BA English Literature and Spanish

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Culture and Empire in the Spanish Golden Age

Course unit fact file
Unit code SPLA31162
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The course will address the evolution of Hispanic cultures from 1492 to 1695. We will examine their transformations by analysing and discussing texts, paintings and maps. We will focus on such themes as the relationship between empire and language, practices of literary imitation and transmission of culture between early modern Spain and Latin America. Students will also be encouraged to think through the lens of gender by examining the role of early modern female writers on both sides of the Atlantic. By the end of the course, students will have studied five canonical Hispanic writers (Garcilaso, Cervantes, Zayas, Góngora, Sor Juana), three major Baroque painters (Velázquez, Valdés Leal, Cabrera), as well as a key Counter-Reformation saint (Teresa of Ávila). They will also have been introduced to the colonial cases of Mexico and Peru. No previous knowledge of early modern Spanish literature, culture or history is required to attend the course.


Available on which programme(s)? 

All programmes with Spanish 


Medium of language 

English; certain readings and seminar materials will be assigned in Spanish. However, English translations or alternatives will be made available if necessary.  


•    To expand students’ understanding of the cultures, literatures and histories of the early modern Hispanic world
•    To provide basic grounding in the relationship between art and poetry 
•    To give due prominence to Creole, mestizo and indigenous works within a more inclusive and less hierarchical canon of Spanish Golden Age and viceregal Latin American literatures 

Knowledge and understanding

Upon successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

•    Identify and describe the major trends in Hispanic cultures from the Renaissance to the Baroque
•    Understand and explain some of the ways in which literature, art and cartography can reflect social and political transformations
•    Assess the potential of artistic creations to articulate different forms of (proto)racial, class-based, and gender identities (with a focus on colonial Mexico and Peru)

Intellectual skills

Upon successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

•    Analyse the social and political content of different narratives and how they can be placed within the broader panorama of early modern Spanish history
•    Demonstrate advanced research and thinking skills
•    Evaluate the key issues at stake within debates surrounding Spanish imperialism, focusing on Nebrija’s assertion “siempre la lengua fue compañera del imperio” [language has always been a partner of empire] 

Practical skills

Upon successful completion of this unit students will have further developed their ability to:

•    Read, understand and discuss early modern literary works, paintings and maps
•    Apply critical theory to cultural productions
•    Articulate ideas in written and oral forms in a critical manner

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Upon successful completion of this unit students will have:

•    Honed their communication skills for working both collaboratively and independently
•    Furthered their ability to critically evaluate texts, images and ideas
•    Developed the skills to critically examine the intersections between literature and art and, more broadly, word and image 

Employability skills

The course will be useful for students considering a career in Spain or with organisations that deal with Spanish-speaking countries, particularly in the cultural heritage sector (e.g. museums, libraries or archives). Given its research component, the course will also benefit students considering graduate studies.

Assessment methods

Assessment task  

Formative or Summative 

Weighting within unit (if summative) 







Feedback methods

Feedback method  

Formative or Summative 

Oral feedback to class during lectures and to groups during seminars 


One-to-one feedback (during consultation hours or by making an appointment) at the students’ request 


Written feedback on assessed essay 


Written feedback on exam paper 



Recommended reading

  1. Aracil Varón, Beatriz. 2009. ‘Hernán Cortés en sus Cartas de relación: la configuración literaria del  héroe’, Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica, 57: 747–59
  2. Brown, Jonathan. 1986. Velázquez: Painter and Courtier (New Haven/London: Yale University Press)
  3. Campos Muñoz, Germán. 2013. ‘Cuzco, Urbs et Orbis: Rome and Garcilaso de La Vega’s Self-Classicalization’, Hispanic Review, 81: 123–44
  4. García López, Jorge. 2013. ‘Miguel de Cervantes y las Novelas ejemplares’, in Miguel de Cervantes, Novelas ejemplares (Madrid: Real Academia Española), pp. 717-88
  5. Greer, Margaret Rich. 2000. María de Zayas Tells Baroque Tales of Love and the Cruelty of Men (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press)
  6. Helgerson, Richard. 2007. A Sonnet from Carthage: Garcilaso de La Vega and the New Poetry of Sixteenth-Century Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press) 
  7. Martínez, Miguel. 2013. ‘Language, Nation, and Empire in Early Modern Iberia’, in A Political History of Spanish: The Making of a Language, ed. by José del Valle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 44–61
  8. Praz, Mario. 1970. Mnemosyne: The Parallel between Literature and the Visual Arts (London: Oxford University Press), pp. 3-28

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Luis Castellvi Laukamp Unit coordinator

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