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

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

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
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 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

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Your professor

Teofilo F. Ruiz

About Your Professor

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...
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Reviews

Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 115.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worse Course I Have Purchased To Date Disconnected and random stream of conscience type lectures. Kept on listening to find some kind of cohesion and just had to stop. Extremely disappointed.
Date published: 2019-10-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not My Favorite I listen to a lot of Great Courses. This is my second one to review today--the first I gave five stars (The Diplomatic History of Europe, 1500-2000). This one I struggle to give three stars. The organization and presentation just aren't up to the standards I'm used to for The Great Courses. The professor inserts too many personal opinions and often does not provide a balanced view of difficult issues. I don't doubt the professor's knowledge, and there is much in this that is worthwhile. However, there are other courses that I would recommend over this one.
Date published: 2019-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Course I actually bought this years ago for myself before a trip to Spain. It gave me valuable insight into the people and culture of Spain. I just purchased it again for a friend. I'm sure they will find it equally absorbing.
Date published: 2019-03-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Moors: Tyrants or Not? I recently purchased a book by historian Dr. Dario Fernandez-Morera, titled, "The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain," which academically debunks Prof. Ruiz's notion that the Islamic Moors were "tolerant" of Christians and Jews, and in fact the Moors were inhumane tyrants. In other words, Islam never was a religion of tolerance when ruling Iberia. I would love to see Professors Ruiz and Frenandez-Morera engaged in a public academic debate on this topic! Both are highly credentialed academics, and it would be interesting.
Date published: 2019-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Title alerts that something unexpected is offered Professor Teofilo Ruiz’ wealth of information and balanced presentation of the many factions represented in his story of the Iberian peninsula make these history lessons at once fascinating and insightful. He knows his subject well, but is not averse to carrying notes and openly referring to them during the lectures. Aware that his audience may not have a sheaf of notes from past lectures in hand for ready reference, the professor unapologetically offers up a summary of the previous topic before launching into a new one. He is an exceptional lecturer. The surprising details that were completely new to me (such as the total modification of the newly discovered island flora and fauna and the way Iberia evolved from a pluralistic, fluid society to one restricted to austere theistic rule) gave me an understanding of the time and the land that many US-centric accounts fail to provide. As a scholar, I very much appreciate his regular references to his sources and those listed in the study guide. As a person who came late to an appreciation of history, I found the short 30-minute lectures palatable and easy to digest over the course of a week of on and off viewing. The maps and historical portraits were a welcome relief from the continuous portrayal of the storyteller. If there are any suggestions in this regard, it would be to leave maps up longer with arrows to direct the attention of the viewer to the sections referenced, and to offer more images with text. I look forward to both watching this series again in a year or two and finding more offerings by Professor Ruiz.
Date published: 2018-05-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Course Grew on me, would rate at 4.5 I was initially a bit concerned (and maybe somewhat put off) by the professor's openly "revisionist" approach to the subject matter (i.e. focusing on the history from the perspective of its victims more than its victors). However, through the course I came to appreciate that his coverage was simply more balanced rather than being excessively and unpleasantly ideological, as I had initially feared. I would suggest a clearer title for this course might be something like "The Context of Columbus" - since this is really a course about Iberian history circa 1390 - 1500. The professor has a couple of ticks in his delivery, such as his habit of repeatedly saying "Spanish" and then correcting himself to "Castilian" even though early on the listener is well aware there is no "Spanish" yet at this point in history. I will buy other courses from this professor. It is just shy of warranting a five star rating in my book, but I enjoyed it overall.
Date published: 2018-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The truth is not always pleasant The truth can get ugly. This is not a pleasant course because this part of history is not pleasant. I have viewed and listened to many of these courses and rarely found a history course where the lecturer was as knowledgeable and the course so packed with information. The course, very dense, should have been titled “a history of Spain in the 13th and 14th centuries.” and spread out over more lectures. In our present time people are beginning to protest Christopher Columbus Day and this course helps explain why. Of course Columbus was just a product of his time and the intolerant nation he sailed for. This course explains the background of why Spain was so overtly cruel to the natives it encountered in the Americas It is true that many European nations were less than charitable to natives they encountered but Spain is clearly first among peers. In summary, this is a truly excellent course given by an excellent teacher. The course is a needed breath of fresh air dispelling the myth still held by some that Spain was an enlightened nation spreading its high culture and Christian charity to the “new world”. The truth may hurt but it is still the truth.
Date published: 2018-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Other 1492 I found these lectures informative and intellectually engaging. Professor Ruiz’s lectures are based on thorough knowledge of 15th century Spanish history and are presented with clarity and charm.
Date published: 2018-01-07
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