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When the Empire Was a Colony: Roman Hispania and the Origins of Spanish Renaissance Culture

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Abstract

This dissertation offers a new account of how late medieval and early modern Spain revived the Iberian Peninsula’s classical-colonial past as the Roman province of Hispania with an eye toward the challenges it faced as an emerging nation. Hispania was one of the earliest non-Italian colonies of the Roman Empire, and as such lays claim to its own veritable canon of Latin authors (figures such as Seneca, Lucan, Quintilian and Martial) as well as the first non-Italian emperors (Trajan and Hadrian). Attuned to this layered legacy, the dissertation examines how the Hispano-Roman communal imaginary arose as an alternative to the dominant model of Gothicism, with its aristocratic and militaristic ethos. Instead, Hispania enabled an image of pan-peninsular wholeness, shared cultural heritage and ethno-racial pluralism that was especially molded by the intellectual contributions of Sephardic Jews and later Judeoconversos, Iberia’s marginalized minority community whom other national narratives sought to exclude by equating Spanishness with genealogical bloodlines and blood purity.

As its title suggests, this dissertation fundamentally reconsiders our notions of a Spanish Renaissance by proposing ways by which we can expand the literary and cultural archive of hispanism with previously unexamined works from various Iberian and Mediterranean languages and literary traditions, including texts in Spanish, both canonical and less studied, as well as writings in Latin, Hebrew, Ladino and Portuguese. By taking a broad temporal scope that spans twelfth-century Hebrew writings by Sephardic rabbis to more canonical literature of the Spanish ‘Siglo de Oro,’ the discussion not only bridges the medieval and the early modern but does so with the aim of challenging our categories of periodization. Within this temporal span, the core of its analysis rests in the century of Iberian experience between the mass forced conversions of Judeoconversos in 1391 and the expulsion of the remaining Sephardic Jews in 1492. From the writings of the Judeoconverso father-and-son Pablo de Burgos and Alonso de Cartagena to those of the Letrado Humanist and converso-descended Antonio de Nebrija, the cultural project of reviving Hispania is constructed, this project argues, in response to the breakdown of the so-called ‘convivencia’ between medieval Iberia’s Christians and Jews. This Judeoconverso re-imagining of Spain as Hispania sets the stage for Miguel de Cervantes in his Numancia to fashion through literature new possibilities for how art and culture construct categories of communal belonging.

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This item is under embargo until October 12, 2023.