Symposium Report

Dear Colleagues:

On Wednesday November 30, 2011, the Spain-North Africa Project held a Symposium at Catholic University of America. This was a milestone for SNAP, as it was the first fully independent event the young organization has convened and the largest gathering of SNAP scholars yet, drawing nearly 40 participants.

The Symposium featured three academic functions over the course of the day: a workshop, a panel, and a roundtable, all followed by a reception to cap things off. Together, the academic and social activities created a forum for dialogue and exchange, and they advanced SNAP’s goal of developing knowledge of the connections between the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghrib and of fostering academic community.

The workshop featured precirculated papers by Adam Gaiser, Cynthia Robinson, and María Marcos Cobaleda. Gaiser’s paper, “Singing Girls and All that Sparkles: Politics and Trade in Early Umayyad Iberia and Khārijite North Africa,” looked at the political and economic relations between the Rustimids and the Umayyads of Cordoba during the early Islamic period, focusing on the role the slave trade played in stimulating political relations, even between professed ideological foes. Robinson’s piece, “Tents of Silk and Trees of Light in the Lands of Najd: The Verbal and the Visual at a Mawlid Celebration in the Alhambra,” examined a narrative account of the festival marking the birth of the Prophet, as celebrated in 1362 at Granada’s Alhambra. Robinson analyzed how poetic descriptions of sylvan motifs and the role of light brought about a state of ecstasy. Reconstruction of these aural and visual motifs help elucidate aspects of religious devotion in Nasrid Granada, a field that remains relatively unexplored. Marcos Cobaleda’s paper took a trans-Straits approach to the subject of artisanal work completed under Almoravid patronage. She argued for a corrective to the traditional view that artistic and artisanal dissemination was unidirectional, spreading from al-Andalus to the Maghrib. Together, these three works engaged with one another, and drew in the audience, in a manner that stimulated lively a discussion about networks, cultural diffusion, and the relationship between religious ideology and political authority.

The panel consisted of talks by Mar Martínez-Góngora, David Coleman, Claire Gilbert, and Mayte Green Mercado. These four pieces, tightly centered on the sixteenth century, tackled the subject of the Peninsula and the Maghrib through an examination of figures who moved back and forth between the two landmasses, as well as depictions of the inhabitants of one or the other. Martínez-Góngora’s talk, “Similar Land, Inferior Populations: Imaging the Spanish Exploitation of the Maghreb,” analyzed the works of two prominent sixteenth-century Spanish authors, Luis del Mármol Carvajal and Antonio de Sosa, whose writings depicted the Maghrib as a land of abundance, but whose economic potential remained unrealized due to what they considered the moral shortcomings of North Africa’s Muslim inhabitants. David Coleman, in “Of Corsairs, Converts and Renegades: Forms and Functions of Coastal Raiding on Both Sides of the Alboran Sea, 1487-1550,” looked at the phenomenon of corsair raiding, tracing similarities in the social function and impact that such raiding held in Christian and Islamic societies on either side of the Sea of Alborán. Claire Gilbert’s paper, “That Faithful Word: Early Modern Mediterranean Intermediaries and the case of Abdarrahman Catani,” tackled the subject of intermediaries and translators, employing the case of the renegade Catani to develop a sense of the fluidity and malleability that characterized diplomatic relations across the sixteenth-century western Mediterranean. Mayte Green Mercado’s talk, “Reformation in the Western Mediterranean: Agustín de Ribera, Prophet and Messenger of Muhammad,” examined the case of a young man whose family (and eventually the broader morisco community) cast him as a prophet who conveyed a divine call for religious reform in a particularly Castilian Islamic guise. As a collection, the four talks comprising the panel demonstrated the rhetorical strategies employed by sixteenth-century peoples who attempted to accentuate religious difference and, simultaneously, the inability of such strategies to quell the extraordinary complexity that characterized and shaped human interaction in the early modern western Mediterranean.

The Symposium concluded with a roundtable. Lourdes Álvarez, Glaire Anderson, Jocelyn Hendrickson, and Jonathan Ray each gave brief remarks on taking a pan-Straits approach to a variety of topics in both research and teaching. Following these introductory statements, the floor was opened up to a general discussion that engaged the members of the roundtable and the audience. Of particular interest during this discussion was the tendency in traditional scholarship to treat the Maghrib and the Iberian Peninsula as peripheral or exceptional. The conversation focused on the ways in which such depictions have determined scholarship on the western Mediterranean, as well as the role that SNAP might play in opening up new approaches to the study of the western Mediterranean in the medieval and early modern eras.

At the end of formal sessions, attendees unwound and interacted with one another in a casual and convivial reception. Together with the day’s academic functions, the reception offered a forum in which scholars who might not normally attend the same conferences could connect and build a sense of academic community. The Symposium drew a sizeable number of attendees, and served as an auspicious first step as the Spain-North Africa Project begins to organize its own events and to establish the framework for a variety of future projects.

Lourdes Álvarez and the Catholic University of America were extremely generous in hosting the SNAP Symposium. The Johns Hopkins University provided financial support for the event. Without the assistance of these two institutions, and the tremendous hospitality and organization given by Professor Álvarez and the staff at Catholic University, the Symposium would not have been possible. SNAP is grateful for their contributions toward such a successful symposium.

Andrew Devereux (on behalf of the Executive Committee)

More photos of the symposium here