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Legacies. Cities and Towns of Catalonia and Basque Country
Travel Dates: May 11-23
Instructors: Veronica Dean-Thacker, Nancy Wolsk
Number of Students Enrolled: tba
Location: Spain

Though framed within clearly defined national borders and defined by a central government as an integral part of the nation, the Basque and Catalonian regions in the northeast sector of Spain proclaim a separate identity from their neighbors to the west and south. Often overlooked in studies of Spanish civilization, these two comunidades, as ethnically different from each other as they are from the rest of the nation, speak different languages—in fact, Basque, always a mystery, has no linguistic relatives—, follow different customs, offer up different literary traditions, express different musical forms, design different architectural structures, and eat different foods. Even economically, the two distinguish themselves from the rest of Spain not only through tradition and mores but in light of very modern success. The Basque region serves as the industrial center of the country; Catalonia, the commercial and financial stronghold.

This course will study these exceptional regions—their contemporary and traditional cultures—as they have been shaped by their unique histories. The rich sacred and profane past, of course, determine the present here; most important, they determine the ways that the cultures of these regions define themselves. Thus, in this course, the regional legacies of the Basque country and Catalonia will provide paths to the present. Indeed the two areas emerge as an astonishing mix of the folk and the cosmopolitan.

Colonized by Greek culture and the Roman imperium; cradle of modern art (Gaudi, Picasso, Dalí, and Miró were all from Barcelona), Catalonia is now and was historically part of an all-encompassing, sophisticated Mediterranean tradition. The Basque country, insular and mountainous, identifies itself with its folk culture (the txistu, a type of flute is a “national” emblem); it was never Romanized. However, through its modernity--its thriving industry-- and through such post-modern productions as Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Basque region is very much part of the modern world.

As with our two previous interdisciplinary May Term courses—the first in 2005 and the second in 2007—we plan to spend the first two weeks of the semester in class, on campus. Study here will include a selection of modern and contemporary literatures, a survey of social and political history, and a survey of Basque and Catalonian art and architectural history (see the preliminary reading list below). In the travel portion of the course, students will experience not only literary, art, and architectural history as it is reflected in the contemporary cities of Bilbao and Barcelona, but they will engage in a variety of ways with village life and popular culture as well. The itinerary for the course is set out below.

Offered at the “sophomore” level, this course will be listed as SPAN/ARTH 2294. Students may elect to take Legacies under either program listing. Enrollment will be limited to twenty. Students taking the course for Spanish credit must have completed SPAN 1034 plus at least one upper-level course; students enrolling under the ARTH rubric must have completed one course in art history.

Of course, students taking the course for Spanish credit will read texts in Spanish; however, the added benefit in focusing on Catalonia and the Basque area is that they will experience very different cultures from the ones ordinarily taught in courses at Transylvania. The art history students will study works both familiar (Miró and Picasso) and remote (Basque folk artists) in cultural/historical context. This is a course that will have a major emphasis on towns and villages well outside the large cities. Here, we will meet persons and travel to places not normally available to tourists. Indeed, Professor Dean-Thacker has already arranged with several persons to meet with students to discuss the culture of the region, these include the poet Germán Yanke and the journalist Idoia Yanke (both are Basques) and Xavier Rodríguez, a Spanish businessman living in San Sebastián.