Rated 5 out of 5 by NYNM Different perspective
One of Prof. Ruiz's talent's is his ability to present a different point of view. His has a very "gentlemanly, courtly" manner of presentation that suggests a European scholar, which he is.
Being Spanish, he is able to discuss the topic of the "Other" 1492 in a unique way. We Americans usually see "1492" as the beginning of "our" history and do not appreciate the context of Columbus' journeys in relation to broader European and world history. We are fortunate to have Ruiz' perspective.
I know there are those who criticize Ruiz for his rather heavy Spanish accent. While this is true, it seems to offer even more "atmosphere" for this course. I have found it part of his charm to listen with the accent, and when one transcends that, the content of his lectures is superb.
He would especially appeal to those who are interested in the new "social history" approach rather than names/dates/"great man" approach. In spite of Ruiz' somewhat "traditional" Old World style, his content is sparkling, lively and even controversial.
May 29, 2009
Rated 3 out of 5 by RoyT Fascinating But Biased
This is my second TC course with Professor Ruiz, the first being the equally fascinating ‘Medieval Europe: Crisis and Renewal’. I found this subject so interesting that I listened twice to the twelve lectures of this 2002 TC course.
Professor Ruiz’s accent can be confusing at times (is he the TC Ricardo Montalban?), but that should not detract from his very interesting account. 1492 for us today looms large as the year of Columbus’ sailing to the New World, “a mythical year in Spanish and world history” (Course Guidebook, Page 3). Professor Ruiz rightly contends that for Columbus’ contemporaries there were many more important developments in1492. It is a much more significant marker, for example, for the fall of Muslim Granada and the expulsion of the Jews.
Professor Ruiz’s major point is that “Late medieval Spain was a multicultural and multilingual society. Toleration of religious minorities and respect for other linguistic groups were practiced … until the mid-fourteenth century. By then, conflict between different groups increased dramatically. By the early sixteenth century, this plurality had been erased from Spanish society, and Castilian emerged as the dominant language” (Page 4). He provides good detail to support his positions and does so in a quite engaging manner. Along the way, he references the work of other scholars, not only for support but also to point out areas of disagreement, as well as areas that will likely never be known with certainty. Professor Ruiz is especially good at explaining the changes in cultural values and mentality (social history being his strong point), as well as the standard economic, political, and military “antecedents”/ developments. He reaches back into Visigoth Spain, the Muslim invasion of 711, developments in the centuries leading up to 1492 and into the early sixteenth century, and Spain’s activities in the New World.
Despite my overall satisfaction with this course, I have some personal concerns. As he notes early on, Professor Ruiz’s is a view “from below” (Page 3), not just from the perspective of the “victors”. While this provides an interesting story, it often signals suspicion of motives of those “above” and a focus on issues of power and control. There is quite a bit of those perspectives in this course, often well-justified, but sometimes heavy-handed or one-sided. (I have come to think of Professor Ruiz as my favorite TC lefty, since his revisionism is quite apparent and above board.)
While Professor Ruiz does an excellent job on the condition and plight of Jews in Spain, including the Inquisition (set up to deal with converted Jews, Conversos or New Christians), I would have appreciated more on Moorish or Muslim Spain. There is little on the conflicts within this territory and how the conflicts with Spanish Christians fit into the larger picture of contemporary Muslim expansion/conquest. While the Muslim religion practiced in Moorish Spain was historically tolerant of others, there is only passing reference to the “more orthodox” and “fundamentalist” North African Muslims who invaded Spain in the twelfth century and no mention of their particularly harsh treatment of non-converting Jews and Christians. Also, while Professor Ruiz highlights the “international” (Page 7) character of the forces commanded by Alfonso VIII of Castile at the decisive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, he does not mention that Alfonso lost the support of a sizable contingent of French and other European forces before the battle due, in part, to his comparatively lenient policy toward Jews and Muslims. I am not sure if passing over matters such as these can be attributed to lack of time, or that they just do not fit in well with Professor Ruiz’s overall narrative of the Reconquista, privileging one side (those “below”) over the other (the “victors”). In fact, for Professor Ruiz, “Reconquista” is a misnomer, as the Christians were not so much reconquering as conquering territory that had never really been theirs (even though they might see themselves as inheritors of the Christian Visigoths overthrown by the 711 Muslim invasion). Nevertheless, despite my concerns, I still find Professor Ruiz’s treatment of the Reconquista illuminating and as such it added appreciably to my understanding.
Professor Ruiz casts his lot with much prevailing trendy scholarship and even popular opinion critical of Christopher Columbus. While lecture ten is a good treatment of Columbus within the context of European voyages of discovery, it is marred for me by Professor Ruiz’s not being content with taking Columbus’ achievement down a few pegs but also charging him, in the audio lecture, with being a “religious fanatic” whose voyage “was not a great deal, not essentially a big deal”. I got the feeling from the lecture that Columbus was quite disreputable, and that generations of historians had puffed his accomplishment way out of proportion. The audio of lecture eleven, however, dials this back in starting out by saying “…please allow me not to diminish [Columbus’] accomplishment”. Not an elegant treatment, but it does prod one to wonder what the truth may be about Columbus between supposed uncritical admirers and the present-day debunkers.
The sixty-seven page course guidebook is fine, with all of the usual components. I do, however, wish that there were more maps. The one for Spain in 1491 is barely adequate for the audio course. I assume the video version has many more maps and other supporting visuals to offer.
August 22, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by AndrewSB An important history not to be missed
Within decades of the joining of the crowns of Castile and Aragon, "Spain" as we more commonly know it, emerged not only as a leading European power but set the stage for a century or more as the global superpower. Because Ferdinand and Isabella are often presented solely as supporting characters in the Columbus saga, their story, and the story of their nascent kingdom is often overlooked. Isabella particularly is a fascinating historical figure in her own right and deserves a closer look.
Professor Ruiz does a great job exploring and explaining this often untold history. He has an excellent command of the topic and delivers a succinct, evenly delivered series of lectures. If you have any interest in European history and the origins of the Spanish Empire, this is an excellent course not to be missed.
Finally, in response to other reviews, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of this epoch, most likely, will not find anything particularly "controversial" in these lectures, and for what it's worth, i found Professor Ruiz's accent to be, if anything, charming.
July 25, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by MarleysGhost Christians, Jews, Muslims, Conversos, and more
audio download version
Professor Ruiz gives an amplified meaning (for me) to Iberia in the 15th Century. Not just the mu;ti-ethnic mix, but we get cultural and religious aspects along with the shifting movement of who is in charge of which parts of the peninsula when and for how long;. Having just finished Bill Bryson's book on Barcelona his description of what what was happening not only in Catalonia, but in Aragon, Castile, and so on fit in very nicely with Dr. Ruiz's lecturers.
While I knew full well the treatment of Christians and Jews by the Muslims before and during this time period, it was a revelation to me, that until the reconquest was far along, everyone managed to keep their livelihood and possessions regardless who happened to be in charge on the day (or year). And more. You never expect the Spanish Inquisition, And more. Professor Ruiz gives just a small bit of Columbus and his New World voyages, both the good (navigator, seaman, etc.) and the less than good (wrong concept on how big the world really was and his administration). Some of this I knew, but I had no idea that the Crown financed the trip because it was so cheap that they might as well. Really just one insight after another.
Some reviewers have commented on Dr. Ruiz's Spanish accent. True enough,, but I* had no trouble at all in understanding him, and as an aside, although he is from Cuba, when he read parts of text in Spanish, his Spanish was not at all a Caribbean accent. Very good Spanish. Further his command of English appears to be complete as well as his ability to make subtle asides in English about English practices. For example when he comments on the ned for and the high prices of spices during this period, he makes the point that if you want to know what food tastes like without those spices, just go to England. Sis-Boom-Bah!
June 14, 2016