Spanish and Spanish American Studies have grown enormously in British universities in recent decades, largely as a result of a general appreciation of the importance of Spanish as a world language and of the diversity of the cultures of Hispanic origin, including in the USA. The Sub-faculty of Spanish at Oxford is one of the largest teaching units of Hispanic studies in the United Kingdom, and its intake of both undergraduates and postgraduates has expanded in response to the general expansion of the subject at university level. The Sub-faculty is also dedicated to promoting Spain’s minority languages and is one of the very few universities in the UK to offer teaching and research opportunities in Galician studies, under the auspices of the Centre for Galician Studies. It also receives funding from the Catalan government for a Generalitat Teaching Fellowship in Catalan.
The Sub-faculty enjoys a flourishing research culture in which its traditional strengths in medieval and Golden-Age literature, and also in the history of the language and linguistics, are complemented by its research strengths in the modern and contemporary literatures and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. The vigorous growth of Spanish has been recognised by the University in recent years through the award of a number of new posts in the Sub-faculty.
The undergraduate course at Oxford reflects the diversity and richness of the languages and the cultures of Spain as well as of the South and Central American countries. Most undergraduates coming up to read Spanish at Oxford will also be studying another modern language. Spanish can be studied on its own as a single language, in combination with another language, or in one of the various Joint Schools (with Linguistics, English, History, Philosophy, a classical language, or a Middle-Eastern language). The degree course normally lasts four years and includes a year abroad, which may be spent studying at a university (or teaching English) in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country.
Most undergraduates coming up to read Spanish at Oxford will also be studying another modern language. It is also possible to study Spanish on its own or in one of the various Joint Schools (with English, History, Philosophy, a classical language, or a Middle-Eastern language). The degree course normally lasts four years and includes a year abroad, which may be spent studying at a university (or teaching English) in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country, or—where you are studying another language— in a country where that language is spoken.
The First-Year (Preliminary) Syllabus
The first-year course is intended to provide preliminary training in the linguistic and literary skills you will need later on in your studies at Oxford. It is designed as a bridge between the work you have done for A-Level and what you will be doing on the Final Honours Course. Unless your other subject of study is a Middle-Eastern language, the examination for which you study in your first three terms in Oxford will be the same, consisting of two language papers and two literature papers.
Most Spanish language teaching is done centrally by the Faculty Spanish Language Instructors, who are always a native speakers of Castilian. There will also be translation classes provided by your college tutor.
There is no officially recommended grammar book for the first-year course but among the better grammars of Spanish for native English speakers is John Butt & Carmen Benjamin, A new reference grammar of modern Spanish, which will be of use to you throughout your time at Oxford. Most undergraduates also choose to have their own dictionary. The Collins Spanish dictionary and the Oxford Spanish dictionary are good bilingual dictionaries; probably the best monolingual dictionary of Spanish is María Moliner, Diccionario de uso del español. Most college libraries have copies of these.
Paper III consists of four major works selected for close study in relation to various possible approaches to literary texts: Calderón, El médico de su honra, a play written by one of the best-known Spanish dramatists of the seventeenth century; Cervantes, Rinconete y Cortadillo, a short story from his Novelas ejemplares collection of 1612; Machado, Campos de Castilla, a collection of poetry by one of Spain’s best-known poets of the first half of the twentieth century; and Vargas Llosa, La Fiesta del Chivo, a novel written by one of the major living Spanish American writers.
In the examination for this Paper you will be asked to translate into English a short passage from one of the above texts, write a literary commentary on a passage selected from another, and also write two essays on two separate texts.
Paper IV traces the history of the Spanish ballad tradition from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. The examples prescribed are studied in relation to general trends in literature or thought and also to historical background. You will study ballads from the Middle Ages (the romancero viejo), the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Lope, Quevedo, and Góngora), the nineteenth century (Rivas) and the twentieth (Machado and Lorca).
In the examination for this Paper you may choose to write either three essays, or a literary commentary on a sample ballad and two essays.
These two literature papers are designed to introduce you to the rich variety of literature written in Spanish. Apart from their intrinsic interest, a knowledge of them will enable you to make more informed choices when you come to make a decision about which periods and authors you wish to study later in your course. They will also help familiarize you with the language of different periods and registers and with ways of approaching the study of literary texts. In the course of your first year there will be lectures on all the literary works studied for the Spanish Preliminary Examination.
During the first three terms of your course you will write essays for your College Tutor on all four works studied in Paper III and on the various authors and periods covered by Paper IV. You will also be taught in College classes how to tackle a literary commentary.
If you are studying Spanish on its own, from 2018 there will be additional papers in film, medieval literature, and the short story.
This is NOT a full account of the rules about choices and combinations of options for the Honours course. When you come up to Oxford, you will be issued with a Course handbook and a copy of the university’s Examination statutes, both of which set out all the Honours courses in full. What follows is a brief introduction to the course content, so that you can see what will be on offer.
After the Preliminary Examination, tuition is provided to enable you to improve the whole range of your linguistic skills. You attend translation classes in which you refine your ability to render passages of various registers of literary Spanish into English and vice-versa; those classes are complemented by grammar tuition by a native speaker of Castilian. In addition, conversation classes are offered every term until the end of your course by a native speaker. In your fourth year a permanent member of the Sub-Faculty and one of our native speakers of Castilian will together provide a series of classes to guide you in translation and in the art of writing essays in Spanish.
There are options within the syllabus for the study of Castilian language, linguistics, and philology as academic subjects in their own right.
The Sub-Faculty of Spanish also offers you the opportunity to study languages spoken in Spain other than Castilian. Reflecting modern developments in that country, where the autonomous regions have in recent years become important politically and culturally, we provide classes in Galician and Catalan taught by trained native speakers of those languages. In your Final exams you can opt to take papers in Catalan or Galician language and/or literature. Students also often take the opportunity to study one or both of these languages just for fun.
In your Final exams you will take the following two language papers in Castilian:
Paper I. Translation from English into Castilian of two passages of modern English prose; and
Paper II. Translation from Castilian into English of two passages of modern Castilian prose.
You may also choose to offer a third language paper:
Paper III. Essay in Castilian.
There is also a compulsory oral examination, for which teaching is provided on a regular basis.
Linguistics —the academic study of language as such— offers you the opportunity to branch out from the two areas of study that undergraduates encounter during the first-year course: literature and the practical study of the language. The study of Linguistics teaches you to be conscious of how languages in general, and Spanish in particular, construct a complex system from simple principles.
There are two linguistics papers available to anyone offering Spanish as part of an Honours course:
Paper IV. The history of the Spanish language to 1700; and
Paper V. The linguistic analysis of contemporary Spanish as spoken in Spain and the Americas.
In addition, there is an optional linguistics paper designed for those studying only Spanish at Finals:
Paper XIII. General Linguistics.
There are six literature papers available on the Spanish Honours course (how many you take will depend on whether you are also studying another language or subject at university, but you will not take them all). They fall into two categories: periods of literature and prescribed authors/texts.
The period of literature papers are:
Paper VI. Spanish literature to 1499;
Paper VII. Spanish literature 1543–1695; and
Paper VIII. Spanish and/or Spanish-American literature from 1811 to the present.
The prescribed authors/texts papers are:
Paper IX. Three medieval texts: Poema de mio Cid; Juan Ruiz, Libro de buen amor; and Fernando de Rojas, Comedia de Calisto y Melibea (the work usually known as La Celestina);
Paper X. Two authors to be chosen from: Cervantes, Garcilaso de la Vega, Góngora, Quevedo, and Calderón; and
Paper XI. Two authors to be chosen from: Galdós, Alas, Valle-Inclán, Lorca, Neruda, Borges, Cortázar, and García Márquez.
There is one further paper which offers the chance to study a wide range of linguistic, literary, or cultural topics (including European cinema), some specifically Spanish, some related to other languages, and yet others that are not language-specific:
Paper XII. Special Subject.
For each of Papers IV to XI you will be taught in a combination of lectures, tutorials, and (in some cases) seminars. The core of the teaching of each paper will be a series of tutorials, typically between eight and twelve per paper. All these subjects are tested by written examination at the end of your final year, though you may elect to write an Extended Essay in lieu of the written examination on Paper XII.
More detail will be provided on each of these papers once you begin your studies at Oxford, or can be obtained by writing to the faculty.
Under normal circumstances, we encourage all our students to spend as much time as they can in Spain or Spanish America, and to opt for the four-year course which has a compulsory (third) year abroad. If you are reading another language with Spanish, you may choose to spend the year abroad in a country where that other language is spoken.
If you choose to spend that year in a Spanish-speaking country, you can apply to be an English-language assistant in a Spanish or Spanish American school, or you can enrol at a university in Spain or a Spanish American country, or you can organize employment or some other way of spending your year in a Spanish-speaking country, as long as your College approves of your arrangements.
Spanish is the third most widely-spoken language in the world, after Chinese and English. It is the official language of almost all of the countries in Latin America, one of the three original charter languages of the United Nations, and a base language of the European Union. In the United States, Spanish is the fastest expanding second language, and people of Hispanic origin already constitute the largest minority and are set to become the largest single ethnic group within a few decades. The richness, diversity and importance of the literatures and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world have also contributed to the rapid expansion in the number of students taking Spanish at schools and universities in the UK, Europe and throughout the world.
The Spanish sub-faculty, which celebrated its centenary in 2005, is one of the largest centres in the United Kingdom for research into the literatures and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. It enjoys a flourishing research culture in which its traditional strengths in medieval and Golden-Age literature, and also in the history of the language and linguistics, are complemented by its research strengths in the modern and contemporary literatures and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. The creation of new posts in recent years has reinforced Oxford’s historic strengths and also extended the range of specialist expertise and critical approaches, further enhancing opportunities for research collaboration, interdisciplinary activity and graduate supervision.
The sub-faculty is also dedicated to promoting Spain’s minority languages and is one of the very few universities in the UK to offer teaching and research opportunities in Galician studies, under the auspices of the Centre for Galician Studies. It also receives funding from the Catalan government for a Generalitat Teaching Fellowship in Catalan.
Graduate work has been a major component of the sub-faculty’s activities for many years. Graduate students have come from the UK, Europe and the Americas to do research on a whole range of topics; many of them go on to posts in other UK and foreign universities or in the corporate world. There are two fortnightly seminar series attended by researchers, teachers and graduate students, with papers given by members or visiting speakers on work in progress and current research. Graduate students also have the opportunity to share and discuss work in the sub-faculty’s two reading groups, and are encouraged to collaborate on the numerous research activities and colloquia held in Oxford. The postgraduate M.St. and M.Phil. degrees reflect the wide range of research interests and expertise available to students at Oxford.
To learn more about the research activities of the Spanish sub-faculty, please see research and teaching interests of permanent post-holders and associated members, or read about what current and recent graduates think of their courses.
All information on Spanish research can be found on the Faculty’s Research website.
Out of the Wings is an AHRC-funded project in collaboration with King’s College London and Queen’s University Belfast. The project aims to make the riches of the theatres of Spain and Spanish America accessible to English-speaking researchers and theatre professionals.
Dr. Jonathan Thacker (Merton College) is one of the directors for the project, while Dr. Kathleen Jeffs (New College) is a member of the research team. Recently, they held a symposium in Oxford on ‘Spanish Golden Age Drama in Translation and Performance’, on 18-19 March 2010.
‘Autoridad y poder en el Siglo de Oro’ — The University of Oxford participates in a research network with the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris, the Universität Münster, and the Universidad de Navarra (GRISO) on the topic of ‘Autoridad y poder en el Siglo de Oro’. The universities collaborate on a series of colloquia, the most recent having been held in Paris in November of 2009. Oxford hosted the second session of the colloquium in 2007, focusing on the topic of ‘Autoridad y autoría’. For further information, please contact Professor Edwin Williamson.
The Forum for Iberian Studies (FIS) is a vehicle for the discussion of Iberian Cultures at Oxford. The XIV Forum for Iberian Studies, ‘The Limits of Literary Translation’, was held at Exeter College, Oxford on 24-25 June 2010.
‘Developmental language disorders: Pilot study of a Spanish-Valencian bilingual with genetic disorder’ is a pilot research project, funded by a John Fell research grant (PI Dr. Paloma Garcia-Bellido, St. Cross College), in collaboration with the Genetics Unit of the University Hospital La Fe of Valencia (Spain). Its aim is to contribute to the understanding of how genetic anomalies may disrupt brain functions which support speech and language, so that ultimately efficient intervention can be found to help those who are affected.
Sub-faculty members often collaborate to develop conferences and colloquia on a variety of topics. These conferences attract researchers and speakers from around the university, as well as throughout the UK and internationally. Some of the most recent conferences include the following:
Golden Age Graduate Symposium (January 2011) — In 2010, doctoral students Naomi Walker (Exeter College) and Alice Brooke (Merton College) coordinated the first Oxford Graduate Symposium in Spanish Golden Age Studies, titled ‘Looking at the World Sideways’. Papers were given by graduate students and researchers from throughout the UK. The keynote address was delivered by Professor Jeremy Robbins on narration and digression in the Persiles. The second symposium, ‘Disguise in the Spanish Golden Age’, was held in January 2011 and will feature Dr. Isabel Torres as the keynote speaker. For more information on the symposium, please see the CFP or contact the coordinators.
‘El libro en el mundo hispánico: nuevas tendencias y direcciones’, an international conference on the History of the Book, was held in Magdalen College on Monday 20 and Tuesday 21 September, 2010 (organisers: Dr. Juan-Carlos Conde and Dr. Clive Griffin).
In addition to its seminars and colloquia, the Spanish sub-faculty also sponsors three graduate reading groups. The Latin American Reading Group and the Golden Age Reading Group meet in alternate weeks to discuss readings and works in progress in an informal setting. The Contemporary Spanish Reading Group meets twice a term to read works published in Spain (in Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Spanish) in the last five years. Reading group discussions have led to the development of several conference presentations: most recently, six postgraduate students gave a panel discussion on Women’s Poetry at the Women in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies (WISPS) conference in October 2009.
The Latin American Reading Group meets at Wadham College on Fridays at 5:00 p.m. in weeks 1, 3, 5 and 7. For more information, please contact Robin Fiddian.
The Golden Age Reading Group meets at Exeter College on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. in weeks 2, 4, 6 and 8. For more information, please contact Tyler Fisher.
The Contemporary Spanish Reading Group meets at Mansfield College on Mondays in weeks 3 and 7.