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These are the Special Subject options available in 2022-23. These are indicative of the course offerings for the sub-faculty, so applicants should note that not all options will run in all years, and some course content might change. 



Myth, History, and the Construction of Identity in Medieval Iberia (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Professor Geraldine Hazbun

This course will examine the re-imagining of the past in medieval epic and chronicle, with a view to exploring the ways in which the literary reconfiguration of history in these texts shapes the identities of their day, comprising ethnicity, gender, proto-nationalist sentiment, and religious affiliation. Close attention will be paid to the literary strategies which underpin the transformation of history, and to the creative interchange of history and myth. With close reference to the rich cultural background and political history of medieval Iberia, the course will also seek to understand the ideological foundations of the reconception of history.


The Golden Age

Developments in Prose Narrative in the Spanish Renaissance (Michaelmas Term or Hilary Term)

Convenor: Professor Jonathan Thacker and Dr Oliver Noble Wood

This course examines the extraordinary innovations in prose narrative in the Spanish Golden Age. This period saw the publication of the first picaresque novels, Don Quijote, Persiles y Sigismunda and a new type of short fiction (practised by Cervantes, Lope de Vega, María de Zayas and Salas Barbadillo amongst others). The course investigates the history of and reasons for the use and abuse, acceptance and rejection, imitation and parody of earlier models in prose works short and long. The influence of classical, Italian and native Spanish prose narrative on late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century works by a number of authors is traced in some detail.

Drama and Society in the Golden Age (Michaelmas Term or Hilary Term)

Convenor: Professor Jonathan Thacker

The main purpose of drama is not to support a dominant ideology. This statement is taken as axiomatic in this course’s attempts to test the extent to which Golden-Age drama questioned the dominant world-views of the period. An age which experienced a consolidation of power in church and state and in which many lived in fear of the agents of the Inquisition managed to produce a kind of theatre which could ‘decir sin decir’, which could subtly undermine the ruling ideologies. As well as examining the relationship of theatre to authority (including its use as propaganda) in the works of the major dramatists of the period, this course traces the history of the reception of Golden Age drama from its early troubles with the moralists through to present day critical orthodoxies.


Literature and Painting in the Golden Age of Spain (Michaelmas Term)

Convenor: Dr Oliver Noble Wood

This course explores the close relationship which existed between writing and painting in the Golden Age, one which went far beyond reworkings of Horace’s ‘ut pictura poesis’. There were poet-painters and painter-poets. Poets also wrote about painters and paintings, or cultivated a highly visual style; dramatists wrote plays about painters, and often use the metaphorical language of paintings. Painters wrote important treatises on painting which make frequent connections between verbal and visual art, while other writers have fascinating things to say about the programmatic nature of particular collections. The Council of Trent’s decree on images affected the course of religious art. The long debate about the status of painting – mechanical craft or noble art – caused writers and painters alike to defend its nobility by emphasising the painter as learned in many things (the libraries of El Greco and Velázquez demonstrate how widely they read). The course will look especially at Juan de Jáuregui, José de Sigüenza, Vicencio Carducho and Francisco Pacheco, alongside paintings by Spanish artists of the period, notably El Greco and Velázquez.


The Reception of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the Golden Age of Spain (Michaelmas Term, Hilary Term)

Convenor: Dr Oliver Noble Wood

In Spain, as in the rest of Western Europe, the Renaissance saw an explosion of interest in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The range of approaches to Ovid’s work seen in this period is reflected in the many and varied forms in which it circulated (‘moralized Ovids’, vernacular translations, illustrated editions, iconographical handbooks, etc.). Writers and painters freely plundered Ovid’s rich storehouse of mythological narratives for subjects worthy of imitation. Such subjects included the tales of Icarus, Orpheus and Eurydice, Polyphemus and Galatea, Pyramus and Thisbe, and Venus and Adonis. This course will examine the influence of Ovid’s Metamorphoses on the literary and visual culture of the Spanish Golden Age. It will look at a range of different attitudes to Ovid, chart the development of the mythological epic and the mythological burlesque, and explore the use made of the “poets’ Bible” in the works of poets and painters such as Garcilaso, Góngora, and Velázquez.


Spanish American Poetry, 1500-1700 (Michaelmas Term)
Convenor: Dr Imogen Choi

This course will explore the beginnings of Spanish American poetry in the colonial era, from Alonso de Ercilla to Sor Juana. A field of study which is expanding year on year, as new texts are discovered, edited and analysed, the poetry of this period presents a fascinating if incomplete panorama of the variety of ways in which imaginative literature responded to and interacted with the emergence of new, multilingual, multi-racial colonial urban and frontier societies. Close attention will be paid both to the historical contexts in which poetry was produced, circulated and received in the American viceroyalties, and to the ways in which poets interact both with literary currents in Europe and with the classical tradition. Comparative perspectives are welcome. Topics for study might include the historical epics of conquest and colonial warfare; collections of lyric; popular and occasional poetry; satire, burlesque and religious and devotional works.


Faith and Identity in the Early Modern Iberian World (Hilary Term)
Convenors: Dr Imogen Choi and Dr Alice Brooke

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the Spanish-speaking world saw the creation of some of the greatest works of the mystical tradition, as well as a flourishing of religious poetry, drama, music and visual arts. These centuries were also a time of religious reformation, intolerance and persecution, during which Jewish, converso, and crypto-Muslim writers within and outside of Spain continued to produce their own literatures, which dealt with themes of exile, identity and the relationship to sacred texts in creative and surprising ways. Topics and authors studied might include Teresa of Ávila, John of the Cross, Luis de León, authors of the Sephardic diaspora, colonial devotional poetry and aljamiado Morisco texts, but students are encouraged to follow their own interests and will be introduced to a range of methodological approaches.  


Modern Peninsular Spanish


Responses to the Spanish Civil War (Michaelmas Term, Hilary Term)

Convenor: Dr Daniela Omlor

This option explores the varied responses to the Civil War in Spanish literature across a range of genres. The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) has played an important role not only in the history of Spain and Europe but also within literary and cultural production. During the war, literature and culture were often utilized as propaganda tools on both sides and the war continued to be a point of reference during Franco’s dictatorship, both for writers in exile and at home. From the transition to democracy which followed Franco’s death in 1975 onwards, Spanish literature has been engaged in a so-called recovery of historical memory which ran in parallel with the passing of the Ley de Memoria Histórica (2006). Students will investigate the various responses to the war and its aftermath in the works of writers such as Javier Cercas and Javier Marías. They will have the opportunity to focus on those issues and genres that interest them the most and are encouraged to employ a variety of different approaches to the study of the subject, including a comparative one.


Spanish American

Realism and Its Alternatives in Spanish American Narrative (Michaelmas Term)

Convenor: Dr Dominic Moran 

Since the 1940s Spanish American narrative has been among the most innovative and vibrant in the world, as is witnessed by the work of such authors as Borges, Asturias, Carpentier, and Rulfo, who were established figures before the ‘Boom’ of the 1960s and 1970s, by internationally acclaimed ‘Boom’ writers like García Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Cortázar, and Fuentes, and by several generations of later authors who have been the focus of international attention. While some have been innovative realists, others have sought alternative means of depicting their sub-continent and conveying their personal vision. Students will investigate the various responses to realism seen in the works of modern Spanish American writers; they will, however, be encouraged to concentrate on those areas and issues that most interest them and to employ a range of approaches in their study of this subject.

Latin American Avant-Garde Poetry: Theory and Practice (Michaelmas Term)

Convenor: Dr Dominic Moran

This course would involve tracing and evaluating developments in Latin American poetry from Darío to Nicanor Parra and beyond, studying examples of poetry in relation to the various creeds and manifestos of the modernistas, ultraístas, estridentistas, creacionistas etc.


Sex, Sexuality, and Masculinities in Spanish American Literature (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Professor Ben Bollig

There is a strong recent tradition of studies of the role and portrayal of gender and sexuality in Latin American literature; a number of contemporary studies explore the question of “masculinities” in writing. In this option students will have the opportunity to explore a range of texts from the post-Independence period using a variety of theoretical optics. Topics may include: masculinity as a theme in “national romances” and other “foundational” texts (Mármol, Echeverría, Azuela); sexuality and the vanguards (Mistral, Neruda and others); the role of masculinity and machismo and its contestation in revolutionary writing (Vallejo, Dalton, Lezama Lima); the portrayal of transvestism (Donoso, Puig, Perlongher) and gender- or sexuality-related violence (Menchú, Lemebel, Almada, Mariana Enríquez); and so-called “post-masculinities” (Carrera, Pauls).


Latin American Cinema (Michaelmas Term)

Convenor: Professor Ben Bollig 

This option gives students the opportunity to study and analyse major movements in the history of cinema in the countries of Latin America, from the radical experiments and manifestos of the 1950s and 60s to recent productions, including the successful international collaborations of the twenty-first century, and contemporary documentaries. The course encourages comparisons between directors, movements and films from different countries, through the lens of issues such as national identity, social criticism, ecology, landscape, gender, class and race. Students may also choose to focus on specific directors. They are encouraged to consider the relationship between theoretical approaches to cinema, including manifestos, as well as works of film-theory and film-philosophy, and the films being studied. [Students may attend the undergraduate lectures on Latin American cinema given by the sub-faculties of Spanish and Portuguese.]


The Body in 20th and 21st Century Spanish American Fiction (Hilary Term)

Convenor: Dr Olivia Vazquez-Medina 

This course allows students to conduct a thematic study of the body across a range of Spanish American fiction from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The body is a central motif in works by authors such as Miguel Ángel Asturias, María Luisa Bombal, Juan Rulfo, Rosario Castellanos, Gabriel García Márquez, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Luisa Valenzuela, Carmen Boullosa, Lina Meruane, and Guadalupe Nettel. In works by these and other writers, bodies have been used to articulate a variety of themes and concerns, addressing a range of human experience from the personal to the national. Students will be able to focus on the primary texts that most interest them, and will be introduced to the contextual and theoretical frameworks that may be most relevant in each case.


Haunting in Latin American Fiction (Michaelmas Term)

Convenor: Dr María Blanco

This course will explore Latino-American literature of haunting, ghosts, and revenants in the long twentieth century. Students will be asked to question the use, location, and logic of ghosts in literary fiction. They will also study the ways in which different authors (among them Machado de Assis, Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez, Juan Rulfo, and the contemporary Latino writer Junot Díaz) craft these figures and the events of haunting in order to ask specific questions about the problems of history and its progress. The curriculum will be organized according to different theoretical approaches that have been used to study ghosts, thus offering students the opportunity to perform close readings of key texts, as well as methodological frameworks to debate the critical understanding of this literary phenomenon.


Decadence, Art, and Science in Spanish America (Michaelmas Term, Hilary Term)

Convenor: Dr María Blanco

In this course, MSt candidates will be able to study the literature, art, cultural, and scientific debates from the transatlantic fin de siècle (1880-1920), their reception in Spanish America and how these affected Spanish American thinking. An exploration of these debates will help candidates situate the emergence and expansion of modernismo across the region. Alongside key modernista texts such as Martí’s Versos sencillos (1882), Darío’s Azul… (1888), Prosas profanas (1896), Los raros (1896), and Cantos de vida y esperanza (1905), José Enrique Rodó’s Ariel (1900), and Leopoldo Lugones’s Lunario sentimental (1909), candidates will be able to read a series of essays, chronicles, and treatises on such areas of life as aesthetics, science, and sexuality, which were widely disseminated during this period (among them Darío’s “Los colores del estandarte” from 1896, Pedro Emilio Coll’s “Decadentismo y americanismo” from 1901, and others like Max Nordau’s Degeneration, 1892).


Medieval and Early Modern Iberian Studies

Students who choose to work exclusively on subjects in the Medieval and Golden Age periods may include one element in Portuguese.

Latin American Literature

Students who choose to work exclusively on Latin American subjects may include one Brazilian element.