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? 😉

About Dr. Rebecca Bender

Spanish professor
This entry was posted in Art, Feminism, Language, Literature, Pedagogy, Spain and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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