Geographies of Urban Female Labor and Nationhood in Spanish Culture (1880-1975) (review)

It’s been a LONG time since I wrote a new post, as the past three years have been unpredictable and anxiety-ridden, to put it mildly! I was able to take students to Spain again this summer (2022) which was so exciting… but also very busy and time-consuming, especially after being “out of practice” with international travel and study abroad since 2019! While it was a fantastic summer and felt like a return to normalcy in some ways, it also flew by and I arrived back from Spain to begin a new position this year as Interim Department Head. So… I will end this little intro here.

I’ve had an itch to get back to writing a few blog posts lately (hmm… wonder why?!), and I remembered that last year I wrote a full-length book review of Geographies of Urban Female Labor and Nationhood in Spanish Culture, written by Dr. Mar Soria, Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of Missouri. My review was published in Feministas Unidas in Spring 2022. So, like I’ve done before, I’ve adapted it to a blog-style summary with images, links, and some informal commentary… all the (fun?!) things I think about when writing academic book reviews, but can’t actually include. You can check out my other blog-post-style-academic-reviews here:

REVIEW: Soria, Mar. Geographies of Urban Female Labor and Nationhood in Spanish Culture, 1880-1975. U of Nebraska P, 2020. 334 pp.

Mar Soria’s Geographies of Urban Female Labor and Nationhood in Spanish Culture (1880-1975) offers an innovative examination of how working women in 19th- and 20th-century Spain experienced and interpreted urban spaces. This is the first academic monograph to examine female labor primarily within the realm of Spanish cultural production, including literary, cinematic, and performative texts. While previous studies on Spanish women’s entrance and increasing presence in the public labor economy have been grounded in historiography or sociology, Soria’s Geographies privileges representations of female labor in cultural artifacts, which are valued as sites through which power is negotiated (11). The diversity of literary and cultural texts analyzed – from 19th-century zarzuelas and realist narratives to 20th-century avant-garde novels, journalism, and film – is one of this book’s greatest strengths. In opposition to the dominant discourse celebrating the wholly domestic, middle-class ideal of the ángel del hogar, the urban working woman was undomesticated, public, and viewed suspiciously as (sexually) uncontrollable and hazardous to both Spanish womanhood and national identity (3-4). According to Soria, this urban working woman – a marginal Other or “deviant from the conventional ideal of femininity” – was either excluded from nation-building projects or, somewhat paradoxically, incorporated into them by way of a deliberate (re)fashioning of their identity as traditionally or authentically Spanish in the face of a threatening modernity (10).

The book’s six chapters chronologically explore literary and cultural representations of the “urban working woman.” Beginning in the late 19th century, Chapter 1, “The Castiza Working Woman: Regeneracionismo in Género Chico,” analyzes portrayals of female cigar factory workers, flower vendors, and cupletistas, or risqué song performers in three zarzuelas: Las cigarerras (1887), by Ángel Munilla and Luis Ferreiro; La suerte de Isabelita (1911), by María de la O Lejárraga (María [Gregorio] Martínez Sierra); and Los de Aragón (1927) by Juan José Lorente. In each performance piece, the idealized urban working-class woman is not only a “good patriot” who “defends the space she considers her nation from foreign incursions” (66), but she embodies an “authentic Spanishness” that is key to the zarzuelas’ middle-class nationalist project (37). Of note is Soria’s reading of las cigarreras – female workers in the cigar factories – whose patriotic reconfiguration in these fictional representations directly contradicts their historical lived experiences as politically active demonstrators who changed wage labor for women (38).

Female cigar workers in Sevilla, at the end of the 19th century. Image via Archivo EcuRed.

Reading this chapter – and given the painting that serves as the cover for Soria’s book (Las cigarerras by Gonzalez Bilbao Martínez, 1915, Sevilla) — I couldn’t help but recall the “Americans in Spain” exhibit from my visit the Milwaukee Museum of Art last summer (2021). Spanish cigarerras were a well-known figure outside the Tobacco Factories of Madrid’s and Sevilla’s modernizing urban landscapes. In fact, they served as artistic inspiration for foreign travelers to Spain, and especially for American painters like John Singer Sargent and Walter Gay in the late 19th-century. Like Walter Gay’s painting (below) of these women working in the cigarette factory — and even the Spaniard Bilbao Martínez’s, to some extent — foreign artists and writers viewed labor performed by the “charming and colorful” Spanish working classes “in the most picturesque terms, as preindustrial and romantic, the antithesis of factories and mass production in the rest of western Europe and the US” (75). The female cigarerras were the epitome of this, as outsiders exoticized both their femininity and “Spanishness”.

“Las cigarreras de Sevilla” / “Cigarette Girls, Seville” by Walter Gay (1895). Image mine from my visit to the “Americans in Spain” exhibit at the Milwaukee Museum of Art (summer 2021).

Chapter 2, “Homebound Workers: The Reconfiguration of Bourgeois Domestic Space in Realism,” centers on depictions of maids, arguing that servants’ labor blurred the boundaries between the public and private spheres and challenged the construction of the home as a site of leisure and passive domesticity. Reading Benito Pérez Galdós’s Tormento (1884) and two cuentos by Emilia Pardo Bazán, “Casi artista” and “El mundo” (1908), Soria reconfigures the home as a site of remunerated female labor and economic production. These homes become permeable spaces in which economic exchange and female labor intersect to undermine the separate spheres ideology dependent on hermetic domestic spaces free of capitalist transactions.

Moving to the twentieth century, Chapter 3, “Commodifying the Nation: The Story and the Shopgirl in Avant-Garde Literature,” examines working women exclusively outside the domestic sphere. This chapter juxtaposes shopgirls from two aesthetically and ideologically distinct novels: Carmen de Burgos’s La rampa (1917) and Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s La nardo (1930). Soria locates commonalities in these Madrid-based narratives that portray the downfall of a shopgirl-protagonist resulting from her desire to escape urban labor’s drudgery through consumerism and bodily pleasure. Soria’s reading of Burgos’s La rampa identifies inconsistencies, as the narrator condemns the bourgeoisie while maintaining class prejudices that denigrate female servants and weaken the novel’s feminist message (121-22). Both novels suggest a parallel degeneration of Spanish womanhood and Spanish national identity. As I have written several articles on La rampa, I’ll admit that I initially found Soria’s placement of the novel within Avant-garde literary trends to be somewhat misguided; but her analysis and framing ended up offering a convincing and innovative perspective. I recommended this chapter to one of my undergraduate students who was working on her Narrative Cartography for my fall 2020 Mapping Madrid seminar (she continued her project with funding in Spring 2021); I had just received my copy of this book in January of 2021. My undergraduate student (a senior at the time) reported that she enjoyed reading Soria’s analysis of La rampa in this chapter, as it gave her more insight into how she might interpret the spaces of the city dedicated to women’s work or leisure (or both). So as a first-hand report, this book and Soria’s writing style are very accessible to undergraduate students!

Chapter 4, “Working for Change during the Second Republic: A New Woman for the Nation in Conservative and Left-Wing Literature,” features narratives by historically overlooked women writers. The 1934 avant-garde novel Tea Rooms: Mujeres obreras, by communist Luisa Carnés, shares similarities with Burgos’s La rampa in denouncing the exploitation of working women. Stylistically, Soria emphasizes Carnés’s ability to capture the highly sensorial and fragmented nature of urban life through a “cinematic narration” (146-50), while also incorporating profane, working-class language that ruptures literary norms and traditional beliefs about women’s writing and behavior (152). Cristina Guzmán, profesora de idiomas is a 1935 romance novel-inspired tale by Carmen de Icaza, an upper-class, regional leader of the Sección Femenina. Although little has been written on female fascists who commented on class, Soria shows that they contributed greatly to the discourse of their day (157). Militant women in the Sección Femenina represent a fascinating paradox, as they “had to become active outside the domestic realm precisely so as to defend and save what was perceived as their natural habitat, the home, from the ills brought about by the Republican political reforms” (159). Despite Carnés’ and Icaza’s opposing perspectives, Soria argues that both present a similar new paradigm of Spanish womanhood: a self-assured, independent, modern worker “who feels at ease in the urban geography” (143). Highlighting this paradox called to mind the below video that I use in my literature courses when talking about women during the Franco era – the interviews with the women in the video are fascinating because they point to the sense of empowerment and purpose that they felt as a part of the Sección Femenina and the ideology it promoted. Students often anticipate that any reading of the Franco era will and must include women denouncing their submissive, powerless positions; but the reality is more complex, for better of worse, as the Sección Femenina was a powerful ideological machine that produced effective propaganda to mobilize generations of women to uphold the mission of the dictatorship and Spanish National Catholicism.

Chapter 5, “Back Home? Counterdiscourses of Female Labor and Nationhood in Postwar Women’s Short Fiction,” delves into the 1950 novella Yo he sido estraperlista by Ángeles Villarta, and two short stories by Carmen Martín Gaite, “La oficina” and “Los informes” (1954). Martín Gaite’s narratives critique the increasingly factory-like office, particularly for its hierarchical divisions and increasingly alienated labor that mirror the city’s processes as Spain’s capitalist center. Villarta’s Yo he sido estraperlista offers an intriguing critique of the black market, focusing on a common illegal female job after the war: selling and trading food. These narratives suggest that women were not only patriotic angels of the home, but many did in fact labor in traditionally male jobs (189) or even in the peripheral (underground) economy (190). Chapter 6 plays on the mid-century slogan of Spanish difference. “Spanish Women Are Different: Cinematic Anxieties of Female Work in Late Francoism” examines three cinematic features: Peppermint frappé (Carlos Saura, 1967); Las que tienen que servir (Jose María Forque, 1967); and Españolas en París (Roberto Bodegas, 1971). I enjoyed reading this chapter in particular because it introduced me to a wealth of new texts (films) that were completely new to me, as I do not specialize in cinema. In each of the 3 films, Soria argues that the female worker’s body becomes a battleground upon which the conflict of traditional Spanish values and foreign modernity is negotiated (212). Soria’s commentary on Españolas en Paris’s portrayal of abortion and motherhood (228-30) is especially insightful, and I was surprised that such themes were to be found in a Spanish film from 1971. The discussion in this chapter made me really want to watch the movie and, when I found a YouTube clip showing the beautiful Parisian city and the glorious aesthetic of late 60s/early 70s women’s fashion — not to mention the movie poster with my favorite: MAP ART — I was sold!

image via IMDB

Finally, the book closes with an Epilogue, “The Story is Not Over, which synthesizes the chapters’ themes and suggests a similar dynamics between female work, national identity, and the urban economy that has emerged steadily, and repeatedly, over the century covered by this study. Geographies is an exceptional blending of literary analysis and cultural studies that re-examines (often invisible) urban women’s labor and challenges the traditional gendering of city spaces. Soria’s writing style and her focus fiction and cultural productions makes Geographies accessible and appropriate for undergraduate or graduate literature or cultural studies seminars. In terms of limitations, readers must be careful not to conflate fictional representations with historical events or Spanish women’s actual lived experiences (see the Cigarreras photograph vs. paintings above). Soria is skilled, however, at contextualizing her analyses of cultural constructions such that they do not purport to reflect historical circumstances, but rather offer additional layers of context that will enrich readers’ understanding of the complexities of Spanish history and culture.

If you’re interested in more academic details and less YouTube videos, check out my full review over at Feministas Unidas, Inc and consider becoming a member of the organization, which seeks to create and sustain a national network of feminist scholars in the fields of Spanish, Spanish-American, Luso-Brazilian, Afro-Latin American, and U.S. Hispanic Studies. Every fall they publish a multidisciplinary journal, Ámbitos Feministas. Their objectives are to join together scholars and advocates to strengthen the intellectual environment in which they work through: exchange of ideas and information; cooperative research projects; organization of conferences; preparation and presentation of papers and panels; gathering and dissemination of bibliographical data; interchange of classroom materials and methodologies; assistance with publication; career counseling and mentoring; contacts with feminist scholars in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America; and other appropriate joint intellectual endeavors. Annual membership is affordable at only $15 for graduate students and instructors, $20 for Assistant professors, and $25 for Associate or Full Professors. You can even sponsor a graduate student membership for $15.


Soria, Mar. Geographies of Urban Female Labor and Nationhood in Spanish Culture, 1880-1975. U of Nebraska P, 2020. 334 pp.

Posted in Feminism, History, Literature, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Americans in Spain (1820-1920): Traveling Women Artists and their Subjects

Typically some of my favorite things to blog about are trips to art museums and special exhibits that connect to my research and teaching interests on various topics related to Spanish history, culture, and literature. Taking in specially curated collections, checking out seasonal and temporary exhibitions, and even re-visiting canonical works that I’ve seen many times before always make me feel more enthusiastic and creative about designing my Spanish literature and culture courses. But since Covid has now cancelled my study abroad program to Spain for a second year in a row, visits to Madrid’s Prado Museum, Museo Sorolla, and Thyssen, or to Dali’s museum-homes in Catalonia, or even new (to me) local museums in places like Pontevedra, Galicia, have obviously been impossible… and thus the “generation of enthusiasm” for my teaching and course content development has been, to be honest, at a complete standstill this past year and a half. Given this stagnation or malaise or “languishing” (I’m not sure exactly what to call it), I was really excited to see that the Milwaukee Museum of Art was hosting a special traveling exhibit — Americans in Spain, Painting and Travel (1820-1920) — that would coincide with my weekend trip to the city for a friend’s wedding celebration. This traveling exhibit was previously on display at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, and it will remain in in Milwaukee through October 3 of this year (2021).

American artists’ copies/studies of Diego Velázquez’s celebrated portrait of Queen Mariana de Austria (1652-53). Images mine, from visit to the Milwaukee Museum of Art.

The main goals of the exhibit are to showcase American art from the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries that was inspired by Spanish art, architecture, history, or culture. Many of the artists had visited, traveled through, or lived in Spain, often carefully studying and copying the works of great Spanish masters like Diego Velázquez and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Others were simply inspired by photographs of Spanish art and architecture, or by romantic narratives centered on the Iberian peninsula, like those of Washington Irving. According to the Director’s Foreword of the exhibition volume I purchased, “Although Spain is often overlooked as a creative European destination when compared to London or Paris, the firsthand experience of Spanish art and culture shaped – and even launched – careers, serving as continued inspiration for works created by in the United States” (9). Curiously, some of the main sources of inspiration were often the lower- or working-classes. Brandon Ruud’s chapter cites travelogues that celebrated “the most picturesque scenes” in these poorer or working class areas. Like Walter Gay’s painting of the women working in the cigarette factory (below), foreign artists and writers viewed labor performed by the “charming and colorful” Spanish working classes “in the most picturesque terms, as preindustrial and romantic, the antithesis of factories and mass production in the rest of western Europe and the US” (75).

“Las cigarreras de Sevilla” / “Cigarette Girls, Seville” by Walter Gay (1895). Image mine from visit to Milwaukee Museum of Art.

Amidst the impressive original works by Murillo, Sorolla, and Zuloaga, and some familiar pieces I’d seen before, but didn’t necessarily realize were by American artists like Walter Gay or John Singer Sargent, something else caught my attention relatively soon within the exhibit: several paintings by women artists who had traveled to Spain during this century (1820-1920). Women’s art stood out to me right away because, in general (and this is no secret!), women are vastly underrepresented in today’s museums. On a trip to the Kansas City’s Nelson Atkins Museum of art a few years ago, I remember waiting to post a piece of art for a #WomensHistoryMonth art thread on my twitter feed, and it took much, much longer than I had anticipated to find a painting by a woman — I ended up documenting two on that visit (but I admittedly did not spend much time in the contemporary rooms). And just this year, in fact, Madrid’s Prado has taken steps to increase the number of works created by women on display in its 19th-century rooms — from only ONE to 13 — on the heels of its successful and much discussed special exhibit “Invitadas,” or “Uninvited Guests,” which ran from October 2020-March 2021. So in the spirit of recognizing women’s artistic contributions, I thought I’d center this post on my Milwaukee visit to “Americans in Spain” on a few of the American women artists whom I “met” or learned more about as a result of this exhibit.

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Allegheny City, Pennsylvania

Mary Cassatt is actually one of the more well-known and celebrated of late 19th-century female painters, especially as a result of her friendship with Edgar Degas and the fact that her work was exhibited alongside famed French Impressionists of the late 1800s. Many of her paintings center on the private lives of women, or on mothers and their children, like the recognizable “Young Mother Sewing” (1900) and “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair” (1878). But it was her experience in Spain in the 1870s that marked a turning point in her young career, according to the “Americans in Spain” exhibit information. In the paintings she created in Spain, “she synthesized a modern approach to her subjects: she used straightforward and realist depictions of her figures, together with the bold and textured brushwork she had studied from old masters such as Velázquez. She achieved a breakthrough in style, which she developed back in Paris alongside the Impressionists” (from the description of “Offering the Panal to the Bullfighter“, 1873, which was part of the traveling exhibit). The painting below, “After the Bullfight,” is one of many produced from her studio in Seville, where local city residents modeled for her and she visited the bullfights to capture well-established Spanish archetypes, like matadors and flirtatious young women, “in moments of repose, far removed from the violence and spectacle of the ring”. A quick Google Image search of Cassatt and “Spain” or “Spanish” will bring up numerous examples of these beautiful portraits.

Mary Cassatt’s “After the Bullfight”, 1873. Image mine from visit to Milwaukee Museum of Art.

Elizabeth Boott (1846-88), Boston, Massachusetts

I had never heard of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Boott prior to this exhibit, and I was saddened to read about her life having been cut so short by pneumonia, only two years after the birth of her first child and just as she had been encouraging her husband (and former art teacher) to establish art classes for women in Florence. Fascinatingly/Disturbingly(?), it seems that Boott’s name is now most associated with the elaborate Gothic-Renaissance style funeral effigy commissioned by her husband, Frank Duveneck, upon her unexpected early death. I’m sure this falls within prime 19th-century romanticism, but today I find it a bit creepy when it’s one of the first things to come up when searching for information about this woman’s life! In any case, the below 1881 watercolor of the Alhambra is an example of Boott’s talents – painted when she was about 35 years old. According to the museum description, Boott traveled to Spain in 1881 with friends and fellow artists. In Granada she visited the Alhambra, and in her painting of the palace she “focused her attention on the details of the Nasrid architecture, the distinctive coffered ceilings, mocárabes (ornamented vaulting), and stucco carvings” as opposed to the more popular tourist sites of the courtyard and pools.

Image mine from visit to Milwaukee Museum of Art.

Mary Bradish Titcomb (1858-1927), Windham, New Hampshire

Mary Bradish Titcomb, who also displayed work as “M. Bradish Titcomb” to hide her female gender, was an American painter and art teacher who worked and resided predominantly in the Boston/New England region. Like Elizabeth Boott, she also traveled to Granada to visit the Alhambra palace… but about 25 years later, in 1906. The painting below captures an exterior view of the fortress, focusing on the parts of the structure dating to the 14th-century. In perusing other paintings by Bradish Titcomb, it seems she had a preference for impressionist-style landscapes and portraits of women, and she is often groups with American Impressionists. Her portraits of women share similarities to those of Mary Cassatt, in both the representation of women in relatively private spaces, and in their sketched, impressionist style… though it seems Bradish Titcomb has a bit more of a realist style and employs somewhat darker tones and shades of color. Two of my favorite portraits of women are “Lady in Lavender” and “Afternoon Tea“, and her 1927 landscape of “Marblehead Harbor” in Massachusetts is reminiscent of the lines and brush strokes typical of Van Gogh or Cezanne.

Mary Bradish Titcomb, “The Alhambra”, 1906. Image mine from visit to Milwaukee Museum of Art.

Carrie Lillian Hill (1875-1957), Birmingham, Alabama

This below painting of Segovia was the first one in the exhibit that I noticed had been painted by a woman. This landscape by Carrie Lillian Hill then prompted me to focus my attention on the inclusion or appearance of female artists for the remainder of the exhibit (I think I documented 6 in total, but I’m not 100% certain). According to the accompanying caption, Carrie Hill was an “intrepid tourist” who frequently traveled to Europe in the company of art instructors and students. Her first trip to Europe was in 1922, with her teacher and American Impressionist George Elmer Brown (see the timeline of her life here). She often “ventured to locations off the beaten path such as the Pyrenees and Balearic Islands.” She used her experience in Spain as a step towards learning to navigate and explore more unfamiliar cultures and locations, like North Africa, which she visited in 1927 on what would be her final trip to Europe. The colorful “Tunis Market” is certainly a product of this visit, and her other European landscapes can be viewed here. Back in the US, she was one of four Alabama artists and the only woman to receive assignments from the Public Works of Art Projects Division, and she completed two murals in Birmingham. Her 1937 “Mother Goose Mural” or “Storybook Mural” has been restored and is a celebrated feature of the East Lake Branch of the Birmingham Public Library.

Carrie Hill, “View of Segovia”, 1925. Image mine from visit to Milwaukee Museum of Art.

While I visited the “Americans in Spain” exhibit hoping for inspiration for my new Fall 2021 courses — two of which I have decided to center on art and/or the interplay of art and literature (more on those soon!) — I was pleasantly surprised to come away having learned more about these talented American women. I was particularly struck by their independent travels, or tourist trips with friends or an artist community, as opposed to travels with husbands or families (although some did travel in this traditional company). In terms of inspiration and ideas for my courses, I managed to get plenty of those too. First, the Milwaukee Museum offers a FREE APP for iPhone, designed by Marquette University (Dr. Eugenia Afinoguénova and Shiyu Tian) and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Milwaukee Art Museum’s American Arts Society. This is a fantastic resource and I am planning to incorporate it into my Transatlantic Art course; I’ll likely have my students use it as a model for how to showcase a piece of art through the lens of a very specific theme, and for a general audience. Here is a screenshot featuring one of Mary Cassatt’s paintings:

The “Americans in Spain” app contains 36 paintings from the exhibit. Each includes a short English audio, Spanish audio, and an English blurb with relevant information, similar to what accompanies the paintings in the museum (under “more”). The work’s permanent location (museum or collection) is also included and mapped.

Second, the 220+ page volume that accompanies the exhibit contains well-researched original essays on topics ranging from “copying the masters”, the Spanish working classes in art, learning and teaching about Spain in the 1880s, and 19th-century travel books. Finally, the Museum offered short dual-language English/Spanish booklets — “Family Guide” / “La Guía para Familias” — at the entrance to the “Americans in Spain” exhibit. While these are designed for families and especially for younger children, the bilingual activities represent what I think might constitute a creative project for my Transatlantic Art course. I’m still toying with this idea, especially in light of increasing concerns over Covid and the Delta variant that might once again throw our academic semester into chaos… but I’m optimistic that it might work. Below are a few pictures I took of the dual-language booklet and its activities; as you can see, though directed towards younger children, the creation of these types of activities would lend itself nicely to improving and refining students’ L2 language skills. Activity design requires the selection of very specific, descriptive vocabulary (colors, family, cultural content), the use of commands, and the organization of mini-narratives based on common artistic, cultural, or historical themes. If you follow my blog, you know I love non-traditional assessments that incorporate visuals like maps or social media… so as I design this class and as the semester progresses, I’ll make sure to post about any experiments.


FREE App: “Americans in Spain”, via the Apple App Store. Milwaukee Art Museum.

Portus, Javier, et al. The Spanish Portrait: From El Greco to Picasso. Scala Arts Publishers, Museo del Prado, 2006.

Ruud, Brandon. “‘The Most Picturesque Scenes Abound in the Lower Quarters.’ American Art and Spanish Labor”. In Americans in Spain. Painting and Travel, 1820-1920. Yale U P, 2021. pp. 75-97.

Ruud, Brandon and Corey Piper, eds. Americans in Spain. Painting and Travel, 1820-1920. Yale U P, 2021.

An American NOT in Spain #Covid

Posted in Art, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cartographic Narratives: Using Data and Mapping Principles to Teach L2 Literature

This is somewhat of a cross-post from one that I wrote for our K-State Spanish blog last week, and I wanted to share and expand on it a bit here. One of my main goals in teaching second-language (L2) Spanish Literature courses is to develop non-traditional tasks that demonstrate the value of reading for the development of the target language. Students often perceive literature classes as boring, difficult, or irrelevant — and to be honest, who can blame them? Literature pedagogy, in either the L1 or the L2 leaves much to be desired… if it exists at all, and most literature professors have not studied or been trained in pedagogy beyond the language-teaching aspect of their jobs (and many research faculty do not end up teaching those traditional basic language courses) (see Bernhardt). Moreover, students are intimidated by reading longer texts or complex literature in their target language, and they are quick to get discouraged and fault their language skills if they misunderstand something in the text. But understanding and interpreting a story in your L2 depends as much, if not more, on cultural and historical knowledge and context as on language skills. So, for students with less experience or background in literary studies, or those who may be a bit resistant to or less enthusiastic about a “sCaRy SpAnIsH LiTeRaTuRe” class, I like to think about and present analyzing literature as simply collecting and interpreting data — which it is!

Senior triple-major (Spanish, Art, Psychology) Anna Welsh (’21) began designing her mapping project as if it were a supplement to or bookcover for “La rampa”. She is looking at where in Madrid women appeared in the novel based on their ages. Her age categories are children and babies, young single-women, mothers and wives, and “elderly” women, or those beyond about age 50 (it was 1917!)

Framing literary analysis as data collection, allows me to design projects or assessments that combine visual and textual elements to present an argument, which is often a more accessible way for my Spanish students to synthesize information and arrive at a thesis statement in their L2. The visual elements also allow them to easily share their project with an audience that goes beyond simply me, the professor. For example… at the end of a normal literature or culture seminar, students do not read each others’ term papers, nor do they necessarily gain much insight from a peer’s oral presentation; but when designing creative visuals in a medium they are comfortable using, they can “see” their classmates interpretation of a text and are more curious and inclined to ask questions about the chosen content and design. This curiosity and comparatively low-effort processing of their peer’s work implicitly leads to further discussion of the literary text. I do this a lot with Snapchat and, as a next step, I decided to use mapping principles to experiment with a new visual format of presentation that would account for what I call a “medium-mismatch” in terms of where students demonstrate critical thought and how we often expect them to present it in the traditional essay-based L2 literature classroom (see Bender).

Senior Spanish major Carly Brown (’21) depicted the protagonist’s journey in “La rampa” (1917), beginning as a shopgirl at the Bazar, passing through a failed relationship and pregnancy, then ending as a maid. Her project clearly uses a MAP… but the plotting of her locations are based on the characters silhouettes, not on the actual city geography… which I think makes it somewhat blend the concepts of a cartographic narrative and narrative cartography (below).

To encourage students to practice and adapt their developing skills of literary analysis outside a traditional research paper or essay — especially during a hyflex semester when we were finishing the final two weeks exclusively online, and I KNEW we would all be prematurely exhausted from mixed modalities and Covid-uncertainties — I created a map-based final project for my Fall 2020 seminar, “Mapping Madrid in the Edad de Plata (1898-1939)”. I wanted their non-traditional final project to creatively combine principles of cartography and narrative analysis. Back in September (2020) I briefly mentioned this project and plans in a blog post as the semester was just getting started, and so this is a follow-up post with some results and reflection. As I said, this was an experimental project during an experimental semester sort-of-back-on-campus-hyflex-course. Despite some re-opening of K-State’s campus, there were still ongoing uncertainties surrounding scheduling, attendance due to isolation or quarantining, and the use (or restriction) of spaces on campus. For this project, students could choose to pursue a “narrative cartography“, which I like to think of as a geographically-informed map that conveys a certain narrative (story) based on an analysis of the text or a theme… OR a “cartographic narrative“, which is more artistic or abstract, conveying a narrative about the text or chosen theme through mapping principles (rather than a precise map itself).

That is to say, that a “narrative cartography” relies on a traditional, recognizable “mapping” layout and design, whereas the “cartographic narrative” simply alludes to geospatial or location-based data in its design. Here are two images I used to think of the differences:

Throughout the semester, we read two full-length Spanish novels of about 200-pages each — Carmen de Burgos’ La rampa (1917) and José Díaz Fernandez’s La Venus mecánica (1929). Students also read a variety of articles and essays on early 20th-century Madrid, Literary & Artistic Avant-garde movements, and women’s participation in public and private aspects of urban live and city spaces in the 1920s. To associate plot-points in these novels with the real, historical places upon which they were based, we consulted various historical and contemporary maps of the Spanish capital, ranging from the 18th-century to the present day via Google Maps. This high-resolution map of early 20th-century Madrid at the Bibliotheque Nacional de France is one of my favorites, and I blogged about its details in an earlier post, 1900s Madrid, in Narrative and a High-Resolution Map. I also provided them with several examples of mapping projects connected to literature — which are becoming increasingly popular. For example, to celebrate the centenary of the death of Spain’s renowned 19th-century novelist Benito Perez Galdós, Madrid’s Área de Cultura, Turismo y Deporte commissioned a “Madrid es Galdós” map containing various tourist routes corresponding to places appearing in Galdós’s novels. The publishing firm Aventuras Literarias has also published a map of 1873 Madrid in which more than 150 places from Galdós’s novels appear — it’s now in it’s 6th edition. These are just two examples, and I’ll save a few more for a new post.

In addition to the examples above, below are a few more samples of what students came up with for their final projects:

Dual-degree senior Natalie Burton (Chemical Engineering & Spanish, ’21) designed a board game for Carmen de Burgos’ “La rampa” (1917) inspired by the rules and structure of Risk. She used a geographical map of Madrid, then adapted the board game format to creatively represent the “potential” journey or trajectory of a woman in 1920s Madrid.

A double-major in Biology and Spanish designed a game board of early 20th-century Madrid, based on ALL the class readings; the black, white, and gray colors reflect the somber tone, as the city proved especially harsh for women. The game pieces are women from “La otra generación de ’27”, and the format and title “Scary Land” (Tierra Aterradora) are modeled after Candy Land.

A dual-degree Spanish & Business major designed a cartographic narrative representing men’s involvement in and control of women’s lives in early 20th-century Spain, a theme we saw in almost all of the course readings; the man’s nose (right) stretching over the woman’s portrait indicates their “nosy” monitoring of women’s behavior, especially in public city spaces.

This Anthropology major is currently expanding on this cartographic narrative for their International Studies capstone course. They mapped the emotions of the female protagonist in “La Venus mecánica” (1929) using emojis with numbers corresponding to quotes from the text. The chosen quotes reflect Obdulia’s emotions within or near certain geographic spaces in Madrid, northern Spain, and Paris.

Overall, there were many benefits to this approach. As you can see from two examples above, my class noticed that most board games are in fact “maps” that require players to embark on a journey. They hadn’t necessarily reflected upon or thought critically about this design concept before brainstorming mapping ideas for the literary “journeys” and settings of the novels they read. This is a great example of how Spanish literature classes can encourage students to think differently about purportedly familiar cultural objects and their own lives and experiences — in their target language. Additionally, two students were able to continue working on their projects beyond Fall semester. Anna Welsh (whose projects is the very first image on this blog) applied for a $500 student research grant through Kansas State University’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry (OURCI) office, and she was awarded funds this Spring. She is currently finishing additional secondary research and a re-design of the project under my supervision. She’ll be featured in K-State’s Seek Research Magazine soon, and Anna and I are working to identify ways to collaborate with Spanish bookstores and the Fundacion Carmen de Burgos to help promote the vast literary production of “Colombine”, whose works are increasingly, and fortunately, being published in modern Spanish presses. We’re hoping to reach a small international audience with her attractive narrative cartography. Another student, whose work is the final image above (on emotions) is also expanding her research to fulfill requirements for her International Studies Capstone course this Spring semester. Working with these two undergraduate students now, during Spring semester — on a project they began in fall — is also making me realize the time investment required in traditional literary essays and term papers. I think that too often, Spanish (L2) literature professors expect too much for a final essay or traditional term paper that students generally begin during the final few weeks of the semester. As we know as researchers, solid projects take a lot of time to develop, not simply because of the reading, but because of the time and distance required to THINK. And this is especially true for undergraduate students who are still developing their L2 language skills in our classes. Finally, during this crazy semester in particular, students felt less stressed creating a project like this than if I were to have asked them to produce an 8-12 page research paper; some of the science and business majors (dual-majors) especially appreciated this, and I clearly got original work from everyone.

Anna began drafting the outline for her Madrid-based cartographic narrative by tracing the most recognizable and prominent locations of the city on an early 20th-century map of Madrid.

Of course there are some drawbacks and some things that I need to iron out and improve — especially when I implement this during a “normal” semester back on campus, whenever that will be. For one, I will need to give them more specific guidelines, such as how many secondary sources to cite and how to design their reflection papers. In connection, I need to find better parameters for formal assessment. Again, I took advantage of the uncertainties surrounding Fall 2020 to engage with a more experimental and flexible approach that would not necessarily be as productive or appropriate in a “normal” 15-week on-campus semester. Additionally, and perhaps deceivingly, the creation of an effective, attractive, and legible narrative cartography/cartographic narrative takes a LOT of time; just as much if not more than preparing a traditional research paper. I think a productive adaptation of this project would be to encourage students to work in pairs or groups of three so that they could combine resources and share the time investment — and diverse skill sets — required to complete this project. I’d also like to find a better resource to outline cartographic data concepts, so that they could align their creation with very specific cartographic principles. For this course, I used the 4 principles of “procesos cartograficos” outlined here, mostly because it was an open-access resource IN SPANISH; I like to use Spanish-language resources as much as possible in advanced seminars, since my K-State students are ultimately working on continuing to improve their Spanish language proficiency. I’ve since found a few great sources on map-design and cartography & narrative, but most of them are in English. If you have any recommendations, send them my way!

What are some non-traditional projects or tasks you have used to teach (L1 or L2) literature? Have you seen any literary mapping projects (like the aforementioned Galdós maps) directed at a general audience lately?


For this course, I maintained a hashtag — #MappingMadridKSU — so that any relevant resources or additional information or images I found during the semester could be saved, informally shared, and perhaps incorporates into a future version of this course (the link indexes them in reverse chronological order).

Bender, Rebecca M. (2020). “Snapping the Quijote: Examining L2 Literature, Social Media, and Digital Storytelling through a Cervantine Lens.Hispania, vol. 103, no. 3, pp. 323-39. –> Blog summary here.

Bernhardt, Elizabeth (2001). “Research into the Teaching of Literature in a Second Language: What It Says and How to Communicate it to Graduate Students.” In Scott and Tucker, pp. 195-210.

Nance, Kimberly A. (2010). Teaching Literature in the Languages. Expanding the Literary Circle through Student Engagement. Prentice Hall.

Posted in Art, History, Literature, Modernity, Pedagogy, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Books, Creative Maps, and Literary Art for 2021… plus my optimistic(!) 2020 re-cap

In 2020 I had the lofty goal of posting something new to the blog each month — and while I started out strong in January and February… for obvious global-pandemic-related reasons that pattern did not hold up! I managed 5 posts the entire year, but in re-reading what I wrote, I realized that each of these fairly detailed new additions helped me work out some new teaching ideas and research projects, while giving me a chance to share my most recent publication. So, here’s a short 2020 recap — that I’m now realizing is actually not depressing (!!!) and has made me feel a bit more accomplished despite a really demoralizing year — followed by a few of my 2021 plans.

My actually-not-depressing 2020 re-cap:

Tierra de mujeres (Land of Women) and the Myth of an “Empty Spain” — Here I discuss my favorite book from the previous year – María Sánchez‘s Tierra de mujeres, on women in rural Spain and how they are/are not represented in or by contemporary feminism. As an aside, it seems the Kindle version of this book is only $6.99 right now via Amazon (affiliate link).

Spanish Women’s Literature and Feminism for the L2 classroom: Tsunami, Miradas feministas (2019) — This post presents my take on 4 chapters from the excellent collection of essays (and one short story) by contemporary Spanish women writers, Tsunami. Miradas feministas. I present them in the context of their use in the L2 Literature or Culture classroom for intermediate to advanced students.

MAY 2020:
Farming, Gardening, and Female Labor: Carmen de Burgos’ “La mujer agricultora” (1903) — Continuing to be inspired by María Sánchez and Tierra de mujeres, I came across early 20th-century articles on women in agriculture by Carmen de Burgos, whose writing on motherhood, women’s fashion, and feminism I have been reading and researching for years. I had not necessarily noticed this topic before, and I began exploring her discussions of rural women, or women in agricultural communities, in light of both Sánchez’s 2019 essay and my own work on first-wave Spanish feminism.

Mapping Madrid through Art, Literature, and Creative Cartography — Returning to the classroom for a strange semester of hyflex instruction prompted me to reconsider the types of projects and assignments I’d want my students to engage with and complete. Since I LOVE MAPS, I experimented with assigning cartographic narratives and ended up with some great results. I’ll post about these soon (in Jan/Feb), especially as I continue working with a student who was awarded funding to continue and expand her project on Carmen de Burgos’s La rampa through the Spring.

Don Quijote, the Graphic Novel, and Snapchat: Alternative Assessments in the L2 Literature Classroom — This is a “blog-post-version” of the key ideas presented in my most recent article, published with HISPANIA in September, “Snapping the Quijote: Examining L2 Literature, Social Media, and Digital Storytelling through a Cervantine Lens.”. I highlight connections between the Graphic Novel, Semiotics, and Snapchat, to explain my alternative assessment.

My optimistic plans for a fabulous 2021 – a preview:

For the most immediate future, I’m especially excited to teach my “Pop Culture & Don Quijote de la Mancha” senior seminar again this Spring, as I’ve made some updates based on what worked well and what was missing in the first iteration of the course, and also based on some new movies and media that have since become available. My class will be MUCH bigger this time around — 20 students — and I’m still plotting out the types of projects I’ll assign. The first time around we made Snapchat Essays and a course blog; I’m going to continue with Snapchat because it’s a fun and relevant connection to the Quijote, believe it or not (see my article), but I’m still working through a few ideas. As this will again be a hyflex course, during a semester without a Spring Break and in which students (all of us!) will certainly be dealing with unexpected obstacles due to Covid-quarantine-closures, etc…

ALMÁCIGA, un vivero de palabras de nuestro medio rural,
by María Sánchez (2020):

This beautifully illustrated book was published in September 2020 as a follow-up, in a sense, to María Sánchez‘s Tierra de mujeres (2019); it’s also her third book (her first was a collection of poetry in 2017). The gorgeous, somewhat surreal illustrations are by Cristina Jiménez, a graphic designer and illustrator based in Pamplona, Navarra, Spain. I’m planning a longer post on this book as I finish it up this week; but Sánchez’s main goal is to collect and preserve the unique vocabulary and expressions from Spain’s rural regions. The first half connects language to identity, noting all that is lost when we lose fundamental aspects of language like context-specific vocabulary and regional dialects or idioms. The Kindle version of this book is also only $6.99 today (there must be a New Year’s special?) — but I highly recommend the colorful, printed hardback version for the illustrations (free shipping with Book Depository).


My Fall 2020 seminar was titled “Mapping Madrid in the Silver Age (1900-36)” and, while I had taught a similar version in Fall 2019 (“Gender and the City”), I modified this hyflex update to include only two full-length novels (La rampa and La Venus mecánica) and additional secondary and historical readings. I also limited the focus to the representation of the city and its geography, or the “narrative cartography” of each. Check out the course hashtag for a sample of resources and topics we discussed: #MappingMadridKSU. I experimented with an open-ended, creative final project based on the creation of a “cartographic narrative.” Students designed a map, of some sort, that would communicate their understanding of a key theme in the novel, or in the course. The results were excellent (2 samples above, and a post to come), especially under the semester’s strange conditions. I’m looking forward to refining this project for a “normal” semester based on what my students did well and what I can do better in terms of design and research guidance. At the very least, the chaos of 2020 teaching gave me an excuse to experiment with new ways of evaluating student progress and learning. I’m now working on developing and implementing my own Ungradingphilosophy — I’m currently reading the fantastic collection of essays, Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead) (West Virginia UP, 2020), and I cannot recommend it enough. Grab your copy before Spring ’21 starts!!!!


My summer students – all high school teachers – had fun learning about alternative, less theoretical ways to incorporate art into their language classes.

In July 2020 I taught two three-week intensive courses for the MA Program offered by Southern Oregon University’s Summer Language Institute — they were supposed to have been IN Guanajuato, Mexico, and I had built my courses around that setting. The shift to teaching these location-based, immersion courses exclusively online — alone in Kansas rather than alongside colleagues and long-time friends in Mexico — was a huge disappointment, to say the least… and it ended up being a lot of extra work. However, #SilverLining, I really really enjoyed teaching these courses to a student population of High School teachers, and basing content on (1) Art and (2) Teaching Art (& Literature). I taught a 3-credit seminar, “Visual Cultures of Spain and Mexico: Transatlantic Art & Architecture,” and a 2-credit accompanying workshop, “From Maps to Snaps: Incorporating Art into Language Teaching”. I’ve now decided to teach an intermediate-level Transatlantic Art course for my K-State undergraduates in Fall 2021, and I’m excited to approach this level of cultural content from a different angle (art instead of literature); after all, I myself only began to appreciate literature through art, if I’m honest, and I noticed that my summer students were more enthusiastic about certain literary texts when they read them alongside the Art that was the “main” content for each day (I was tricky with the literature!). I’ll be posting a few of my favorite assignments and readings from the summer art course over the next few months.

But for now, I plan to rest up during the remaining weeks of winter break so that I have the energy — and optimism! — I know I’ll need to make these projects successful.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021, and was there anything sort-of-not-so-bad about your 2020? 😉

Posted in Art, Feminism, Language, Literature, Pedagogy, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don Quijote, the Graphic Novel, and Snapchat: Alternative Assessments in the L2 Literature Classroom

For this post, I’m sharing details of my most recent article, “Snapping the Quijote: Examining L2 Literature, Social Media, and Digital Storytelling through a Cervantine Lens”, which was published in September 2020 in Hispania (vol. 103, no. 2, pp. 323-39). You can read the abstract and view the accompanying images here, access full article via Project Muse, or email me if you’d like a copy.

Snapping the Quijote

In the Spring (2018) I taught a course rather outside my general area of teaching and research expertise: our department’s Cervantes’ seminar on Miguel de Cervantes’s 17th-century novel, Don Quijote de la Mancha (1605, 1615). Half of the experience was challenging, productive, and fun… the other half was overwhelming! While Golden Age Theater and Prose was my secondary area of study during graduate school, since becoming a professor I had spent minimal time teaching and researching in those areas — only informally, here on my blog about Cervantes, the Quijote, and the Golden Age in general. To try to make the course — and a very long 400-year-old novel —  more “relevant” to students (and also a bit less daunting for me to teach!), I wanted to take a non-traditional approach and experiment with some creative assignments and projects. I decided to start my modifications by doing with a Pop Culture theme to the course, titling it Pop Culture and Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha. In addition to the full-length novel (Tom Lathrop’s Legacy edition) for the main close-readings and discussions, I included the following supplementary materials: the graphic novel, The Complete Don Quijote (by Rob Davis), to aid in full comprehension of the original novel and pique students’ interest right away, while also opening discussions on issues of translation, interpretation, and representation; select films sharing certain narrative elements or modes of characterization relevant to the Quijote (like Into the Wild; ToyStory; and Stranger than Fiction; adaptations of the tale for different audiences and with different goals (from the musical Man of la Manchato the children’s program Wishbone); and carefully selected critical articles (there are SO many!). You can download my syllabus at the end of this post and on my teaching page. I’m excited to be teachign this course again, with new modifications, in the Spring of 2021.

syllabus picture

Pop Culture and Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha (SPAN 732, Kansas State University)

I won’t go into detail about the course content in this post, but I will lay out the plans for the “alternative research and narrative project” that I created for the course… based on Snapchat… and which formed the basis of my article. Given the 2-year lag between this project (Jan-May 2018) and the final publication (Sept. 2020), there are certainly some things that may now be modified in terms of which social media applications may be the most popular or appropriate with students. For example, while Snapchat was SUPER popular in January 2018, and was one of the only platforms with a “STORIES” feature, now, in 2020, TikTok offers a constant barrage of mini-narratives, both Facebook and Instagram offer “stories,” and it remains to be seen if Instagram or TikTok will fully eclipse Snapchat in popularity. In any case, I anticipated this, to some degree, and framed my project and article within a semiotic view of literature and communications. As such, my rationale and the L2 Literature pedagogical strategies I propose are applicable to a range of social media and mobile applications beyond Snapchat and should remain relevant for…a few more months…?!? #Technology. Essentially, I view the new changes and new additions to our (social) media landscapes as further evidence that alternative assessments and non-traditional approach to L2 literature are not only “relevant,” but more essential and urgent than ever. Or at least that’s my version of optimism in 2020.

Quijote plus Snapchat

A visual of my experiment… since one of the goals was to communicate and represent complex ideas regarding Spanish literature, culture, and history, with both words AND images.

To explain what prompted my decision to use Snapchat as an alternative narrative project, I’ll return to the graphic novel. Because I was assigning the graphic novel — in ENGLISH — to complement the reading of the full-length Spanish novel, I wanted to make sure that students read it critically and considered the way in which images and text, as well as translation, functioned together to transmit the story to an English-speaking audience who may or may not be familiar with Cervantes’ original novel. As we read the graphic novel alongside the Quijote every week, the main questions I wanted students to consider were:

  • What visual strategies were used to communicate the story (plot) and themes?
  • What literary strategies or techniques could they identify?
  • What were the strengths and weaknesses of the English translation (vocabulary, figurative speech or expressions, omissions, etc.)?
  • What were the strengths and weaknesses of adapting these chapters of Don Quijote to the graphic novel ?

It was important to create questions like these in order to ensure that students didn’t simply focus on plot or read the graphic novel as quickly as possible as a substitute for the “literary” novel. I also wanted them to consider the genre of the graphic novel as something more than “comic books,” children’s/YA literature,”\ or frivolous entertainment. To do this, I assigned select chapters from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art — Chapter 2: The Vocabulary of Comics, and Chapter 6: Show and Tell…. since it was during my initial reading of McCloud’s book prior to the spring semester that I began thinking about Snapchat and general smartphone communications, whether via apps or text messages, for their literary potential. The below image from McCloud’s book should illustrate why, as the illustrated icons and symbols immediately bring to mind today’s emojis:


A page from chapter 2 of McCloud’s Understanding Comics, “The Vocabulary of Comics”.

Below are a few lightly-edited excerpts from my article – again, you can access the full text in Hispania here.

On the graphic novel and semiotics:

In only a few pages, McCloud presents the complexity and variety of icons through which humans communicate, from the pictorial to the non-pictorial (26-30), or words, which he terms “the ultimate abstraction” (47). In fact, McCloud’s elaborations of the intricacies of graphic novel design and narrative structure connect perfectly to our modern forms of interpersonal communication and private or public storytelling through social media. Despite being written in 1992, these pages are replete with images of symbols, sketches, and simple drawings that resemble, on first glance, much of our current modes of twenty-first-century communication that allow, even encourage the combination of pictorial and textual icons (email, messaging apps like WhatsApp and GroupMe, and social media like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, to name a few). Almost prophetically, McCloud ends this chapter by observing: “Ours is an increasingly symbol-oriented culture. As the twenty-first century approaches, visual iconography may finally help us realize a form of universal communication” (58). Indeed, my students immediately connected these pages to the communicative value of a simple emoji, the popularity of which Marcel Danesi (2017), in The Semiotics of Emoji, cites as an “incipient paradigm shift in how people perceive writing, literacy, and communication today” (4). McCloud’s sixth chapter, “Show and Tell,” only amplified this real-world connection for students by focusing on how it is precisely the combination of both words and pictures together that allows us to tell more complex stories (152). McCloud frames this discussion by noting that, in the lengthy course of human history, the written word has only recently been elevated or privileged over pictorial or visual modes of communication like drawings, images, and simple demonstrative gestures (141-45). Suddenly, my students began to see their most frequent modes of informal communication as having not only academic, but literary relevance. (p. 326)


Blog header for the course website, Quijote Snaps at

This semiotic approach to the graphic novel is a perfect segue to Snapchat, and McCloud’s book allowed me to bring the app into the classroom as a way of increasing student engagement while illustrating innovative narrative structures in both traditional and popular print media. Snapchat relies on a mix of visual imagery and text, including photo-editing features like filters, color manipulation, and facial recognition masks; stickers, emojis, and geotags; cartoons and Bitmojis; short captions that can be written in a variety of colors or fonts; hashtags; and even animation and video features. But the most exciting part about Snapchat (and now Instagram and Facebook) for the purposes of my Quijote course were the “Story” features. Snapchat’s “Stories” allow users to combine a series of “Snaps” (singular images or short videos) to create a narrative of their lives during a 24-hour period, whether it be during the school day, over a weekend, or on a study abroad trip. The concepts of telling one’s own story (history) or sharing a narrative (story) with others are key to the Quijote, and the dual-meaning of the Spanish word historia (story and history) offers an additional dimension to the examination and creation of narratives. Nearly every character in the novel either recounts their own historia, has their historia told by another individual (often with discrepancies and from several viewpoints), or listens to historias told by others for informational or entertainment purposes. Evaluating Snapchat in this Quixotic context, we might consider that students actively practice strategies associated with literature and literary analysis each and every day when they use the app: they create a point of view, perform the role of narrator or narratee, construct a tone, emphasize a setting, or develop a unique narrative structure with common features or symbols. In all likelihood, the vast majority of students had never considered their social media usage to be literary, or even remotely akin to literary production or interpretation. (p. 326-27)

On Narrative and Storytelling:

Recognizing Snapchat’s potential for composing and storytelling, by way of assembling textual and visual narrative devices that will be read by others, offers the perfect bridge to a literature course centered on a novel featuring so many complex personal narratives and multiple viewpoints (see Cascardi; Allen, “Style”). Although a 17th-century novel and a 21st-century mobile application may appear antithetical, they are linked by their narrative capacities and their appeal to individuals, on both creative and receptive levels. As Jonathan Gottschall has stated, “humans are creatures of story, so story touches nearly every aspect of our lives” (15). []As I began to research Snapchat in the langauge classroom, I found very little to go on, given the newnew off the application in 2018]. However, in terms of its narrative capacity, Jill Walker Rettberg (2016) has demonstrated Snapchat’s narrative (or storytelling) capabilities by using the app’s Stories feature to create her own Snapchat Research Stories – which she shares on YouTube – that examine and explain concepts like narratology, phatic communication, and visual storytelling in social media. (p. 327)

While Rettberg (in a chapter on Snapchat in Appified: Culture in the age of Apps, 2018) acknowledges that Snapchat’s “ephemerality” and association with playful filters popular with teens may lead researchers to view the app as “frivolous, mundane, [or] boring” and thus not take it seriously, she also rightly points out that Snapchat has led to “reemphasizing social connections… [and] opening up new forms of storytelling and narration” (190-91). Rettberg also describes the app and its stories feature as “a conversation not an archive” (192), echoing the way in which many literature professors like myself encourage students to consider the research process. As they perform close-readings of literature, explore secondary sources of criticism or Spanish cultural history, and document their key findings, students begin to enter a scholarly conversation about the primary text. In this sense, Snapchat fits perfectly within the goals of an L2 literature course because it allows users to become a part of a broader conversation with others through narrative techniques dependent on the creative combination of semiotic tools, or linguistic and pictorial icons. Moreover, the app has enormous potential to help students unpack literature in new ways by analyzing it through the frame of Snapchat Stories, which we may in fact classify as a sort of twenty-first-century “literary genre” in which most students are well versed, invested, and engaged. From both semiotic and narratological perspectives, Snapchat not only overlaps on thematic and structural levels with Don Quijote as a literary narrative, but with the theory and design of popular graphic novels and pictorial modes of communication. In fact, in light of the theories informing the graphic novel, my course’s emphasis on popular culture, and the centrality of storytelling to the Quijote, the Snapchat interface suddenly became the perfect portable graphic-novel-creating-tool. (p. 327-28)

Assignments and tasks:

I had observed in previous semesters a “medium-mismatch” among students in introductory, intermediate, and even advanced L2 literature courses. By this I mean that there is a gap, or sometimes a complete disconnect, between how I expect students to express and demonstrate critical thought and textual analysis, and how, or where, they already practice these skills, often unconsciously. (p. 329)

My Quijote seminar’s final project included two types of Snapchat-based essays. First, each student wrote four short “Snap Essays” (one Snap with a 350-500-word essay), in which they were required to cite the original novel and one or two secondary sources, such as academic articles or monographs (citing the graphic novel was optional). Additionally, each student also wrote two “Snap Stories” (between four and eight connected Snaps with a 1000-1200-word essay), in which they were required to cite the original novel, and two to five secondary sources. One of these “Stories” was composed individually and the other in a small group of three. Given that each student created four unique “Snap Essays” and two different “Snap Stories,” they ended up researching and writing about six different themes or episodes of the Quijote rather than focusing on only one broad research topic. Thus, students worked to develop six unique thesis-based arguments, supported with textual citations and secondary sources, which they represented both visually (Snaps) and in writing (analytic essay). In reality, the four short “Snap Essays”, combined with the mid-length “Snap Stories,” made their total written output range from 3400 words at minimum, to 4400 words at maximum. This is the equivalent of about 10-14 double-spaced pages, which is on par with the expectations for traditional research papers at this level. Also like a traditional research paper, the combined total of secondary sources was 6-12 (1-2 per Snap Essay; 2-4 per Snap Story). At the end of the term, all essays would be posted to a collaborative, public course blog. The relatively short length of each “Snap Essay” (350-500 words), combined with the visual component of the “Snap,” lent to ideal blog posts that were both attractive and readable for a general audience beyond the professor and classmates. (p. 330)

You can view most of my students shorter and longer projects on the course blog,, and I detail the pros and cons of this experiment in the article. Here is one example:


Concluding thoughts:

“Given the rapid and technologically-advanced innovations that have affected modes of written communication and their global implications over the past three decades, I propose that L2 literature faculty reimagine traditional courses not merely in terms of content, but of assessments – even, and especially, if that reexamination challenges our ideas of what literary or academic scholarship does or should look like. Many professors have indeed documented their successful efforts in connecting literature and its historical era to contemporary issues and cultural production that are familiar to students, especially when teaching such a complex, fun, and engaging text like the Quijote (Burningham; Castillo; Miñana; Parr and Vollendorf; Simerka and Weimer). Additionally, the field of Digital Humanities is booming with qualitative and quantitative software offering alternative modes of interpreting, analyzing, and presenting research on literary texts. Yet the culminating assessment, or the traditional research paper, tends to remain a touchstone of many L2 literature courses – even those with non-traditional thematic approaches. This, despite the fact that in our current “Internet Age” (Danesi), the term paper is no longer the only type of assessment that might coincide with the objectives we establish for today’s students, the majority of whom want to easily and readily relate linguistic skills and cultural knowledge to their daily lives and future careers. When McCloud laments that comics are viewed as a recent invention (despite pictorial communication being centuries old) and thus excluded from serious literary discussions, he states that the art of comics simply “suffers the curse of all new media. The curse of being judged by the standards of the old” (151). While the move away from a traditional academic research or conference paper may initially appear to represent a bowing to requests from students for “easier” assignments, or a fueling of their resistance to engage with serious scholarship and literature, this Snapchat project demonstrates that it is possible to emphasize the same linguistic and literary skills in another medium. Analyzing, synthesizing, providing evidence for one’s ideas and interpretations, articulating a precise thesis or guiding argument, writing explanations of textual, literary, or visual icons… all of these skills can – and should – be adapted to the twenty-first century. By (re)examining and adapting traditional practices, L2 literature instructors will not only increase engagement and demonstrate the relevance of literary analysis skills to students’ lives, but also foster appreciation for the study of classical literary texts for their insights into the past and their potentially universal values, which are often present in today’s cultural productions.” (p. 336)

Have you tried alternative assessments or final projects in your L2 courses, whether language or literature? What has worked well, or perhaps is still a work-in-progress? Share your experiences in the comments!

Course materials/resources:

Novel: Don Quijote. Miguel de Cervantes. Ed. Tom Lathrop. 10th Legacy Edition. European Masterpieces / Cervantes & Co. 2012.

Graphic novel: The Complete Don Quijote, illustrated by Rob Davis. SelfMadeHero, 2013. English edition.

Comics Theory: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Scott McCloud. William Morrow, 1994. (1st Harper Perennial edition, 2001).

Syllabus – Pop Culture and Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha (Dr. Rebecca Bender, Kansas State University): SPN 732_Don Quijote_Syllabus_BLOG

Additional articles/select bibliograhy:

Danesi, Marcel. The Semiotics of Emoji. The Rise of Visual Language in the Age of the Internet. Bloomsbury, 2019.

McRoberts, Sarah, Haiwei Ma, Andrew Hall, and Svetlana Yarosh. “Share First, Save Later: Performance of Self through Snapchat Stories.” CHI 2017 – Proceedings of the 2017 ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: Explore, Innovate, Inspire, vol. 2017 (May), pp. 6902-6911.

Pomerantz, Anne, and Nancy D. Bell. “Learning to Play, Playing to Learn: FL Learners as Multicompetent Language Users.” Applied Linguistics, vol. 28, no. 4, 2007, pp. 556-78. Doi: 10.1093/applin/amm044.

Rettberg, Jill Walker. Seeing Ourselves Through Technology. How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Open Access.

—. “Snapchat Research Stories.” YouTube, 1 Nov. 2017. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

Wargo, Jon M. “Spatial Stories with Nomadic Narrators: Affect, Snapchat, and Feeling Embodiment in Youth Mobile Composing.” Journal of Language and Literacy Education, vol. 11, no. 1, 2015, pp. 47-64.

Posted in Literature, Pedagogy, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mapping Madrid through Art, Literature, and Creative Cartography

Since this fall semester is clearly “unprecedented”, unpredictable, and a whole host of adjectives that are pretty much ALL stress-inducing, I am taking the opportunity to experiment in my senior-seminar on 20th-century Spain. Last fall I taught a similar course with a focus on “Gender & the City”, but this fall I’m only using two of the same name novels — Carmen de Burgos’ La rampa (1917) and José Díaz Fernández’s La Venus mecánica (1929) — and focusing more on the city of Madrid and the narrative cartography presented by and within these texts. I’ve re-titled the course “Mapping Madrid in La Edad de Plata (1898-1936)”, and I’m maintaining a hashtag to keep track of the articles, images, and maps we find and explore each week. You can check that out and follow it here: #MappingMadridKSU. My students’ final project will entail a creative cartographic interpretation of one of the literary texts (or a portion of it), or of a cultural or historical theme that they decide to explore through the literature or through our discussions of secondary historical or cultural readings in class. I’m still plotting out the details, but at the same time, I’m planning to allow a lot or room to be creative. Since this project is inherently interdisciplinary, I’m hoping this freedom will encourage them to make connections with a topic that relates to their own interests, their other academic majors, and their individual learning styles and talents. This is important, given that the final few weeks of the semester will be fully online, so, in theory (!), the more invested and interested they are in their project, the better they will plan their time and work independently.

As an example of a creative, thematic interpretation of urban geography, I found this map of central Madrid that associates movies with certain locations in the city, as an example of how maps can create “narratives” and overlap aesthetically with literature. Map published in “Cinemanía”, August 2019. Image via Behance.

To start out our this semester of hyflex instruction — a semester which we had to begin a full week earlier than originally anticipated — I wanted to ease into the idea of how to think beyond a literary text, how to experiment and incorporate creativity into our analyses, and how to be uncomfortable with not knowing how to proceed. Creative endeavors, after all, take time — as do reading and writing — which we (professors AND students) too often forget. In any case, I had my class look at some examples of artistic or non-traditional maps that “re-draw” the world in a short Gallery-Article in El Pais, and I assigned them a quick YouTube video about play and the importance of creativity in 21st-century learning, Yesmin Kunter’s “Let’s Play”. In our second full class, I split them into three (socially-distanced and masked!) groups and tasked them with creating a “cartographic representation of Rafael Alberti‘s 1937 poem, “Romance de la defensa de Madrid”. They only had about 30-35 minutes to read the poem and represent it — which really wasn’t enough time to make a super-detailed map — but this would be a fun activity to repeat in a full 50–minute class period after having assigned students the poem to read and analyze for homework. In any case, they seemed to have fun with it and it was a good way to review and re-visit some literary/poetic terminology during the first week of class without making things too stressful or piling on too many “figuras retóricas”. After all, masked, socially-distanced, hyflex instruction with extra cleaning supplies all over the room is stressful enough for everyone. At the end of this post, I’ve attached a PDF of the poem-mapping-activity, which contains the poem, a super-quick guide to analyzing it (reminders of what to look for), and a breakdown of the elements involved in creating a “cartographic narrative,” which I adapted from an excellent (but way too detailed for the second-class-of-the-semester) article on “El mapa y la comunicación cartográfica“. The main principles are to (1) “collect data”, which I view as essentially performing a literary analysis of a text; (2) organize and manipulate this data to plan a design; (3) visualize the shape, scale, and borders of the map; (4) interpret your data to create a ‘narrative’. We’ll be returning to selections of this article as work on projects progresses…. In the meantime, below are the maps they produced in this short activity. One group clearly had an art major; another was very detail-oriented; and another preferred to personify the city (at least they got a nice review and will now remember prosopopeya).

Only one week after beginning my class with this poetry-mapping activity — which required students to draft a cartographic illustration of a poem commemorating the bombing of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War — I came across an article on my Twitter feed with the title, “Cuando Madrid Fue Guernica“. It’s an excellent discussion of the areas in Madrid that were destroyed by — and protected from — aerial attacks during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39. The articles discusses the “Plano de Madrid Bombardeado”, a map that was created during 2018-19 to represent the areas of the city that suffered the most vicious aerial attacks. As my readers know, I’m somewhat obsessed with maps, and I had actually first learned about and even downloaded this wartime map from a 2019 article, “El mapa que le devuelve a Madrid su identidad de ciudad bombardeada“. Both of these articles provide detailed historical and archival information, as well as quotes and comments from the map’s creators, Enrique Bordes and Luis de Sobrón, both professors of Architecture at the Polytechnic University in Madrid (UPM). With this project, Bordes and de Sobrón bring to light the ways in which Madrid’s urban identity has been (re)made throughout the 20th century. Specifically, when the Civil War ended in 1939, the new Francoist Regime was intent on presenting the Spanish capital as a glorious, victorious urban center. Yet Madrid’s previous Civil War era identity — based on a fierce and enduring resistance that resulted from becoming the first major European city to be strategically bombed in wartime attacks (the Spanish Civil War preceded World War II) — was all but erased. The effort to cover up or eliminate the historical and cultural significance of Civil War destruction wrought upon a stubbornly resistant capital city is yet another piece of to be added back into the puzzle of Spain’s fractured historical memory.

A high-quality image of the map (a copy of which I’ve included below) can be downloaded via the Madrid Bombardeado website. This site is open access, although is currently undergoing a few updates to come of its planned features before it will be fully interactive. In the meantime, it’s still an excellent resource and would be especially useful in Spanish culture or literature courses dealing with the Spanish Civil War, either in learning about its historical moment of the 1930s or its elusive, ongoing, and even haunting presence throughout 20th-century Spain, its modern history, and much of contemporary Spanish cultural productions (books, films, human rights projects, documentaries, art and photography exhibits, television programming, etc.).

Plano de Madrid Bombardeado (image via El Salto Diario)

Professors de Sobrón and Bordes created this visual, cartographic narrative because they realized that so many people were surprised to learn that Madrid was so heavily attacked and destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. While nearly everyone knows about the bombing of Guernica/Gernika in 1937 — immortalized by Picasso in what may arguably be his greatest work — the intense bombings of Madrid that begin in 1936 had largely disappeared from collective historical memory. Their mapping project is a “Map of Memory,” which aims to fill in those gaps in historical knowledge and consciousness so that Spanish citizens, visitors, and tourists in Madrid are aware of the capital city’s more complex history. To collect information, they relied on four principal sources: (1) photography and photo-reports from the 1936-39 era, (2) documentation from Madrid’s Committee of Reform, Reconstruction, and Sanitation (CRRS), (3) records from fire departments, and (4) memories of architects who were among the city’s population. Professor Bordes emphasized that during this research process, he himself was continuously surprised by the magnitude of the bombings and destruction to the city. Anecdotally, from various sources, it has been said that “Madrid was Guernica”, meaning that Picasso may have actually consulted reports, documentation, photographs, and eye-witness accounts from attacks on the heavily-populated Madrid, since in the small Basque town of Guernica/Gernika, in all likelihood, there would have been very few journalists present the precise day of the surprise attack.

Full scale of Picasso’s “Guernica”, where it is currently on display in Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia. It had been in New York from the 1940s-70s, before being returned to Spain in 1981, several years after Franco’s death. Image via Pablo Picasso [dot] org.

It is certainly true that Picasso’s Guernica has ensured that a particularly cruel tragedy of the Spanish Civil War has not and will likely never be forgotten. In fact, Guernica is one of the most popular works of art used in Spanish language, literature, and culture classes throughout the US, and nearly 100% of my students are familiar with it before seeing in my class — even if they do not know the precise history or the massive scale of the work. Because it is so recognizable, I try to use it make connections with lesser-known texts and histories. In a few of my previous Spanish Literature and Culture classes, I had used Guernica in combination with Vicente Aleixandre‘s poem, “Oda a los niños de Madrid muertos por la metralla”. I posted a few years ago about a class activity (which I have since gradually modified) involving the juxtaposition of that particular poem with Picasso’s famous mural here: Picasso’s Guernica and Aleixandre’s Oda: The Spanish Civil War in Art and Poetry. But while the history of this small Basque town of Gernika/Guernica lives on in painting, the bombings of Madrid appear seomwhat more frequently in literature, and especially in poetry. The attacks on the city were in fact memorialized and lamented by numerous poets throughout the Spanish-speaking world, within and outside of Spain. While I have so far incorporated Alberti‘s “Romance” and Aleixandre’s “Oda” into my classes, they are just two examples and both were written by Spaniards. Importantly, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda also penned a poetic memoir to the destruction suffered by the city in 1936 with “Explico algunas cosas“, and Mexican writer Octavo Paz offered Mexico’s support of the Spanish Republic in his 1936 poem “¡No pasarán!,” which bears the title of the oft-repeated phrase that became the fighting hymn, the slogan of strength and resistance throughout the city of Madrid during the war years.

A street banner proclaiming Madrid’s slogan of resistance, “No pasarán – El fascismo quiere conquistar Madrid, Madrid será la tumba del fascismo” — “They shall not pass. Fascism aims to conquer Madrid, Madrid will be the ‘tomb of fascism’, or ‘fascism’s grave’. Image via Wikipedia.

*To be clear*, I don’t meant to imply that there is no artwork commemorating the bombing of Madrid. There are certainly powerful photographs, paintings, and other forms of visual art that pay homage to Madrid’s violent past, but none have reached the same level of renown as Picasso’s Guernica. Horacio Ferrer’s Madrid 1937, Aviones negros, also in the Museo Reina Sofia, is a great example. Painted in an entirely different style than the more abstract, cubist mural, Ferrer’s painting also displays women and children fleeing in fear as the destruction caused by aerial attacks is clearly apparent in the background. This painting was even presented at the same international exhibition as Guernica, the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition. There are many more examples, but I suppose I will save those for another post, especially given that — like their poetic or literary counterparts — these artistic rendition of “Madrid Bombardeado” span international borders, coming from throughout the Spanish-speaking world and beyond.

“Madrid 1937, Aviones negros” (Black Aeroplanes)” by Horacio Ferrer, 1937. Image via Museo Reina Sofia.

What other Madrid-Maps do I need to explore? Do you have any favorites? I’m anxious to get my hands on Madrid in the Novels of Benito Perez Galdos next… though I was hoping to pick up a copy on my next trip to Spain rather than have to pay double for international shipping (#SpanishProfessorMath). But with continued Covid travel restrictions, it looks like I might just have to accept that extra fee.


CLASS ACTIVITY: “Romance de la defensa de Madrid” by Rafael Alberti (1937) — Poem, Analysis, Mapping activity as PDF:

Luna S., María Cecilia. “¡No pasarán!: La fuerza de la resistencia madrileña en el poema de Octavio Paz.” Revista Palimpsesto, vol. X, no. 14, jul-dic, 2018, pp. 82-91. Open Access via Universidad de Santiago de Chile here.

Olaya, Víctor. Sistemas de Informacion Geografica. Capítulo 5, Visualización: “El mapa y la comunicacion cartografica“. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.

Posted in Art, History, Literature, Pedagogy, Spain, Spanish Civil War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Farming, Gardening, and Female Labor: Carmen de Burgos’ “La mujer agricultora” (1903)

Now that the crazy and unpredictable Spring 2020 Covid19-semester is finally over, and since I’ll now be spending my entire summer in Kansas rather than in Spain and Mexico, I am working to shift my focus back to writing and research for the month of June. Starting with a blog post seemed like a much easier and more enjoyable way for me to get back into writing-mode than diving straight into an academic article… although I still spent many hours finalizing this short, informal post. Based on a few things I’ve been reading and thinking about over the past few weeks, and to continue with my first two posts of 2020 on recent publications on contemporary Spanish feminism and women in rural Spain, I wanted to discuss an excerpt from another fabulous set of books I brought home from Spain last summer: Carmen de Burgos. Colombine. Periodista Universal, edited by Concepción Nuñez Rey and published by the Consejería Cultural, Junta de Andalucía in late 2018. These two volumes are an invaluable resource to scholars not only of Carmen de Burgos or first-wave Spanish feminism, but of early 20th-century Spanish literature and culture more broadly. In them, Nuñez Rey has compiled more than 10,000(!) essays and newspaper articles that Burgos, often under her pseudonym “Colombine,” wrote for popular Madrid-based print media between 1900 and her death in 1932. Both volumes together — an astounding 1400+ pages — cost only 20 euros via Tiendas Culturales de Andalucia; 10 euros extra to ship internationally to the US (which is still a bargain $33 at the current exchange rate).


The covers of Volumes I and II. Image mine.

These volumes represent an enormous amount of labor on the part of Concepción Nuñez Rey, professor of Spanish Language and Literature at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, who spent more than two years compiling and organizing the essays, information, and commentary they contain. Volume I presents an introductory biography on Carmen de Burgos with a discussion of the historical context within which she was writing. Following is the chronological organization of articles that she published between 1900-1914, with topics ranging from women’s rights and early feminist activity (women’s education, suffrage, factory work, divorce) to broader societal problems (illness and hygiene, prisons, death penalty, education) to her international travels (France, Italy, Argentina, Germany) and involvement in various literary and intellectual circles. Volume II covers 1914-1932, and includes topics related to World War I, her extensive travels to Portugal and the Americas (Cuba, Mexico, and Chile), her increasingly more progressive feminism, and her support of the Spanish Second Republic. Again, there are over 10,000 essays included in these volumes and, given Burgos’ prolific publication record on an almost innumerable array of topics, they contain many lesser-known, niche articles that were previously difficult to procure or even locate in databases. Essays are organized chronologically, and Nuñez Rey has grouped them together under broad themes, providing short introductions to each section that contextualize Burgos’ professional activities and personal life at the time.


page 146 of Carmen de Burgos: Colombine. Periodista Universal (Volume I), image mine.

For this post, I want to highlight a 1903 essay — see image above — that caught my attention given my recent interest in and appreciation for Maria Sanchez’s essay-narrative on women in rural Spain, or “España Vaciada” (Empty Spain), which I blogged about in January and integrated into my Spanish Culture course in April. Burgos’ essay, “La mujer agricultora,” or “The Female Farmer,” published June 20, 1903 in the Diario Universal, is only about 2-pages in length (pp. 146-48, Volume I) and touches upon several issues that Sánchez brings to light in 2019 concerning women’s labor, rural vs. urban living, and depopulation of the Spanish countryside. The title of the essay and much of its contents also reminded me of several pieces of art from this time period, so I thought juxtaposing some of Burgos’ ideas with a few early 20th-century Spanish paintings would further contextualize and expand the scope of her concerns on women and agricultural labor. While there are, unsurprisingly, a few comments that are problematic or essentialist to today’s 21st-century reader — like her generalizations about women’s labor or disposition based on biology or “nature,” and even phrases that could stem from late 19th-century eugenics discourses (fortificar la raza, evolución, hereditario) —  much of what Burgos argues in this short article pertains to her consistent concern with educating women and affording them a legitimate, compensated, and safe place in Spanish society where they have agency to express their own interests and talents and to choose their own life or career path. The driving force of her essay is that Spain should promote and provide an “agricultural” education for women, just as in England there are institutes dedicated to the study of Agriculture and Horticulture.

mujer cabra_El pais

“Mujer con cabra” [Woman with goat] by Maruja Mallo (1929). Image via El País.

I first thought of Maruja Mallo’s 1929 painting, “Woman with goat” (above) when Burgos discusses the physicality of agricultural labor and societal perceptions of whether women’s bodies could or should perform this labor. This painting, and others by Mallo, has been praised for its depiction of a physically strong woman moving freely and independently outside the confines of the home. While interpretations and analyses of this work are vast, for the sake of this post I’m focusing on those that highlight a new, alternative representation of femininity based on strength and independence. Combined with its clearly rural setting, this painting becomes — in my mind — an excellent representation of Burgos’ argument in support of outdoor activities and labor for women, as well as her anticipation and rejection of patriarchal critiques that will center on men’s desire for women’s bodies and appearances to remain “traditionally feminine”.  In the quote below, Burgos cites the bicycle as justification for women’s abilities to engage in physical, outdoor labor, a reference that may seem comical today, but that is well in line with early 20th-century views — and fears — of the bicycle as a promoter and symbol of (dangerous or erotic!) female agency. This is the reference that prompted me to think of Mallo’s “Mujer con cabra.”

  • El trabajo agrícola favorece la salud del individuo más que los trabajos industriales y puramente intelectuales. Esto, que es verdad para el hombre, lo es también para la mujer; pero no todos lo aceptan. Se dice que estos trabajos son demasiado fuertes para la mujer. Sin embargo, este argumento pierde fuerza desde que las mujeres aprenden a montar en bicicleta.” (p. 147) Agricultural labor favors the health of the individual more than industrial or purely intellectual labor. This, which is true for men, is also true for women; but not everyone accepts it. They say that these jobs are too physically demanding for women. However, this argument has lost strength since women have learned to ride bicycles.

Similarly, Mallo’s later paintings, Canto de espigas and Sorpresa del trigo (both below) — from a 1936-39 series she titled La religión del trabajo, of The Religion of Work — celebrate agricultural labor in the rural Spanish countryside, and they feature strong women as the central focus. In her article (below), Burgos speaks of the beneficial effects of rural labor on the healthy and physicality of both men and women. She also acknowledges that “those concerned with aesthetics” will argue against educating women in Agricultural and Horticultural labors given their fear that they will lose their harmonious figure, grace, and charm… a transformation that Mallo’s paintings, produced thirty years later, clearly celebrate rather than critique.

Mallo_Canto de espigas_1939-ReinaSofia

“Canto de espigas” [Song of Wheat] by Maruja Mallo, 1939. Imag via Museo Reina Sofia.

  • “Los estéticos son los que gritan más alto contra la mujer agricultora. Dicen que estos trabajos destruirían las líneas armoniosas de su cuerpo, altarían sus proporciones y la privarían de la gracia y el encanto…” (p. 147)  Those concerned with aesthetics are the ones who argue most loudly against the female farmer. They say that these jobs would destroy the harmonious lines of her body, that they would alter her proportions and strip her of her grace and charm…
  • “Se puede asegurar que los trabajos agrícolas son lo mejor y más sano de los ejercicios físicos, dan fuerza y salud a los cuerpos anémicos por la vida debilitante de las grandes ciudades. Los ejercicios de jardinería al aire libre son excelentes para curar las neurastenias femeninas.” (p. 146) It’s possible to claim that agricultural jobs are the best and healthiest of physical activities, giving strength and health to bodies made anemic by the debilitating life of the largest cities. Gardening and outdoor activities are excellent for curing women’s neurasthenia (nervousness).

Mallo_Sorpresa del trigo_1936

“Sorpresa del trigo” [Surprise of the wheat] by Maruja Mallo (1936). Image via Reddit.

Importantly, much of Burgos’ argument hinges on the contrast between the urban and rural environments. In the above, second quote she blames the “debilitating” nature of cities for creating unhealthy, “anemic” bodies. Similarly, in the below excerpt, she lauds work in the countryside for having the potential to save women from becoming “victims” of the “factories and vices” of the cities. Her descriptions of women’s urban labor made me immediately think of the tobacco, or cigar factories. While they provided well-paid manual labor for working-class women — known as cigarrerras — the job came with extremely long hours and significant long-term health concerns from the crowded, enclosed, and dirty interior spaces. The below paintings of Seville’s “Fábrica Real de Tobacos” by Gonzálo Bilbao Martínez, capture this atmosphere… clearly the antithesis of the colorful countryside depicted in Mallo’s “Mujer con cabra.”

  • “Para la mujer, por mucho que las feministas pretendan ser en todo iguales, no sirven los trabajos de fuerza; pero sería conveniente que se dedicasen a los que les son propios, cultivando los campos y robando víctimas a los talleres y a los vicios de las grandes ciudades. Esto en cuanto a las obreras; en cuanto a las damas, los quehaceres agrícolas pueden resultar a la vez agradables, sanos y útiles.” (p. 147)  For women, as much as feminists strive to be equal in everything, jobs that depend on strength do not serve them; but it would be convenient if they were to dedicate themselves to those jobs that best suit them, cultivating the fields and stealing victims from the factories and vices of the great cities. This for female laborers; regarding upper-class women, agricultural chores can be pleasant, healthy, and useful at the same time.

BilbaoMartinez_Las Cigarreras de Sevilla_1915-BellasArtes

“Las cigarreras de Seville” [Women cigar makers in Seville] by Gonzalo Bilbao Martinez (1915), Image via Bellas Artes, Argentina.

BilbaoMartinez_Las Cigarreras_1910-BellasArtes

“Las Cigarreras” [The women cigar makers] by Gonzalo Bilbao Martinez (1910), Image via Bellas Artes, Argentina.

Finally, the last paragraphs of “La mujer agricultora” center on the description of and praise for the Swanley School of Horticulture in England. She discusses the training offered at this “Horticultural College” or Gardening School, and how it had grown and transformed from an Institution for men to one in which women became the majority. I have not yet done much research into this school and its evolution to confirm Burgos’ description, although this 2003 article, “Horticultural Education in England, 1900-40: Middle-Class Women and Private Gardening Schools” (by Anne Meredith) discusses the college as being “for women.” Regardless, in 1903 Burgos was clearly aware of and admired the education this college offered women, and she lamented the fact that Spain did not have such opportunities. She ends with a discussion of gardening, which she appears to view as a more appropriate activity for middle- and upper-class women, in private residences or public gardens. This immediately made me think of the paintings and home of Joaquín Sorolla, as I visited his former residence (now a museum) a few years ago in Madrid. The Sorolla Museum boasts amazing gardens in the midst of the city, in addition to a diverse collection of the artist’s paintings. Below is his portrait of his wife, Clotilde, in their private gardens — which again contrasts dramatically, this time in terms of social and economic class — with Mallo’s painting of the woman with a goat.


“Clotilde en el jardín” [Clotilde in the garden] by Joaquín Sorolla (1919). Image via El Diario.

Below are a few of Burgos’ comments on women’s purported proclivity for gardening:

  • “En un principio el Colegio [Swanley] era solo para hombres, después fueron admitidas las mujeres, que hoy forman la mayoría de la población escolar, y,  pese a la vanidad masculina, trabajan mejor que los hombres y demuestran mas aptitudes para los trabajos agrícolas.” (p. 148)  At first, horticulture schools were only for men, later women were admitted, such that today women form the majority of the academic population and, despite masculine vanity, they work better than men and show greater aptitude for agricultural labor.
  • “En la jardinería, los dedos hábiles y el cuidado de la mujer dan resultados excelentes. El amor de la mujer por las flores ha sido siempre proverbial, y ellas cultivan con paciencia, con esmero, con algo de cariño maternal.” (p. 148)  In gardening, women’s skilled fingers and care lead to excellent results. Women’s love for flowers has always been well-known, and they cultivate with patience, with great care, and with a bit of maternal affection.

Sorolla_Wife and Daughters in Garden

My Wife and Daughters in the Garden by Joaquín Sorolla (1910).

  • “En Swanley, las alumnas cuidan también de los animales domésticos, y cada una tiene un cuadrito de tierra que puede cultivar a su gusto, dando libre curso a la fantasía individual. Un diploma y un certificado coronan los estudios, y al salir del Colegio, la mayor parte de ellas entran como jardineras en las casas particulares, y otras como guardias de los jardines públicos. De este modo se abre una nueva carrera a la mujer, productiva y buena para las obreras, y donde las grandes damas pueden hacer mucho bien desarrollando la agricultura y las industrias que a ella van unidas.” (p. 148)  In Swanley, the female students also care for domestic animals, and each one has a small portion of land that they can cultivate as they like, given free rein to their individual fantasy. A diploma and a certificate mark the end of their studies and, upon leaving the institute, a great many find work as gardeners in private homes, others as caretakers of public gardens. In this way, a new career is open to women, one that is productive and good for female workers, and where exceptional women may do a great deal to further develop agriculture and the industries connected to it.

As the above excerpt reveals, Burgos considered gardening to be a job or career particularly suited to women, and one that could afford them a potential income. This is most striking to me, even radical for the time, as gardening or the care for private gardens would have most likely fallen under the category of women’s work — that is, unpaid labor performed by a wife or mother, or poorly paid labor performed by a maid. There would be exceptions of course, but we can look to the Sorolla gardens as an example. In searching for the paintings I came across this article in Spanish on Sorolla’s gardens as works of art, within his (painted) works of art. The article discusses his love for his gardens and the care he took of them… yet only at the end acknowledges that his wife, Clotilde, also spend a great amount of time ensuring the gardens were a beautiful, thriving oasis in the city center. Sorolla was an especially prolific painter and he traveled away from home considerably, so I would wager that Clotilde was far more involved in or responsible for the “art of the gardens” than some histories may recount.


“El jardin de la casa” [The House Garden] by Joaquín Sorolla. Sorolla’s house is now the “Casa-Museo Sorolla” in central Madrid.

It seems my first post-pandemic attempt at blogging ended up being quite lengthy and has clearly given me a lot to think about. Hopefully this means I’m back in writing- and research-mode for Monday (*fingers crossed*). Ending this post with so many beautiful paintings of Spanish gardens and recalling my trip to the Sorolla Museum is making me especially nostalgic for Madrid — where I should be right NOW… with fifteen students! Unfortunately, my study abroad program was cancelled this summer and I’ll have to wait until next year. In the meantime, I’ll end with this lovely picture from one of my many walks through Retiro Park during last year’s trip.


La Rosaleda, Retiro Park, Madrid (May 2019). Image mine.

What other early 20th-century paintings or texts connect women to gardening or farming? Do they acknowledge or ignore… celebrate or critique women’s engagement with these activities in rural or urban spheres?  Share them in the comments!



Meredith, Anne. “Horticultural Education in England, 1900-40: Middle-Class Women and Private Gardening Schools“. Garden History, vol. 31, no. 1, Spring, 2003, pp. 67-89. JSTOR:

Nuñez Rey, Concepción. Carmen de Burgos. Colombine. Periodista Universal. Junta de Andalucía, Consejería Cultural, 2018. Available via Tiendas Culturales de Andalucía (20 euros + shipping).

Sánchez, María. Tierra de mujeres: Una mirada íntima y familiar al mundo rural. Seix Barral, 2019.

Posted in Art, First-wave spanish feminism, History, Literature, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spanish Women’s Literature and Feminism for the L2 classroom: Tsunami, Miradas feministas (2019)

Since I last wrote about my favorite book from 2019, I thought it made sense to move on to one of my other top reads, which was another one of the MANY books I carried home after spending most of my summer in Spain. This one in particular holds so much potential for use in my undergraduate Spanish literature and culture classes, and as I think about this for the 2020-21 academic year, I thought sharing some details might help out my fellow Spanish professors looking for new ideas. Tsunami, Miradas Feministas (first image below) is a collection of 10 feminist essays edited and compiled by Marta Sanz and published in early 2019… well, it’s actually 9 essays, several viñetas (cartoons/comics by Flavita Banana), one piece of narrative fiction (Sara Mesa‘s contribution, which opens the volume), plus Sanz’s Prologue. The book also contains an essay from María Sánchez, the author of Tierra de mujeres, aka, my favorite book of 2019 (last image below).


One of the reasons I really enjoyed this book has to do with the inclusion of a variety of voices from different generations (the contributors were born over a 30-year span, between 1958-1989). But also, as I mentioned above, I think it will be useful in my future Spanish literature/culture courses because, when selecting readings for these intermediate-level content-courses, I often struggle to find materials written in Spanish at a level appropriate for my students (whose L2 skills can range, in a single class, from intermediate-low/mid/high to advanced-low/mid/high). Academic articles tend to be too specialized, detailed, and dense for their language skills, expertise, and levels of interest in the intricacies of feminist theory or Spanish cultural history. But the essays in Tsunami offer a great balance, as they are written more for a general audience (rather than an academic one), and they range from about 10-15 pages each.


Image via Sexto Piso

In May (2019) Tsunami’s contributors gathered together in Madrid for a promotional event. When I learned of the event in Madrid, I had just purchased and begun reading the book, and I planned to attend the presentation with a few students, since my summer study abroad program would begin at the end of the month. But on the day of the event, we had several(!) issues with transportation and were unable to arrive back to the city from our day trip to Segovia in time. As disappointed as I was, I was excited to learn that the entire session and interviews were recorded and made available on YouTube via Espacio Fundación Telefónica Madrid. Together with Tsunami, this video will be an especially useful teaching tool to complement selected readings — even if I only choose to assign one or two chapters. My students have recently seemed to appreciate out-of-class listening/viewing assignments that give them a break from traditional daily readings and allow them to work on oral comprehension skills. The full video is below, and it’s organized very well to give each speaker/writer a chance to discuss their views on or experiences with feminism, and to elaborate on the ideas they each present in Tsunami.

In this post I’ll briefly highlight 4 chapters from the book that I found to have the greatest potential for students studying Spanish in the US (in my case, at a large state institution). The essays in Tsunami all deal with issues related to feminism and women’s lived experiences in Spain, from the latter half of the 20th-century through today. Each woman reflects on her past experiences with feminism (or anti-feminism; patriarchal or machista cultures, policies, and institutions), on current feminist debates, and/or on the feminist movement in Spain right now. Rather than summarize the content of each chapter (many Spanish blogs have already done so; this review via ‘Explicaciones no pedidas’ is quite thorough, as is (somewhat surprisingly) El pais‘s discussion of Queen Letizia’s summer reading — Tsunami)… so in this post I thought I’d select a single excerpt from the essays I wanted to highlight.

“La amabilidad” (Kindness) by Sara Mesa (b. 1976)


Sara Mesa. Image via Zenda Libros.

Sara Mesa opens the volume with a short story, a first-person narrative that relates three moments in the life of a young woman and single mother. The story is organized in three parts, breaking with traditional chronological narratives to present events by year, beginning with 2001, then reverting to 1998 and 1999. This would be a great text to use in an intermediate or even advanced literature course. One of my favorite descriptions has to do with the pregnant protagonist’s trip to the doctor, and would serve as a great example of #Mansplaining for students to identify in a Spanish-language context:Los embarazos no se cuentan por meces, dice ahora. Hace tiempo que no se cuentan por meses, y añade: lo correcto es contarlos por semanas, lo correcto y lo preciso, cómo es que ella aún no sabe esto, ¿no se lo han explicado?” / Pregnancies are not counted by months, he says now. It’s been awhile since they’ve not been counted by months, and he adds: the correct thing to do is count them by weeks, the correct and the precise way, how is it that she still doesn’t know that, haven’t they explained it to her? (p. 31). In an advanced literature course, students could also read this interview with Sara Mesa, where she discusses her recent preference for somewhat biased narrators where, while not completely crafting an internal discourse (some aspects of the character still escape the reader), she nonetheless focuses almost exclusively on one particular protagonist and how they experience and contemplate the world.

“A tí no te va a pasar” (It won’t happen to you) by Laura Freixas (b. 1958)

Evident by its title, Laura Freixas’ Tsunami-essay connects thematically to her most recent book, an autobiographical narrative published in 2019, A mi no me iba a pasar (It wasn’t going to happen to me). In this essay she traces the development of her feminist thought by speaking of her grandmother, her mother, and then of herself. She describes her grandmother as una mujer sometida que sabía que la rebelión era imposible” / a subdued woman who knew that rebellion was impossible (p. 46) and her mother as a woman who disliked — even hated — being relegated to the home and domestic tasks, yet nevertheless promoted those same values to her daughter: Era terrible ver a mi madre furiosa contra un estado de cosas tan injusto… y ordenándome que me sometiera a él” / It was terrible to see my mother so furious with the unfair state of things… yet ordering me so submit myself to this state as well (p. 52). The irony inherent in the fact that many women perpetuate patriarchal and machista values, or even encourage their continuation in their daughters, is not lost on Freixas, but she treats it less with irritation and more with a mix of light humor and empathy. This essay would work well in a course on Spanish Women’s Literature or Feminist thought, or even on 20th-century Spanish culture, focusing on gender roles or the Franco era. Moreover, in the above video, Freixas discusses the power and appeal of autobiographical feminist narratives.


Freixas goes on to describe how her mother encouraged her to study — as she had also studied — so that the same thing would not happen to her daughter that happen to her (pp. 53-54); and yet years later, Freixas finds herself highly educated, with a professional career, a husband, and two children… slowly transforming into a housewife and mother… and a writer in her “ratos libres” (free moments) (p. 61). Her essay — and her book — explore a question she now asks herself : Ahora me pregunto qué parte de responsabilidad tuve yo en ese proceso” / Now I ask myself what portion of responsibility I had in that process (p. 61). Her meditations and reflections on this question are personal, but also provocative. I say this not exactly because of their “radical” nature, but rather for Freixas’ willingness to explore and revisit some of the purportedly essentialist qualities attributed to women (caretaking, motherhood, creating a home) with an open and empathetic mind. She ends her essay — and speaks in the video — of “un secreto… un algo...” / a secret, a something (p. 63) that women like about that traditional female role (“que nos gustaba”). I’ll leave my comments here, or for another blog post (!), especially because I have yet to read Freixas’ full-length book, but I’m sure many readers familiar with feminist thought (in the US especially) can recognize the controversial nature of such a hypothesis. A mi no me iba a pasar is on my reading list this summer.

“La forastera” (The Stranger) by María Sánchez (b. 1989)

It turns out the word forastera“foreigner, outsider, stranger” — in the title actually refers (#Spoiler) to the author herself, which I was not anticipating as I began to read this chapter, but was made clear on the final page (p. 96).

Maria Sanchez_vozdegalicia

Image via La Voz de Galicia (

Sánchez’s essay is divided into six short sections — the second simply containing a single line: verses of poetry by Portuguese writer Maria Gabriela Llansol, translated from Portuguese to Spanish: Es mi propia casa, pero creo que vine a visitar a alguien / It is my own home, but I believe I came to visit someone” (p. 88). In this chapter, Sánchez’s reflections on returning to her rural home after studying in the city and becoming a veterinarian who now splits her time and work between rural and urban spaces, are both honest and poetic. The sense of being a stranger in your own home will surely resonate with many First Generation students — especially here in Kansas. For this reason, I think this essay – or even selections of its 1-2 page “chapters” would be ideal to use not only in Spanish literature or culture courses, but even in intermediate conversation or grammar courses (as a way to introduce literature and prepare students for mid-level content courses). The sixth and final part of Sanchez’s essay discusses feminism, specifically describing it as “una bofetada muy necesaria en mi vida. Una mano decidida a quitarme la venda que llevaba en el rostro, y que no sólo tapaba la vista, sino la voz y el oído / a very necessary ‘slap in the face’ in my life. A hand determined to remove the blindfold I wore on my face, and that not only covered my sight, but my voice and my hearing (p. 94). The self-reflection, at times self-criticism, and overall accountability to the women in her family and home community are evident in her prose, and Sánchez’s writing in this essay (and her book, Tierra de mujeres) offers a refreshing perspective.

“María Pandora” by Nuria Barrios (b. 1962)

Nuria Barrios’ essay would be a great addition to a course on 20th-century Spain — history, culture, or literature — as she presents reflections on her Catholic Education during the later years of the Franco dictatorship.

nuria barrios_Spainsnews

Nuria Barrios, whose newest novel (2020) is Todo arde (Everything burns), publishe by Alfaguara. Image via Spain’s News.

The essay opens making it clear that the Catholic Church’s control of adolescent education — especially represented by nuns — will be the object of critique: “Fui a un colegio de monjas de los dos a los dieciséis años. Cuando salí era agnóstica y feminista” / I went to a Catholic school run by nuns from 2 to 16 years of age. When I left I was agnostic and feminist (p. 149). She describes how the school was segregated by gender to such an extreme that even Jesus Christ was absent — only the Virgin Mary. As a result, she grew up surrounded almost exclusively by women, learning that her role, and that of all women, was to serve, to obey, and to remain quiet, in complete submission to men. Like the nuns, they were nearly invisible. Yet a core feature of this gendered indoctrination during adolescence — what Barrios calls “aquel puritanismo militante” / that militant puritanism (p. 154) — was how women learned to perceive their own bodies and sexuality. For Barrios, the results of learning to think this way during such an impressionable age are dangerous: “El puritanismo es una violencia soterrada. Es dificil medir las consecuencias de imponer a adolescentes esa forma rigida y artificisiosa de contemplar la vida” / Puritanism is a hidden violence. It’s difficult to measure the consequences of imposing on teenagers this rigid and artificial form of considering life. (p. 155).

Madonna and Child_Murillo-wikiart

Madonna and child, by Spanish Barroque painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1650). Image via Wikipedia.

Barrios goes on to explore how difficult it is to overcome or to free oneself of such ingrained cultural ideologies; how leaving a school does not mean one has successfully left them behind or escaped; how traditional, even unconscious ideas regarding masculinity (ex: authority, complexity) and femininity (ex: frivolity, domesticity) continue to inform — “contaminate” — what we read or consume; and how women’s vs. men’s cultural productions, especially literature, are interpreted and valued. I appreciated Barrios’ final discussion about her personal experience as a female writer in Spain, and about the continued and even growing need for women’s solidarity in Spain today, particularly in light of increasing resistance to feminist projects by parties like Vox and the PP (p. 165). For its consistent and coherent connection of Franco-era gender ideology to the present (current events), this essay would work well in a variety of intermediate Spanish culture, history, or literature courses.

What are some Spanish readings — not from textbooks! —  that are accessible to Spanish-language (L2) undergraduate students, especially in the US? What have you used successfully in your courses… or simply enjoyed reading yourself?


Sanz, Marta, ed. Tsunami. Miradas Feministas. Sexto Piso, 2019.

Freixas, Laura. A mi no me iba a pasar. Ediciones B, 2019.

Sánchez, Maria. Tierra de mujeres. Seix Barral, 2019.

Posted in Feminism, Literature, Pedagogy, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tierra de mujeres (Land of Women) and the Myth of an “Empty Spain”

Somehow I only managed to write 4 blog posts in 2019; and with all the “end-of-the-year” reflections and round-ups going around, I started to feel like I hadn’t really accomplished much. But when I sat down to think about Jan-Dec 2019, I realized that, although I felt especially busy and at times a bit behind, I was in fact very productive during this crazy-busy year. The accomplishment of which I am most proud is that I took a group of 10 students to Spain for nearly 5 weeks, on a program that I developed with the Instituto de Lengua y Cultura Españolas (ILCE) at Pamplona’s Universidad de Navarra and Kansas State’s Education Abroad offices. Taking students to Spain for a study abroad program had always been one of my main long-terms goals as a Spanish professor, and the fact that I designed and directed what will now be an annual program at my university is even more satisfying. You can read about this new Pamplona-based program here, and see a daily recap on the @KStateSpanish Instagram account (follow us!) via the hashtag #KSUSummerSpain2019 — scroll to the bottom to start at day 1.


With a group of K-State students in San Sebastian, after hiking up the paths to Monte Igueldo.

In any case, between May-July I spent 9 total weeks in Spain; 2 prior to the program, 5 leading the program, and 2 final weeks after the program ended. This extra time allowed me to work on a few research projects and acquire new materials for use in my courses. I spent a lot of time in a lot of bookstores, and I came home with an extra bag that was pretty much all books. Below are four of my favorites from my summer reading — all published in 2019. I purchased 2 or 3 of them from two of my favorite bookstores in Madrid, “Librería Mujeres,” just off the Plaza Mayor on c/San Cristobal, and “Mujeres & Companía, la Librería” near Ópera on c/Unión. I’ve included publisher information and Amazon links to each book at the end of this post, and I’ll discuss each of them at some point on the blog in 2020.


For now, I want to use this post to highlight what was my favorite read of 2019 — the book on the far right in my picture above — Tierra de mujeres: Una mirada íntima y familiar al mundo rural / Land of Women: An Intimate and Familiar Portrait of the Rural Community (Seix Barral 2019), by María Sánchez. Sánchez is a Spanish veterinarian and writer who grew up in a family of (male) veterinarians on a farm in rural Andalucía (Córdoba). She was born in 1989, which makes her a strong new voice within the younger, millennial generation. While there is not yet an English translation of her book, I found a general description which I’ll excerpt below (edit, 2020: via Pontas Agency, although the directly link appears to no longer active):

Interweaving family stories with reflections on science and literature, and some of the conflicts that plague the countryside (depopulation and the erasure of entire villages, exploitation of natural resources, inadequate environmental policies and poor working conditions), Land of Women arrives to fill a gap in the debate on feminism and rural literature. It also seeks to offer a realistic vision of country life, away from the bucolic postcards created in the big cities, and to underline the danger of losing knowledge passed down through generations.

Below is a sort of “Trailer” for the book, created by the publisher, Seix Barral:

Starting at the video’s 22-second mark, Sánchez’s words highlight the differences between rural men and women that the book explores. But her essay is not limited to simply defining or reflecting on rural men’s and women’s respective responsibilities or labors. Instead, she focuses on the differences in how others perceive, understand, and value men’s vs. women’s contributions. This includes her own perception, as a child and now as an adult — a rural veterinarian and the first woman in her family to practice the profession. Her words in the video (roughly translated to English) state: “As a young girl, I admired the men in my family. They were the voice (voz) and the arm (brazo) of the home. I wanted to be like them” (22-28 sec); “The women were a bit like ghosts that wandered through the house, doing and undoing. They were invisible” (29-34 sec). Early in Tierra de mujeres she explores this contradiction, asking herself why the women in her home did not have an important place among her role models or guides… Why, as a child, did she never (actively) aspire to be like the women in her family? (pp. 35-36). Her book delves into this question and the various cultural forces that prompt both her unequal valuation of “gendered” labor and her current questioning of traditional practices and mindsets that lead to this inequality, or imbalance, admitting that she does so with a mix of anger and guilt (“la rabia y la culpa”) (p. 36).

Tierra de mujeres_Seix barrel

Image via Seix Barral.

Though a young voice in Spanish literature, Sánchez has written several recent editorials for or given interviews to various online Spanish newspapers and journals/revistas. The Objective provides an excellent overview of her latest book, mixing the review with excerpts of a conversational interview with the author (full Spanish article here). A key idea the article presents — and that occupies Chapter 4 of Tierra de mujeres — is Sánchez’s distinction between “La España vacía” [empty] and “vaciada” [emptied]. For Sánchez, the first, now quite common phrase used to describe the dwindling rural population — “La España vacía, Empty Spain” — implies that there is nothing there in these spaces, in these pueblos, in these rural communities. A better phrase, she believes, is “La España vaciada, Emptied Spain,” which implies that there was something that is no longer there and, despite its absence, one can recognize that it did indeed exist, that it was an occupied, full, and lived-in space, and that it is not entirely gone. It was — and still could be — not only filled with people, but of a culture, a heritage, and an intense relationship between the environment, the territory, and the individual.


A scene from rural Navarra, Spain (in the north). Sánchez is from the south, which is quite different geographically. Image mine (2019).

I paraphrased the interview above, but Chapter 4 of Tierra de mujeres, “La España vaciada,” (pp. 83-100) delves into this issue in detail.  Here, Sánchez takes issue with how the media tends to portray this “Emptied Spain” in either a negative light — as a vacant land of ghost towns — or as a romanticized, nostalgic fantasy; a fiction. As she states, in some sense, today “el medio rural está de moda” (rural spaces are trendy right now) (p. 94). But they are portrayed as an idyllic escape or a restful oasis to which overworked city dwellers may flee for rest and recuperation. Rarely do we hear the real stories of those (young) individuals who have chosen to stay and make their living on the ranch or with their craftsmanship. Correspondingly, rarely are appropriate means of assistance or acceptable services provided to these communities that would help them flourish. Instead, rural spaces are treated paternalistically, as if they need to be rescued or saved institutions or individuals who are outsiders. But, Sánchez argues, they do not need saved, but rather recognized — their voices heard, their stories told, and their spaces occupied by those who live there, by those who come from there; not by those who come from cities or elsewhere. She discusses this issue further in a 2019 interview, “Llevar las instituciones a los pueblos sería solo una tirita” (Taking institutions to rural towns would simply be a band-aid), lamenting the fact that the notion of “Empty Spain” has become so prevalent, that even rural families encourage their children to leave for the cities because “no hay nada” (there is nothing) in their small, rural communities.


A rural landscape outside of Pamplona, northern Spain. Image mine.

What I appreciate about Sánchez’s writing and perspective is her ability to advocate for recognition of women’s traditional roles in a rural environment, both of which have fallen outside the purview of so-called progressive modernity and 20th- and 21st-century feminism, while never rejecting feminism for purportedly overlooking these rural women and their contributions. As she points out, it was precisely feminism that led her question the “narratives” she had learned, and it was feminism that led her to write this book, a text that ultimately reclaims the lives and stories of the women in her family and rural community (p. 39). In today’s world (and media landscape) where “traditional” and “progressive” ideas are becoming increasingly polarized in public discourse, and in which one viewpoint tends to demonize or reject the other, this is a refreshing and necessary approach to breaching such a divide through a single, particular issue (el medio rural). The second half of Tierra de mujeres contains chapters dedicated to Sánchez’s great-grandmother, her grandmother, and her mother. As such, it tells their stories and foregrounds these women’s “invisible narratives“, all of which form, for Sánchez, “Mi narrativa invisible. Las mujeres de mi casa” (My invisible story. The women of my home) (p. 41). Sánchez also discussed this idea late in 2018, prior to the publication of her book, in El Diario: Mujeres y medio rural: otra narrativa es posible.

I perceived numerous parallels in Sánchez’s essay to my goals in writing about Spanish motherhood (a “traditional” role) in the context of “progressive” first-wave feminist activity — similarities that I’m still trying to work through. So those will come up in a few future posts, as I use the blog to synthesize the content and share my thoughts on some of the newest books I’m reading… and to feel productive while I have such a heavy teaching load this year by writing informally and featuring some of my favorite pictures from summer in Spain.  OK, one 2020 post down! Time to finish my Spring syllabuses for Tuesday!

What were your favorite books from 2019?


RESOURCES (listed below as they appear in the above image from left to right):

Sanz, Marta (ed). Tsunami: Miradas Feministas. Sexto Piso, 2019.

Labari, Nuria. La mujer madre del mundo. Penguin Random House, 2019.

Vivas, Esther. Mamá desobediente. Una mirada feminista a la maternidad. Capitán Swing, 2019.

Sánchez, María. Tierra de mujeres: Una mirada íntima y familiar al mundo rural. Seix Barral, 2019.

Posted in Feminism, Literature, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

María Victoria de la Fuente Alonso’s Scenes of Sleep in Galicia

When I was in Spain in the summer of 2018, one of my friends welcomed me to her home in Pontevedra, where I stayed for a few days to explore this region of Galicia for the first time. She was eager to show me her city’s museum, El Museo de Pontevedra, and I was especially impressed with the art collection. Comprised of largely Galician (Gallego) artists, I discovered several new Spanish/Galician painters whose works I had not seen or read about before. One of my favorite paintings (below) was by María Victoria de la Fuente Alonso (1927-2009), who was born in Vigo. I was struck by the contrasting dark-neutral shades of grays and browns used for the background and the child’s carriage with the bright white, impressionist-style representation of the child sleeping. I found the painting both beautiful and disturbing, as the dark shades and stark barren, somewhat foggy landscape give it an extremely somber, almost eerie appearance. In fact, when I first saw it, my reflex was to turn away, as I thought the child was dead (!).


“Maria dorme / Maria sleeps” (1965), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image mine taken at Museo de Pontevedra.

A similar aesthetic can be seen below in the painting of Fuente Alonso’s mother — the vaguely sketched features marked with heavy brush strokes, the almost excessive use of white paint for the skin, and the gray-brown, almost hollow eyes make this another painting that screams at the viewer to give it a second look. Evocative expressionist details, which were a key feature of Fuente Alonso’s paintings, are especially evident in this portrait. But at the same time, the neutral palette of grays, browns, and whites both tones down the painting’s potential to communicate any extreme emotion and quells the emotional response of the viewer.


“Retrato da miña nai / Portrait of my mother” (1967?), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image mine taken at Museo de Pontevedra.

It’s taken me over a year to get to posting these images, and in my search for more information on María Victoria de la Fuente Alonso I was surprised to find very little. In fact, very few of her paintings are even available online — only a few still-lifes and landscape paintings are featured on the website of the Galician institution, Afundación: Obra Social ABANCA, and its galleries. I was unable to find any additional details or information regarding these four paintings, and I could not even find higher quality images than these four photos I took at the Museo de Pontevedra in July, 2018. I’m grateful that the museum allowed photography, as I left there with a wealth of new ideas and resources to incorporate into my courses on Spanish Culture or Literature, and also with beautiful images of Fuente Alonso’s impressive work that I can share here on the blog. The above paintings of “sleep”, both from the 1960s, would pair nicely with a course on postwar literature (literatura de la posguerra), especially with women’s literature (Carmen Martin Gaite and Carmen Laforet, for example). Below, I especially love the contrast of muted greens and violets, the balance of the objects and open space, and the somewhat Victorian style evoked by, “The Cat in the Armchair”, which is much less eerie that the first two portraits above.


“O gato na cadeira de brazos / The Cat in the Armchair” (1986), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image mine taken at Museo de Pontevedra.

Finally, the below photograph I took of one of Fuente Alonso’s later works (2003), and the meta-artistic element is what caught my attention. I’ve been teaching a course at K-State on AP Spanish Literature for the past four years (which prepares grad students and undergrad Spanish/Education majors to teach high school AP Spanish Literature), and one of the six key themes of the AP Exam is “Literary Creation,” or “Metaficción“. This concept is visible in many traditional texts, like Don Quijote and Lazarillo de Tormes, but it is especially highlighted with the Latin American Boom of the 20th century — Borges, Cortazar, Fuentes, etc. The AP Exam also encourages and requires text-image comparisons — which I think is fantastic — and the below painting offers a new take on some of the more recognizable masterpieces I have seen appear on the exam preparation materials (Velazquez, Dali, M.C. Escher, etc.). It’s also a work by a woman, and female-authored texts are still sadly underrepresented on the AP Literature list, even in 2019. For example, Fuente Alonso’s “Tribute to Leonardo. Painting is a mental thing” (below) would pair nicely with Julia de Burgos’ poem, “A Julia de Burgos,” which also deals with women’s literary creation.


“Homenaxe a Leonardo. La pintura es cosa mental / Tribute a Leonardo. Painting is a mental thing” (2003), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image mine, taken at Museo de Pontevedra.

After spending time searching internet blogs, Google scholar, and my library’s databases, the most “extensive” information I could find on Fuente Alonso was still just the short biography from the Afundación website, which is only available in Spanish and Galician/Gallego. I’m translating (adapting) excerpts below so that there is at least SOME information about this unique painter available in English… I also really appreciate the detailed, almost literary descriptions of Fuente Alonso’s painting style. I do, however, plan to check out a few REAL BOOKS from my library or Interlibrary loan in the next few weeks — likely not until winter break — as the Afundación website does provide a bibliography that includes books on Galician painting that I have not consulted.

BIOGRAPHY: “[Born in Vigo, the] Daughter and granddaughter of great architects, Maria de la Fuente Alonso lived in an artistic environment from her infancy, which undoubtedly influenced her personality an interests. From 1945, she would spend long periods of time in Madrid, where she worked in the studio of the painter Julio Moises, which was an excellent learning experience for in terms of her working with color and precise lines in drawing. In 1953 she began to participate in art collectives, traveling to Paris in 1955 to discover masters of cubism like Picasso, Bracque, and Gris. She expanded her traveling to the Netherlands, studying Rembrandt and Verner, and then through Italy to learn about Sironi and Morandi. Her interest in mural painting led her to complete some important large-scale works that helped her discover her own personal artistic expression, largely through expressionism. In 1961 she won the Critics Prize (premio de la Crítica) for her individual exhibition in Madrid’s Ateneo, which confirmed her as one of the greatest female Spanish painters of her era. She continued her travels and in 1964 she married the painter Máximo de Pablo, and she won several national prizes in the following years. In the late 1960s she left Madrid and moved to Levante, a small town of salt lakes and fisherman, although she continued periodically visiting Madrid and her native city of Vigo, where she would exhibit her work. [continued below…]

Fuente Alonso_Afundacion_landscape

“El ocaso / The sunset” (1989), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image via Afundación.

[continued… ] ARTISTIC PRODUCTION: [Maria Victoria Fuente Alonso’s] work appears in numerous museums in Galicia and Spain, Europe and the Americas. She created effervescent scenes, with objects that were both concretely determined, yet also so interconnected that they appear almost gelatinous. Atmosphere… objects… everything is fused and confused in an ambiance of golds, ochres [dark yellows], and softened carmines. Her inventive portraits demonstrate a formidably disciplined drawing (clear lines), yet at the same time a great deal of freedom. This technique of hers is vital, exquisite, and truly masterful. Perhaps the most outstanding of her works are the Still Lifes, which have been elevated to the category of “imagined landscapes.” There is nothing more transparent than her glass windows, almost immaterial; yet also nothing more authentic that her fruits, which almost seem to dissolve themselves in their own juices. Despite all this, softness never really appears. On the contrary, in Maria Victoria de la Fuente’s paintings everything is energetic, firm, and expansive, even the expressionist moods. This painter from Vigo is, without a doubt, one of the greatest of contemporary Spanish painters.”

[The above translation/adaptation from Spanish to English is mine].

Fuente Alonso_La nevada_1972 via Afundacion

“La nevada” / The snowfall” (1972), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image via Afundación.

What other little-known (Spanish) painters have you come across in museums? What are some of the smaller, more local museums (in Spain) that have most impressed you? I’m always looking for new places to visit!


Bibliografia de pintura gallega / Bibliography of Galician Painting


Posted in Art, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment