) To offer participants an introduction to Islamic culture and arouse a greater appreciation of, and interest in, the richness of Islamic civilization in an historical and geographical setting that is very close to home; and 3.), To perfect participants’ fluency in speaking, reading, and writing Spanish.

In the seminar, we will concentrate on both Islam and the history of Islamic culture in Iberia from the beginning of the eighth to the second decade of the seventeenth century, a period that starts with the Muslim conquest of the Peninsula in CE 711 and extends to the final extirpation of Islam from it with the expulsion of the moriscos (Christian descendants of Muslims) by Philip IV in 1609-1614. In this way, the seminar will focus on and explore the intricate heterogeneous, multicultural base upon which modern Spain rests, while stressing the interactions between the three major religions and cultures (Islamic, Jewish, and Christian) which constituted the medieval and early modern cultural matrix of the Hispanic world.

The first two weeks of the seminar will be held at the University of Virginia’s Study Center in Valencia, Spain. The remaining two weeks of the seminar will unfold following a travel itinerary with multiple-day visits to the cities which were the main centers of Iberian Islamic civilization: Córdoba, Granada, Seville, and Toledo. In each of these places, we will explore and discuss the historical significance of the numerous abiding vestiges of Islamic culture in present-day Spain. All the discussions and the readings will thus be completed in many of the actual historical places that are the seminar’s subject. Before our departure to the various cities that comprised the heart of Andalusí civilization, participants will also be divided into small groups to prepare study presentations on topics dealing with expressions of Muslim Iberia.  Each group will then give its presentation in the city pertinent to its study and, if tied to a specific location, preferably in the place itself.

The seminar is open to a broad spectrum of teachers of language, literature, history, and culture at both the elementary and secondary school levels. Given the unique issues posed by the Hispanic multicultural traditions of the Middle Ages and Early Modernity, the seminar should appeal especially to all teachers interested in early European cultural history, but particularly those who teach Spanish, Literature, History, and Western Civilization. Teachers from all disciplines who have a fluency in Spanish are thus encouraged to apply, since nothing would be better than to discuss the great cultural traditions of Islamic Iberia across the curriculum.

Today Islamic Iberia is generally perceived only by means of a small group of conspicuous late medieval referents like the Alhambra in Granada. Yet al-Andalus encompassed a vast, varied, complex, multifaceted culture that flourished for over nine centuries, and that at its height arguably formed the most advanced society in Europe. The product mostly of early conversions to Islam from Christianity and paganism immediately after the Muslim conquest of the Peninsula in 711, Andalusí society was at once deeply religious, ethnically diverse, multilingual, and , because of its Roman and Visigothic foundations, in many other ways profoundly protean: secular, pragmatic, and occidental. Throughout its nine-hundred-year-long history, al-Andalus adopted and adapted numerous cultural forms, and at its end continued to exist and resist, often clandestinely, against great odds well beyond 1492, the year of the Christian subjugation of Granada, the last remaining Muslim kingdom in Europe. In short, the subject of our seminar is a civilization that today remains little known and even less understood by most educated Americans, and yet one which played—in fact, continues to play– a  foundational role in western cultural history.

The study of Islamic Iberia is especially relevant to contemporary American education.  It is a subject that embodies the specific cultural and linguistic traits of a complex, pluralistic multicultural, social, and political reality that was often in conflict with itself. As we examine the representation of diverse social categories and the interaction and reception of multiple cultural practices and conditions by different ethnic and religious groups, the historical reality of al-Andalus will become explicit.  Islamic Iberia, and its place in teaching about the Middle Ages and Early Modernity in a diverse society like our own, thus provides fertile ground on which to cultivate a discussion, from a comparative perspective, of ethnicity, languages, class, gender, religion, sexuality, diverse cultural practices, and their pertinence to contemporary Americans.

In addition to the historical and cultural complexities of Islamic Iberia itself, in the seminar we will pursue one of the broad goals of humanistic training: to expand and contribute to historical understanding, and to the refinement of critical inquiry, practice, and understanding. The seminar offers the opportunity to broaden substantially the appreciation and importance of Hispanic culture in the context of American education, the new exciting developments in paradigms of historical interpretation in general, and both their links to education in the humanities at large. Finally, we will engage in an enterprise that significantly extends and deepens our appreciation of the humanities through reading, reflection, writing, and discussion.

Seminar Content, Implementation, and Objectives: The Seminar will meet in Spain from July 18 to August 12, 2011. It will be organized around the following broad framing topics:

WEEK 1 – Islam: The Western Empire, Conquests, and Conversion. The Iberian Peninsula before CE 711.

WEEK 2 – Iberian Emirs, Caliphs, and Christian Kings: Córdoba, the Caliphate, and the Taifa Kingdoms (CE 711-1100)

WEEKS 3 and 4 will be organized around the overarching theme of convivencia, or the cooperative or conflicting co-existence of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages.

WEEK 3 – Cultural Contingencies I: Literature, Philosophy, Science, Technology, and Convivencia in al-Andalus (CE 711-1100)

WEEK 4 – Cultural Contingencies II: Christian Conquest and the Breakdown of Convivencia: Extirpation and Aftermath (CE 1100-1614)

Within the four broad weekly themes outlined above, readings and discussion will revolve around a selected list of materials available at the University of Virginia’s library in the Valencia Study Center or through the University’s COLLAB electronic resource web site dedicated to the seminar.  Participants will also receive a list of readings that should be completed before the seminar. Four three-hour sessions per week during the first two weeks will allow us to attune to the terminology, purposes, and expectations of the seminar.  Three three-hour lecture and discussion sessions during the last two weeks will allow time for travel and visits to sites in Córdoba, Granada, Seville, and Toledo. Because one aim of the seminar is to strike a balance between discussion, time for reflection, and visits to historical places, we will be flexible in choosing assignments and give first priority to participants’ individual needs. Please click here for the weekly schedule.

Since the seminar will be conducted in Spanish, it will reinforce fluency as well as introduce a significant amount of new vocabulary.  Applicants from disciplines other than Spanish are welcome if they are proficient in the language and have a good mastery of the four fundamental skills (speaking, comprehension, reading, and writing). All the primary readings will be completed in either English or Spanish (translations from Arabic of the Islamic materials to be used are available in one or the other language). We will focus mainly on those issues most often discussed in culture and civilization courses covering medieval and early modern Europe and Spain (e.g., cultural, religious, linguistic, and social composition, conflict, cooperation and negotiation, civic institutions, long-term influences, and influential material practices). We will, however, also touch on many other less well-known subjects, too, and participants will be encouraged to present those of their own particular interest.

Course Project: In addition to the class discussions and group activities, participants will be asked to prepare a Course Project based on their readings and travels. Because students generally respond inquisitively to the topic of Islamic Iberia, creating a course or course module based on what the seminar participants learn and experience is an excellent means to teach Spanish history and literature, as well as cultural differences. As in other programs I have conducted abroad, everyone will be encouraged to keep a journal during the seminar to document travel experiences and reactions to the locations visited that are mentioned in the readings.  The Course Project can thus serve as a concrete product to use in the classroom. Course Projects, along with other appropriate documentation (the syllabus, my letter evaluating and attesting to your achievement, etc.), can also be presented for CEUs or in-service credit for completion of the seminar.

Participant Selection: Participants will be chosen by a committee of faculty at the University of Virginia chaired by me. The application requires an essay in which you will be expected to include relevant academic and personal information concerning your qualifications to do the work of the seminar and to contribute to its discussions. The most important part of your essay, however, is the reasons you give for your interest in the seminar. You should explain why you would benefit from the seminar, why you would profit from four weeks of studying Islamic Iberia in Spain, and how the seminar will personally enrich your general intellectual and professional development.

Institutional Context and Venues: The University of Virginia’s Study Center in Valencia is the venue for its program abroad in Hispanic Studies during the regular academic year. It is a fully equipped academic facility with excellent resources.  The Center has a library with a good Hispanic collection, air conditioned classrooms, excellent AV resources, and fully up-to-date computer facilities, including Wi-Fi, from which you can access the internet, email, and the seminar’s electronic resources on COLLAB, the University of Virginia’s online collaboration and learning environment (CLE). Internet, email and phone access will also be readily available during the entire travel itinerary the last two weeks of the seminar. Everyone is encouraged to bring a laptop, so as to be able to use the Wi-Fi at the Valencia Study Center and in the hotels while on the road. All travel to seminar sites in Spain will be as a group on a chartered bus.

Transportation to Spain and Costs: Participants will need to purchase a round-trip ticket to Madrid and arrange bullet train transportation to Valencia for arrival there on the afternoon of July 17. You should book your flight to Spain as early as possible to obtain a good airfare, since we will be traveling during high season.  The seminar will disperse in Madrid on Friday, August 12, four weeks later.  All participants must have a passport that is valid to at least six months beyond August 12, 2011. Applicants who do not currently have a passport should apply for one as soon as possible since the process can be lengthy. Due to space limitation, the housing offered cannot accommodate families.  Anyone who wishes to extend their stay in Europe may do so and arrange for travel on the numerous airlines that offer bargain rates to the destinations of your choice.

Although the $3,300 stipend from NEH will not cover all the costs of participating in this NEH Summer Seminar, the amount will subsidize a significant portion of them and is a powerful incentive to apply to, and participate in, this culturally enriching academic program. The University of Virginia is offering a prepaid package that includes all housing, transportation, and museum admissions in Spain, plus all meals while in Valencia, for which the University will retain a portion of each stipend to cover the costs. (At the current rate of exchange, the cost of the entire package is estimated at $2,900. A definite price will be fixed on February 11, 2011 according to the current exchange rate). You will therefore need to supplement the overall cost for the four weeks from other resources. You might consider requesting a partial subsidy from your school administration, local Rotary Club, or other institution in order to do so. Applicants should note that the NEH will not give supplements to cover expenses beyond the regular stipend.

Housing: During our two weeks in Valencia we will be housed with local families.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included. Laundry service and linen are also provided. Our homestays are convenient and comfortable. Our host families also offer an enriched cultural environment, increasing our opportunity for dialogue and our use of Spanish in spontaneous situations.  Everyone will stay in a home chosen from the UVa Study Center’s large roster of approved host families, and will be placed according to the information they provide on a housing form submitted at the time of acceptance into the program. We will stay in modest but good and well located two and three-star hotels during the travel portion of the seminar.

Please apply! Simply click HERE for the application information and guidelines. Your completed application should be mailed to me at the following address and be postmarked no later than March 1, 2011:

Michael Gerli

NEH Seminar

Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese

115 Wilson Hall

Box 400777

University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA 22903-4777

Applicants will be notified about selection by email on April 1.

Thank you for your interest in this exciting academic program! My colleagues and I on the selection committee are looking forward to reviewing your application.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Gerli

This program is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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