our words make worlds

Curriculum Development

As part of our work on curriculum development, the 'Travelling Concepts' strand will produce pioneering digital and print resources, which will contribute practically to translating our global vision for Iberian, Hispanic and Lusophone Studies into the curriculum design of a first-year university course, 'Global Iberias'.

Why 'Global Iberias'?

'Global Iberias' is an ambitious attempt to rethink an introductory course for students of Spanish and Portuguese which is informed by and responds frontally to the challenges of our times, institutionally and in society. Its origins have arisen out of three concurrent practical demands: 

  • One was the need to meet the merger of historically autonomous departments, degrees, students, and teaching of ‘Spanish and Spanish American Studies’ (but in reality also Catalan studies), and ‘Portuguese and Brazilian Studies’ (but in reality also Lusophone African studies) with an intellectually coherent introductory course.
  • The second, was to balance the imperatives and constraints of an ‘introductory’ module: to manage the transition from school based teaching to university learning, including the critical skills of independent and critical study in the humanities and modern languages; to develop both a chronological narrative and a geographical mapping, historical and contemporary, of the relevant contexts, scales, subjects and objects which students will encounter, often to their surprise –and excitement-- as part of their studies; to understand the integral nature of linguistic and language learning and so called ‘content’ learning, with the added challenges of both multiple combined degree combinations, and ab initio, post-A level, native speaker, and heritage language speakers.
  • And thirdly, the challenge of doing justice to both our subjects and objects of study and critical perspectives and approaches, working against the grain of colonial, Eurocentric and diffusionist narratives of global expansion and of centres and peripheries, and through the nationalising and partitioning work of states, languages, territories, histories, and historiographies.

‘Global Iberias’ is decidedly not Iberia globalised, precisely because  it critiques the historiographical grand narratives of ‘Discovery’ and global expansion along with  the ideologies that underpin them; nor is it about the impact of the global in Iberia (a reversal which still leaves Iberia at the centre), because it places Iberia within historically shifting networks of trade, conquest, colonisation and migration – from words and ideas to technologies, foodstuffs, and peoples. 

For us, therefore ‘Global Iberias’ is not a narrative, but a dynamic concatenation of contexts, processes and mutual transformations forged by what we call the ‘Iberianate Venture’, Marshall Hodgson’s pioneering The Venture of Islam, in which he coined the term ‘Islamicate’ in order to do justice to the cultural range of the Islamic world). No descriptive title satisfactorily names the range of work scholars in our areas do; work which spans the contemporary societies of Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and the nations of Central and South America and the Caribbean and of Lusophone Africa, but also other linguistic and indigenous communities of these countries, their languages, cultures, literatures, oral and written, and histories; the minority, diasporic, and immigrant communities of Spanish and Portuguese speakers, including significant Latino communities in the US; Spanish and Portuguese creole languages, from West Africa to Malaysia; historical linguistic communities of once colonised regions and port cities, from the Philippines, to Indonesia and China; and the hybrid languages and literatures emerging from novel migratory currents across Portuguese and Spanish speaking states.

To this end, 'Global Iberias' is of necessity open ended in its coverage. Divided into ‘Histories’ (accentuating historical perspectives with a view to estrange the categories of the present, from the nation state and identities, to subjectivities, world views and material cultures) and ‘Topics’ (adopting a more thematic and conceptual exploration of cultural production and circulation), any moment, place, object, word, text, individual or event can provide a point of entry which grounds and exemplifies both an aspect of the overall tapestry of stories, and the application of a critical skill, from the use of medieval Spanish ballads, samba lyrics, or tango and the grotesco criollo as historical sources for Medieval frontier society, and turn of the century Brazil and Argentina respectively; from the Loas of the Seventeenth century Mexican Nun, Sor Juana de la cruz, to the Latino Science Fiction of Junot Diaz, and from Portuguese colonial film to postcolonial Lusophone African fiction.

If the meaning is in the usage, this, is what Modern Language study is in a department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies.

In another respect too, 'Global Iberias' builds on lively critical reformulations of our disciplinary and institutional divides, and engages the topical polarisations of contemporary society with a Modern Languages based commitment to critical literacies. Starting our Histories with al-Andalus and closing it with the contemporary polemics over the memory of al-Andalus, convivencia and Jewish and Muslim heritage in Spain and Portugal, we do three things which bridge research, teaching, and public engagement.

  • First, we draw both on pioneering work –  of the likes of James Monroe and Samuel Armistead, for example – and on a diverse range of contemporary contributions from across a range of specialist  and institutional divides, to expand our disciplinary ‘geographies’ and subject matter, to comparative and intertextual explorations and conversations bridging Arabic, Islamic, and Islamicate Studies, Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish, and Jewish and Judaic Studies, the study of pre-Colombian and Indigenous cultures, African studies and the study of Transatlantic exchanges, and Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilian and Latin American languages, literatures, histories and cultures.
  • Second, at a time when the discourse of a clash of civilizations has been re-grounded anew in scaremongering and dog whistle politics over a Hispanic 'challenge' to America and a Muslim 'challenge' to European societies, al-Andalus and Medieval Iberia have gained new and hotly polemic topicality, championed and contested as exemplary model or hoodwinking myth. Al-Andalus has been rhetorically weaponised in the context of the War on Terror and migration panics, and its discursive effects are felt by individuals and communities in their everyday lives. We recognise and assume that research and teaching in our areas feeds into a broader public discourse whether we like it or not.
  • Third, 'Global Iberias' and 'Travelling Concepts' seek to connect the dots from al-Andalus to the many Andalusias of the imagination, and from research to teaching. Al-Andalus in Motion: Travelling Concepts and Transcultural Contexts, our recent strand conference in Istanbul, and the opening and closing lectures of this academic year’s 'Global Iberias', ‘Iberian Frontiers, Or Why Iberia?’ and ‘Iberia, Europe and al-Andalus in the Age of Anxiety’, convergingly explored the claims and stakes of Sephardic and Andalusi diasporic memories, the legacies of European Romantic and Orientalist exoticising imagination; cultural appropriations in leisure and heritage tourist commodification; and the citizenship politics of assimilationist backlash and multicultural belonging in conversations between scholars across disciplines from art History to Anthropology, Literary Studies and Jewish Studies, and among students of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies in London. 

Development of 'Global Iberias'

The resources will be developed in part through a series of workshops involving teaching colleagues from UK, US, and African universities, which will ensure that these resources have international reach, impacting students not only in the UK but also in the US, Africa and East Asia (China and Korea). One aspect of the resources will be structured around the creative arts outputs of a collaboration with a London art gallery on Kalila wa Dimna planned as part of this strand. 

Two workshops have so far taken place, which you can read more about here and here.