This semester, I am taking a class in Spanish literature. The course aims to introduce students to a variety of different stories, poems, plays, movies, and even letters that can serve as a window to Latin American and Spanish culture. So far, it has been my favorite Spanish class at OU. I feel like I have actually improved in my writing, reading, listening, and speaking this semester, thanks to the course’s balance of discussions and assignments.
When I signed up for a class in literature, I expected to study only well-known books from the Spanish-speaking world. However, I was very mistaken. On the first day on class, we were asked to define the word “literature.” This was actually very challenging for me—I had never before considered what does and does not qualify as literature. After sharing our answers, the class came to the consensus that literature has no concrete definition, and that it is made up of all the written works that influence the culture around them in some way. Our professor, Dr. Julie Ward, then told us that we would be studying not only books, but also theater, film, poetry, and important letters.
The way the class is structured, we read or view the material at home and then use each class period to discuss it both in small groups and as a class. I find this layout to be extremely effective. Everyone reads the material, as each work of has an online quiz that we need to fill out before class. The quizzes are never overly challenging, as Dr. Ward understands that some of the assigned works can be difficult to understand. The in-class discussions always help me to complete my understanding, as there is always time for questions. Because the class is so small, I usually feel very comfortable raising my hand. Also, each week we are to participate in online discussions with classmates, including those in other sections. These forums are prompted by several questions, and we are required to not only answer these questions but also respond to other students’ posts. Through these methods, I find it very easy to keep up with the class.
I also have learned a great deal about Spanish and Hispanic culture by analyzing works from specific countries and time periods. For instance, we studied a short story titled “Las Medias Rojas” which exemplified the oppression of women in 19th century Spain. We then watched a film called “XXY” that centered on gender roles in present-day Uruguay. Above all, I enjoy how diverse the readings/movies are—they often share themes, but come in very different forms from very different times and places. This shows us how Spanish-speaking cultures relate and differ culturally, and also how they have changed throughout history.
Aside from sampling a variety of literary works, each student is assigned a scholarly edition assignment. We must select one of the pieces that we study, and create a version of it that is thoroughly annotated and explained. I chose Christopher Columbus’s letter to Luis de Santángel, one of his primary sponsors on his first voyage to the Americas. I actually found it very easy to annotate, as it is one of the longest pieces we study and full of controversial topics. For example, I am currently writing my research paper (another component of the scholarly edition assignment) about Columbus’s approach to the native people of the Caribbean in his letter. The way he discusses them reveals a lot about how he views them, and foreshadows his later treatment of them. After finishing the scholarly edition and literary research paper, I feel I will be much more prepared to tackle future classes both in Spanish and English.
Overall, I think I have gained more from this class than from any other Spanish class I have ever taken. I certainly feel more capable, and I look forward to the two Spanish classes I’ll be taking next semester.