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Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire

Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire

Professor Teofilo F. Ruiz Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles

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Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire

Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire

Professor Teofilo F. Ruiz Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
Course No.  899
Course No.  899
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

In 1492, there was no country called Spain and no language called Spanish. The biggest event of the year, in the region that would become Spain, was the surrender of the last Muslim stronghold, Granada. The Edict of Expulsion gave Jews three months to either convert to Christianity or leave the Kingdom of Castile and the Crown of Aragon.

In other words, there is a different 1492, than the one most of us know, one that is more complete and more complex.

This 12-lecture course uses 1492 as a focal point to follow events that enabled Spain to become a country and then an empire. It examines centuries of developments that led up to that pivotal date in Spanish history, and analyzes the consequences of the events that took place in 1492 for both Spain and the New World.

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In 1492, there was no country called Spain and no language called Spanish. The biggest event of the year, in the region that would become Spain, was the surrender of the last Muslim stronghold, Granada. The Edict of Expulsion gave Jews three months to either convert to Christianity or leave the Kingdom of Castile and the Crown of Aragon.

In other words, there is a different 1492, than the one most of us know, one that is more complete and more complex.

This 12-lecture course uses 1492 as a focal point to follow events that enabled Spain to become a country and then an empire. It examines centuries of developments that led up to that pivotal date in Spanish history, and analyzes the consequences of the events that took place in 1492 for both Spain and the New World.

A Year that Symbolizes Spanish History

Presented by Professor Teofilo F. Ruiz, a foremost authority on Spanish history and an award-winning teacher and author, this course paints a portrait of 1492 as the centerpiece of the transformation of Spanish society by tying together several key themes:

  • The rise of Castile as the strongest of the Spanish realms, and the reforms of Ferdinand and Isabella. Catholic monarchs built a popular and stable monarchy in Castile—through such measures as new taxes, control of the military, and reform of the church—that enabled Spain to emerge as the most powerful nation in Europe.
  • The end of pluralism. For centuries, the Iberian Peninsula had been a multicultural mix of Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Beginning with the Christian victory over Muslim forces at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, and continuing with developments such as the conquest of Granada and the Edict of Expulsion, both in 1492, Muslims and Jews were either forced to convert to Christianity or sent into exile.
  • The world of Christopher Columbus. Developments such as the recovery of classical knowledge of geography and astronomy, and new knowledge of maps and the use of the compass and astrolabe, enabled Columbus to set sail confidently across the Ocean Sea (Atlantic). Columbus's discoveries gave Spain a foothold in the Caribbean that it used to test colonial institutions, and to explore and conquer Mexico and Central America.

The Experience of Muslims, Jews, and Native Americans: 1492 from "Below"

Today, we associate 1492 with a sense of wonder and discovery. But a major theme of this course is to look at history not only from "above"—the perspective of a victorious Castilian and Christian society—but from below, from the view of the defeated, the outsiders, those seen as "other." For many people of the time, 1492 inspired only despair and terror.

Professor Ruiz conveys a palpable sense of the experiences of Muslims and Jews as they faced the choice of renouncing their religious beliefs or leaving lands that they had called home for centuries. This discussion touches on topics such as the Muslim sense that their civilization was ultimately doomed after the defeat by Christian forces at Toledo in 1085, and the confusion felt by Conversos—Jewish converts to Christianity—who tried to mix elements of Judaism with their new religion and became prime targets of the Inquisition.

You will see how Castilian attitudes toward others were exported to the New World. Spanish accounts of native peoples were ambivalent. They praised natives' simplicity and seeming closeness to God, but labeled them with the same stereotypes that had been applied to Muslims and Jews, and questioned whether they were truly human.

Throughout, these lectures are an opportunity to understand the events of 1492 as they were perceived by people of the time, and to correct misconceptions that linger today. For example, you will learn why Columbus's voyages were not seen as the greatest of his time, that he and his fellow Europeans did not believe the Earth was flat, and that his first voyage did not produce doubts and fear among those who sailed with him.

This 1492, the "other" 1492, will greatly expand and often revise your understanding of one of history's most crucial dates.

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    Europe and the New World in 1492
    The historian Walter Benjamin wrote that "every document of civilization is also a document of barbarity." This lecture broadly evaluates 1492 as an era of great creativity and great destruction, and describes the governing institutions that enabled Castile to take the lead role in both processes. x
  • 2
    Reconquest, Pilgrimage, Crusade, Repopulation
    A religious relic in the small town of Compostela drew a cascade of pilgrims across the Pyrenees to northwest Iberia, many of whom eventually settled along the pilgrimage path. As these Europeans moved further south, Muslim kingdoms called up reinforcements from North Africa, sparking the first real conflict between militant Islam and the Christian West. x
  • 3
    The Transformation of Values
    In the 13th century, the idea of private property evolved from a concept of land jurisdiction to the idea of owning physically bounded space. Laws limiting charitable giving weakened the church and buttressed family wealth. The idea of purgatory allowed the rich to negotiate or "bargain" for salvation, creating a new attitude toward the poor. x
  • 4
    An Age of Crisis
    Isabella's ascent to the throne found the monarchy's power at low tide. Nobles had encroached upon royal lands. Tyrannical elites extorted income from the peasantry, and rival clans warred in the streets. Devout and determined, Isabella tamed the nobility, bringing law and order to a grateful people. x
  • 5
    Isabella and Ferdinand—An Age of Reform
    The monarchy's reform of the church and establishment of a vast, university-trained bureaucracy led to a blossoming of culture in the 16th century. A new class of royal administrators loyal to the crown seized control of municipal power, and the cortes was reduced to a rubber-stamp body. A centralized state in Castile with a "monopoly of legalized violence" was created. x
  • 6
    Iberian Culture in the Fifteenth Century
    15th-century Iberian culture was saturated with Italian humanist thought and strengthened by the growth of a lettered nobility. Conventions of grammar, etiquette, and chivalry informed the popular genre of romance novels, and hierarchically arranged festivals became part of the art of ruling. x
  • 7
    The Conquest of Granada—Muslim Life in Iberia
    The rule of the Caliphate of Cordoba was peaceful and tolerant. Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived, worked, and wrote in a "garden protected by the spears of Islam." The Caliphate's 1031 collapse gave Christian armies the upper hand, and foretold the end of convivencia between the faiths. x
  • 8
    The Edict of Expulsion—Jewish Life in Iberia
    Historians today suggest a range of motivations behind the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Some cite militant Christianity and a hatred of Jews dating back to Visigothic times. Others argue that economic elites, jealous of Jewish influence at court and in commerce, simply wished to remove the competition. x
  • 9
    Jews, Conversos, and the Inquisition
    The horrific pogroms of 1391 were followed by unprecedented levels of Jewish conversion to Christianity. Upper and middle-class Conversos blended comfortably into society, while the lower classes remained segregated at the bottom. The Spanish Inquisition, designed to ferret out "secret" Jews, sought to remove the last visible traces of Judaism from Iberia. x
  • 10
    The World of Christopher Columbus
    By 1492, the stated purpose of Columbus's trip was irrelevant. The Portuguese had already passed the Cape of Good Hope, and Vasco da Gama would soon return from his profitable Indian voyage. Columbus, a brilliant sailor, an apocalyptic zealot, and an incompetent administrator, returned from the New World believing he had ushered in a new age. x
  • 11
    The Shock of the New
    The Spanish treatment of the New World's inhabitants was riddled with contradictions, a result of Castile's fundamental failure to comprehend them. The eventual conclusion that they were human beings capable of salvation mitigated the brutality of the conquest. To their credit, the Spanish people were open to mixing and blending with the people of the Americas to build a new society and culture. x
  • 12
    Spain and Its Empire—The Aftermath of 1492
    The legacy of 1492 would be Spain's wrenching entry into world affairs. The ascent of Charles I to the throne of Castile and his election as Holy Roman Emperor committed Spain to a role in the political conflicts of Western Europe. Spain would endure foreign wars, civil unrest, absolute despotism, and economic decline as the cost of empire, but also import its institutions all over the Americas and reap the cultural rewards of a new Golden Age. x

Lecture Titles

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Teofilo F. Ruiz
Teofilo F. Ruiz, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
Dr. Teofilo F. Ruiz is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. A student of Joseph R. Strayer, Dr. Ruiz earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Prior to taking his post at UCLA, he held teaching positions at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York Graduate Center, the University of Michigan, the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris, and Princeton University-as the 250th Anniversary Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching. In 1994-1995, the Carnegie Foundation selected Professor Ruiz as one of four Outstanding Teachers of the Year in the United States. Professor Ruiz has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Dr. Ruiz has published six books, more than 40 articles, and more than 100 reviews and smaller articles in national and international scholarly journals. His Crisis and Continuity, Land and Town in Late Medieval Castile was awarded the Premio del Rey Prize by the American Historical Association.
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Reviews

Rated 4.2 out of 5 by 90 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by 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. Viva Ruiz! May 29, 2009
Rated 2 out of 5 by Social Studies of the Oppressed Imagine buying a course on World War 2 and discovering that the overarching theme was, and over a quarter of the course dealt exclusively with, the Holocaust. The expulsion of the Muslims and Jews from Spain and the treatment of Native Americans clearly colors Professor Ruiz view of Spain in this period. Colors it so completely that it becomes the focal point of this course to the exclusion of the actual history. The rise of the Catholic monarchs, the Reconquista and the world changing discovery of America become backdrops against which to tell the story of the oppressed. To be fair this is a story that is important and the instructor tells it in a fairly compelling if biased way This course feels very out of place in a Great Courses history catalog that tends shot straight down the historical barrel. If you tend to feel that GC history is too conservative or it don't include enough politically correct content, then you should appreciate this course. If you want to avoid social studies courses told from the viewpoint of Marx (Karl not the Brothers), head toward the many other fine historical offerings from GC. May 26, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by One of the best! Only half-way through, and this is an outstanding course: passionate professor; coherent presentation; enlightening! March 15, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Absolutely great The course focuses on Spain both before and after the year 1492, and the fascinating point made is that to contemporaries there were events that seemed much more significant at the time than Columbus' "discovery" of the new world. The course is really more thematic than narrative in nature, much more focused on social and cultural transformations than on specific events and dates and such. I was delighted with Professor Ruiz's teaching style. Yes, as other reviewers have mentioned he does often quote his own work. I did not find this irritating however. Instead it made me feel like I was getting the word "from the horse's mouth". Moreover, he quoted other scholars extensively. I found him to be full of profound insight, demonstrating well the points he is trying to make and often saying that some of the points are his own personal point of view and that they are controversial. He does have a thick Spanish accent, but I did not find it hard at all to understand him. He makes the point that there was no Spanish nation or kingdoms in 1492 and certainly not before that. The Peninsula was composed of many smaller kingdoms, most often at war with each other. The most significant being Portugal, Aragon and Castile. A major transformation of the period was the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella: this marriage would put two highly competent monarchs in charge of the two strongest and most dominant kingdoms in Iberia, and though they continued to rule their two kingdoms Aragon and Castile respectively, the two kingdoms cooperated one with the other extensively. The history of coexistence between the three religions is then discussed. When the Muslims conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the early 8th century from the Visigoths, they established a highly tolerant culture in which Jews and Christians were treated as "people of the book" meaning they could practice their faith but had to pay a tax for "not being Muslim". Nevertheless, Jews and Christians assumed key positions in the Muslim rule. The Christian kingdoms of Iberia, that were initially confined to the north of the Peninsula followed this leadership and were also tolerant. For many centuries, there was constant military conflict between the Muslim and Christian kingdoms over land and it was not clear at all in which direction the tides were going to take. In fact there was an unwritten agreement between the two forces in the Peninsula that they should treat other well after battle, because the tides may change very quickly and you would want your foe to reciprocate. The Wane of power of the Iberian caliphate in the early 11th century was the first sign of tide reversal. The Iberian Muslims called to their North African Coreligionists to help them win ground against the Christians in their military campaigns, but these latter ones were much more hardline Muslim than the Iberian ones and tension soon developed within the Muslims. By the 13th century it was obvious that the Christians were going to eventually win over the entire Iberian Peninsula, and the Christians felt that they no longer had to be tolerant of Muslims since they were winning anyway. Professor Ruiz sets out from the start to show how Spain transformed between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries from a tolerant land – where Christians, Jews and Muslims coexisted over many centuries to one where the Christian state became absolutely intolerant to others – eventually expelling all of its Jews and Muslims and treating the ones who converted with high suspicion. This background serves to understand the huge transformations that manifested themselves fully in 1492 and thereabouts: the conquest of the last Muslim stronghold Granada and shortly afterwards the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims that refused to convert. Many "conversos" were subjected to investigations by the Spanish inquisition that was also instituted in this very intolerant climate in 1478 primarily to investigate if the converted Jews were in fact really converted. About 2000 of them were eventually executed. Finally, Professor Ruiz discussed the discovery of the Americas by Columbus, and how this intolerant Spanish Catholic culture would have absolutely critical importance in the way the Spanish chose to govern and exploit the newly found treasure trove. Most of the South American Indians would end up dying of European disease that they were not immune to, and many of the rest would end up as slaves. Eventually using local South American Indians as slaves became illegal and so a huge trade in slaves from Africa, which we are all very familiar with became its substitute. I deeply enjoyed this course. It brought a me depth of knowledge about the cultural and sociological transformation of the Iberian Peninsula that I did not have before and helped get a much wider perspective on the transformations that were occurring right before the Columbian exchange. Obviously this is very important in understanding the Columbian exchange itself – which is perhaps THE watershed event of all of history in the last two millennia. So overall great thanks to Professor Ruiz for this very fine fascinating and enjoyable course. March 6, 2015
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