In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Spanish forces swept into North Africa and conquered a series of coastal towns from Morocco to Libya. Historians have seen this as a kind of mirror image of Muslim conquests in the Iberian Peninsula, and the subsequent occupation seemed to take place in the familiar context of Christian-Muslim relations in the western Mediterranean. As such, Spaniards are presumed to almost have a pre-knowledge of a land that was an overnight sail from Andalusian ports; of topography that resembled Iberian landscapes; and of a climate, flora, and fauna that nestle comfortingly within a Braudelian belt of olive trees. How well do these measures indicate Spanish sensory perceptions in North Africa?
In this talk, Yuen Gen Liang (History, National Taiwan University) takes a close look at the evidence of what Spaniards saw, touched, heard, and felt in their contact with the Maghrib, focusing in particular on experiences of geography. Soldiers, officials, clerics, captives, redeemers, and writers who traveled to North Africa left behind administrative correspondence, maps, travelers accounts, captives’ tales, chronicles, and literature. Literary sources include formulaic and fantastical renderings of Africa. Provisioning ledgers document the imperial and trade networks that connected Spanish, North African, Italian, and Maltese lands. Candid remarks betray sensory responses to the sights, masses, textures, and tastes of the material world as well as expressions of bewilderment, unease, and peril. Overall, these experiences provide a rich description of Spanish engagement with western Mediterranean geography. They also point out that human subjectivities conditioned experiences of physical geography and that human activities directly altered the way that objectively measured spaces were experienced.
Sponsored by the UCLA Department of History. Co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.