An Old Woman’s Guide to Love: María Gertrudis Hore’s Amor Caduco

This is a presentation I’ll be giving at the 2017 American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Minneapolis in a session on the “Delusional Self”

In Félix Samaniego’s fábula “La Hermosa y el espejo”/“The Beauty and the Mirror,” a woman is infuriated to find that with the passing of the years, her faithful “friend” the mirror no longer praises her beauty with words of “gracioso” (cute) or “bonito” (pretty) but rather tells her the plain, hard truth that she is losing her former beauty. The poet scolds “Listen to me, if you look for friends who only talk about how elegant and enchanting you are, but never point out the faults that you can’t see in yourself, how will you ever improve?” Anarda, the woman in this poem, prefers her delusional sense of self over the truth, and Enlightened Spanish men like Samaniego were quick to criticize her for it. Recent scholars like Alvaro Molina and Michael Schlig have discussed visual and literary images of eighteenth-century Spanish women and women’s beauty, and in particular the use of the mirror as metaphor, which underscored: “inaccuracy, fallibility, and deceit, but in the same contexts they often also exposed unresolved issues related to relations between the sexes” (Schlig 378). Schlig goes on to cite Laura Mulvey’s important 1975 essay that established the concept of the male gaze as fundamental not only to film studies, but for any analysis of images—visual or literary—of the women’s bodies. Alvaro Molina, in his study of the visual representations of gender in eighteenth-century Spain, also examines the presence of mirrors and of male on-lookers in the depictions of the aging female body “En las imágenes que giran en torno al espacio del tocador, la verdad del espejo se opone frecuentemente a la de los aduladores que acompañan a la dama en su arreglo personal, sobre todo con el paso de los años”/In images that appear in dressing rooms, the truth of the mirror is opposed frequently by the adulators who accompany the lady in her beauty routine, especially with the passing of the years” (396). The exterior male gaze of patriarchy both fetishizes the female form while it censures a woman’s own narcissistic gaze into the mirror. Freud himself voices the same ambivalence that Enlightenment men held towards female beauty:

Women, especially if they grow up with good looks, develop a certain self-contentment which compensates them for the social restrictions that are imposed upon them in their choice of object. Strictly speaking, it is only themselves that such women love with an intensity comparable to that of man’s love for them. . . Such women have the greatest fascination for men, not only for aesthetic reasons, since as a rule they are the most beautiful, but also…it seems very evident that another person’s narcissism has a great attraction for those who have renounced part of their own narcissism and are in search of object-love. (“Narcissism” 87-88)

As Mónica Bolufer points out, eighteenth-century Spanish women too derived personal pleasure and social power from their appearance, and they enjoyed for themselves “the secret pleasure of narcissistic contemplation…of seeing oneself in the mirror of the gaze of others” (208).

The paintings “Majas on a Balcony,” “Maja and Celestina on a Balcony,” and “Time and the Old Ladies” by Francisco Goya, all created between 1808-1812 and believed to be intended as a series, highlight through both mirrors and external observers some themes related to the patriarchal gaze of female bodies. They also, through their use of aging female bodies that are sometimes juxtaposed with young female bodies, point to the fleeting nature of female beauty, and ridicule the delusional female self. Goya had explored these themes earlier, from the subtle irony of his various portraits of the Queen María Luisa—with identical arrow-shaped combs adorning both the Queen’s in the painting “The Family of Charles IV, and the later painting “Time and the Old Ladies”—, to the young majas and decrepit Celestina-like women of the engravings of the Caprichos—notably in these two: No. 3 “Ruega por ella” (Pray for Her) and 55 “Hasta la muerte” (Until Death). In this latter engraving both mirror and male and female observers reveal the truth of the old woman’s delusion—she is merely a caricature of a beautiful young woman, an object of ridicule of those who observe her. Yet her self-indulging Narcissistic gaze contrasts with the harsh scrutiny of the mirror, calling to question her interior sense of self—does she see what the others see in the mirror, or a delusion? Mulvey critiques the typical patriarchal depiction of woman, who is “tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning” (834). Not only is woman silenced, as she ages she is rendered irrelevant. Toril Moi, speaking of Freud’s declaration of “psychical rigidity and unchangeability” in women after thirty, exclaims that they are “the living dead, the Nosferatus of the soul. No wonder Freud finds them frightening” (842).

But the fact is that, despite all this, women were not silent or silenced, especially not after age thirty. In Spain a generation of Enlightenment women writers achieved literary success through publication in their 30s and beyond—playwright María Rosa Gálvez and poet Margarita Hickey were in their 30s, Josefa Amar y Borbón in her 40s, Inés Joyes y Blake in her 60s. In the remainder of this paper we will examine a poem Amor caduco (Aged love) by María Gertrudis Hore, who was 54 at the time of this poem’s publication in the Diario de Madrid in April of 1796. Hore (1742-1801), known by her penname Hija del Sol (Daughter of the Sun), was born to a wealthy Irish merchant family in Cádiz. She is remembered as much for a mysterious decision to leave her marriage and enter the convent of Santa María in Cádiz at the age of 36, as for her fourteen published poems, most of which appeared in journals in Madrid after becoming a nun in the late 1780s through the 1790s. The 1796 poem “Amor caduco” gives what on the surface seems to be a lighthearted but cautionary tale to old women who still dream of love. In the poem, the love-stricken old Cefisa stumbles and injures herself while daydreaming of a former lover, but she comes back to reality from her delusion after glimpsing her reflection in a stream: “¿Con rostro arrugado, Cabello nevado De amor padecer?” the poet inquires. Images of the poetic subject’s advanced age exist for the viewer/reader long before this climactic moment. From the poem’s first images—the “corvo cayado” (her cane), the description of her neck hunched over with age (doblado el cuello), and her trembling vision “trémula vista”—to its description of the fateful fall from her “weak and aged footing” (“anciana débil planta”) and resulting in her grave injury as she feels her face literally bathed in blood, we the readers observe with pity and perhaps ridicule her moment of self-recognition as an ironic twist on the myth of Narcissus where her own reflection does not captivate, but rather repulses. Still, the destiny of both Narcissus and Hore’s poetic Cefisa is death, graphically depicted in Cefisa’s bloody head injury, but also looming as she walks away slowly into the sunset towards home. Death first appears lines before Cefisa’s fall, in the memory of her dead lover, whom she describes as “de la Parca despojo desgraciado”/Death’s unfortunate loot. The use of the word “caduco” in title of the poem evokes not merely old-age, but decrepitude and obsolescence. Cefisa’s youth, her former beauty, and her love-life have passed, and outwardly they are barely discernable, the carved words from a long-lost lover “casi borrados” (almost erased) in the bark of an old tree. But for Cefisa, the memories that these barely visible words evoke are inerasable, and they bring back a pain so strong that she believes she would die from love, not from old age—“muriera de amor, de amor moriría”—the hypothetical imperfect subjunctive and conditional tenses connect past to present, while they evoke an inner experience that cannot be observed. The climactic moment of self-recognition as she views her bloody reflection in the stream is not that she is no longer young and beautiful—she is not like the decrepit old ladies of Goya’s pieces who persist in their delusional self-image—but rather that she, as her lover before her, is dying, and she recognizes it.

In the poem’s sensible conclusion, Cefisa rejects her old passions “entregando al olvido de su pasada juventud pasiones.” She leaves the idyllic outdoor scene of her youth—the green meadow (verde prado), the flowery field (campo florido), the tall oak (alta encina) and of course the stream running through it—and she returns to a domestic setting, her cabin, and to her loving “familia placentera.” It seems that Cefisa has learned her lesson, that she won’t persist in her delusion “Hasta la muerte” (until death) as Goya warns. Cefisa is thankful in the end, but of what? She gives thanks to Heaven that no one saw her swoon and fall, “que no hubo en el suelo quien viera su acción.” The poet interjects her own advice to old women at the end of the poem, turning this poem into its own female-fable to counter Samaniego’s prior admonitions to aging beauties. Hore’s advice is not that old women shouldn’t feel love, but rather, curiously, that if they do harbor lingering emotions of love, they should stop walking for a while “suspendan luego el piso” and avoid public humiliation “Pues si en público caen por acaso, causará mayor risa.” Hore both acknowledges the power of the male gaze in the possibility of public ridicule and humiliation, while she also affirms the importance of women’s inner emotional life.

Simone de Beauvoir described the aging woman’s inner emotional life in her monumental Second Sex as frustrated and negative “she shuts herself up with the secret she carries in her heart that is the mysterious key to her unhappy lot. She endeavors to try out in turn all the possibilities she has not exhausted. She begins to keep an intimate diary. . . . Just as the young girl dreams of what her future will be, so she evokes what might have been her past; she pictures her lost opportunities and invents retrospective romances” (642). Beauvoir is unique among early feminists in her interest in aging, but still her words reflect how negatively society views an old woman’s love. While eighteenth-century male writers, twentieth century philosophers, and even, yes, twenty-first century scholars seem to agree with Freud that a woman past thirty is of little interest, the fact is that for generations, women writers like María Gertrudis Hore found that they were just coming into their own as they aged. In “Amor caduco,” not only does an old woman avoid becoming a caricaturesque object of ridicule, but also through the voice of the female poet, an old woman is more than the bearer of meaning to patriarchy’s gaze, but rather she becomes her own maker of meaning.

Works cited:
Bolufer, Mónica. Mujeres e ilustración: La construcción de la femenidad en la España del siglo XVIII. Valencia: Diputació de València, 1998.
Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952.
Hore, María Gertrudis. “Amor Caduco.” Diario de Madrid. April 17 (1796): 441-443.
Freud, Sigmund (1914) “On Narcissism: An Introduction.” Ed. James Strachey. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV (1914-1916): On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. 67-102.
—. (1933). “Femininity” Freud 1953-74. Vol. 22. 112-35.
Molina, Alvaro. Mujeres y hombres en la España Ilustrada. Identidad, género y visualidad. Madrid: Ensayos de Arte Cátedra, 2013.
Moi, Toril. “From Femininity to Finitude: Freud, Lacan and Feminism, Again.” Signs, 29.3 (2004): 841-878.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP 1999: 833-44.
Samaniego, Félix María. “El espejo.” Fábulas en verso castellano para el uso del Real Seminario Bascongado (1781), Madrid: 1841. 344.
Schlig, Michael. “(D)espejos: Neoclassic Aesthetics, Female Narcissism and the Male Gaze in Enlightenment Spain.” DIECIOCHO 34.2 (Fall 2011). 367-382.

Bienvenidos al nuevo semestre de Escritura Avanzada

Bienvenidos a un nuevo semestre, y al curso de escritura avanzada, Español 413, en la Universidad de Mary Washington (Virginia, USA). Hace 3 años que no he dado este curso, debido a mis responsabilidades como Chair del Departamento de Lenguas y Literaturas Modernas. Estoy muy emocionada de volver al curso, y como siempre me pasa, he decidido cambiarlo un poco de lo que he hecho en el pasado. Mi objetivo general en este curso siempre ha sido ayudar a todos los alumnos mejorar su manejo del idioma del español, aumentar sus destrezas de escribir, desarrollar una voz auténtica, y trabajar en la sofisticación de su escritura. Vamos a trabajar en todo esto en parte con el estudio y la lectura–de algunos puntos de gramática difíciles, y de la escritura de otros. Pero la mejor manera de mejorar nuestra escritura es escribir. ¿Por qué escribir en un blog? En parte, porque hoy en día, los blogs (las bitácoras) son la mejor manera de comunicar nuestras ideas por escrito. Pero también he escogido el formato del blog porque así no solamente podemos explorar nuestras propias ideas, sino que también podemos interactuar con otros escritores. Así me ha pasado a mi, y es a través de varios blogs que he mantenido en el pasado que he conocido a otros escritores, investigadores, y profesores con los mismos intereses. Pero como pueden ver en mi blog, no es fácil mantener un blog. Nuestro desafío este semestre es escribir regularmente, desarrollar nuestras ideas, nuestro vocabulario, y establecer una presencia entre una comunidad de otros escritores–sean de nuestra clase, o de la web.

Como tal vez ya saben, mi investigación se centra en el siglo XVIII español, particularmente en la escritura de las mujeres del dieciocho. Estoy actualmente trabajando en una propuesta para un artículo, y mis lecturas últimamente han sido sobre el concepto de una República de Letras–un concept que desarrolló el movimiento de la Ilustración. En las palabras de Dena Goodman (escribiendo sobre Francia) “it (18th century philosophy, the Republic of Letters) was not confined within the individual, disembodied (Cartesian) mind (…) its tasks could be completed only in a social setting, as a social practice” (Goodman, 8) Creo que lo mismo es verdad sobre la nueva República de Letras que representa el internet y los medios sociales en general, y blogging en particular. ¡Que nuestro curso este semestre desarrolle una República de Letras en Mary Washington, y que se extienda más allá de Fredericksburg!

Image from front page, google books,

Image from front page, google books,

Aquí hay una copia del plan de la clase para el semestre: espanol-413-primavera-2017

Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Cornell UP, 1994.

DQ, imitation, GIFs and plagiarism

Don Quijote de la Mancha (película completa sub español)

“Windmills” from Don Quixote (2000), Peter Yates, Director


make animated gifs like this at MakeaGif

This week in my freshman seminar Digital Don Quixote, we are addressing the question of copyrights, Creative Commons and plagiarism at the same time we have been reading chapters 7-9 of Part 1—the iconic windmill scene followed by the less well known episode of the interrupted battle with the Basque squire. In the latter episode, Don Quixote’s battle with a Basque squire is interrupted when the narrator reports that the manuscript he is reading is truncated, and that the rest of the story is missing. On a quest to find out what happened in the story and to the missing text, while perusing a market in Toledo, the narrator discovers a text in Arabic that when translated turns out to be the missing text—the History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cide Hamete Benengeli, Arabic historian. The story continues where it left off, and Don Quixote defeats his challenger. This ingenious narrative interruption underscores Cervantes’ parody of the popular novels of chivalry (as he claims to be his main aim in this novel) which often also had supposed historian’s telling of the heroes feats. But also the many layers of narration—narrator, translator, historian, Cervantes himself—complicate the readers interaction with the story. Don Quixote´s “history” is a copy of a copy, with multiple authors presenting, interpreting, and commenting on it as it passes from some supposed true events to its present form. All the while readers participate in this chain of narration, themselves interacting with it, and even changing it. This will become even more the case in the second part when Cervantes has a real-life copier of his novel—the unauthorized sequel to Don Quixote by Avellaneda that was published between in the ten year gap between the first and second volumes—which he takes care to debunk throughout the second part.

When I paired these readings from Don Quixote with the readings on issues of copyright and plagiarism, some of it had to do with what I saw as some loose connections on the topics of authorship, and some had to do with a visit I scheduled with our Center for Honor, Leadership, and Service. To prepare for that visit students have also read a blogpost by Shelly Carson, a Psychology Today contributor, “Plagiarism and its Effects on Creativity.” I also thought that at this point it would be fun to work with some animated GIFs to represent some of these important episodes in the novel to encourage the students to experiment a little with some new digital applications. So hurredly before class on Monday morning, I made the above GIF, taking a couple seconds of video from a television film version of the novel directed by  Peter Yates, and starring John Lithgow into an application called You can see the results of my 30 seconds of work above. Nothing too impressive, but sort of fun. But then I thought, did I just plagiarize?

Our own Center for Honor has an infographic on its website to answer my question.

untitledSo I don’t think I plagiarized. Whether or not my GIF is within the “fair use” definition of the copyright laws is another question, which blogger Peter Van contemplates in this blogpost “Do Animated GIFs Infringe on Copyrights?“ Basically, no one has really challenged GIF creators use of copyrighted material in court…yet! Shelley Carson sees plagiarism as symptomatic of our digital age’s “dumbing down” of culture. Are GIFs (and the related internet memes)also contributing to this dumbing down? Is  my 5 second loop of a windmill spinning round and round and round and round…creative? Certainly I could have put more thought into it, combining the images in a more interesting way, maybe added my own special touch, all of which would have been more possible if I had photoshop and not a web application to work with! GIFs are a great example of our imitative postmodern aesthetic. GIFs can be parody or pastiche, and their endless looping of the same series of images are unique to our digital internet culture. Which is where I think they connect with Don Quixote, which also repeats and re-presents its story multiple times through multiple voices. Readers become authors who in turn become narrators. Let the battle resume!

Don Quijote de la Mancha. Capítulo 7

“Battle with the Basque” Don Quijote de la Mancha (1992), Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón Director.

Another Year With Don Quij(x)ote

I am embarassed that it’s been 5 months since I last blogged. Last spring semester was a whirlwind of teaching, committee meetings, chair duties, and conferences. Spring turned to summer with more of the same. We also experienced a terrible tragedy on our campus right at the end of the spring semester that was a horrifying ending to end what was a pretty contentious year among our student body, and faculty. Unfortunately all of that got in the way of my appreciation, at least my public appreciation on this blog, of the fact that, despite whatever else was going on around me, last academic year was for me a highlight of my teaching career, as it began and ended  with Don Quijote.

I’ve alreay discussed in an earlier blog post about my first-year seminar (FSEM) Digital Don Quixote, its successes and short-comings, and my plans for the spring 2015 senior seminar in Spanish. I’d like to debrief a bit about the senior level seminar, before I look ahead to a new year with the FSEM.

Our advanced seminar course Spanish 451 Cervantes had not been taught in years when I decided to give it a try, despite the fact I´m no Cervantista. But I was a student, and I know how hard it was for me to read the novel the first time, so I tried to look for activities, both in and out of the class that would help students not only comprehend the novel better in Spanish, but also help them start to experience its richness, and the vast bibliography about it. To encourage their reading, students logged in and commented on chapters as they finished them through blogposts, and a progress meter that I kept. We kept collective class notes on our wiki, Don Wikijote. This is also where project groups, which studied a series of characters in the novel, displayed their work.

Some of the sections on the course webpage contain our class-time activities. A really successful one involved two visual maps we created of the movements of the characters in the first and second volumes. It helped all of us visualize who was where, when, and with whom, but also helped us see some major structural and character differences in the two parts of the novel. We used a free tool call Cacoo for this activity, which was really fun for the students,  but I think we could have used Google docs just as successfully. Other class activities that involved collecting images and music associated with the novel and posting it on our website, or creating a word cloud with Voyant, were good, but maybe not as impactful as the wiki or the map.

But by far the best thing was a great group of bright students who were game to try out all my crazy digital tools, and who approached this novel with great enthusiasm. It was such a fun semester that I spent with them, full of lively conversation and great insight that a webpage can even begin to represent!

My year with Don Quijote

I’m halfway through my special year with Don Quijote, and I really need to reflect on the first-year seminar (FSEM) I gave last semester in English Digital Don Quixote–its successes and where I had some problems–along with my first impressions of an advanced undergraduate seminar in Spanish I’ve just begun Cervantes y Don Quijote 21 . In both I’ve tried to introduce students to the novel, some of its major critical interpretations, its modern reception and adaptations, and ways in which it connects with our 21st century digital world.

Don Quixote and his cell phone by student Maya Baumgartner

Don Quixote and his cell phone by student Maya Baumgartner

The FSEM focused on identity, Don Quijote’s and our own digital identity. It also introduced some major topics of digital humanities and digital studies, using the novel as a springboard into these issues. We read selections of the novel in English, and some articles related to the novel and to digital studies/digital humanities. Students wrote a critical review and presented the article or book reviewed to the class. At then end of the semester students formed groups and created a digital and written project on some aspect of the novel in relation to the themes of the class. Fall 2014 was also the inauguration of a new Information and Technology Convergence Center on our campus, so we were able to make good use of the many resources located there now from our Division of Teaching and Learning Technology, to the Speaking and Writing Centers, and the library. I had a bright bunch of 14 first year students, and had so much fun with them that I’ve decided to offer the course again in the fall of 2015. But before I do, and before I forget, I need to reflect a bit about what went great, what could have gone better, and what I might do differently:

  • Great! Top of the list would have to be the students themselves. They were a bright group, and most of them were very engaged in the course and eager to learn and contribute. The readings I selected seemed to spark their interest and our classroom discussions were lively. Their final projects, which ranged from a series of Vine videos, to a digital newspaper, and a series of Facebook profiles interacting with each other as characters from the novel, were creative and showed a lot of learning from the semester.
  • Needs improvement:I had all of them create and develop their own domain as part of UMW’s Domain of One’s Own project. Some never really did this, others did, but none really shined. I think part of this is that it was too much to ask them to create a digital identity for themselves already in their first semester, before they really have a sense yet of their independent adult identity. So of the ones who tried, some started blogs of favorite quotes, others of photos from their travels, some made a space to post examples of their college work, while others blogged about their favorite music. Others didn’t really try at all. I think I need to give them more guidance in the nuts and bolts of WordPress, but also I need to make it worth more of the grade so all will take it seriously. Another problem were the blog posts for the class, which were weekly reflections on the topics from the readings and class discussions. The quality of these posts was very spotty. As I discovered with the critical review (when I realized in their first drafts that most thought “critical” meant “criticize”), I need to be very explicit with instructions and expectations for first year students in all assignments.

So now it’s a new semester and I’m on to phase two: Spanish 451: Cervantes y Don Quijote en el Siglo 21. Our main goal in the course is to read all of the novel in Spanish, and to examine some of the major issues of the novel, along with its critical interpretations. But we’re also looking at the modern reception of the novel, its numerous adaptations, and we’re creating our own digital presence for Don Quijote on our website through a wiki: Don Wiki-jote. I’m also trying to make all this work a little bit fun with a friendly competition–each student taking on an avatar based on a character from the novel, and logging their progress through “progress posts“, which I then record on a progress meter on the Reto Don Quijote.Reto Progress meter Already we’ve had some problems, mostly due to a lack of familiarity with how to create a blog post, what a “category” is, and how to edit a wiki. But hopefully we’ll overcome these issues soon and the technology will stop being a hurdle and turn out to be a help to them as I had hoped–aiding their study and inspiring them to keep going the end!!

Using Voyeur text analysis tool with Feijoo

Today I played around with a tool in its beta stage–Voyeur, a tool for web-based text analysis ( I copied the first part of Fray Benito Feijoo’s 1726 essay “Defensa de las mujeres” (published in his collection Teatro crítico universal). The tool generated the word cloud below. The most frequent words are common words in Spanish, and at first I couldn’t see how I could eliminate them, but the others that show prominently give a good visual of this early eighteenth-century Spanish proto-feminist work! It also offers some interesting graphs, breaking up the text into equal parts, showing word appearance frequencies throughout the entire selection.

Feijoo Defensa World Cloud

Now that I know better how to use Avant, I’ve been able to use it in other classes to look at texts. Here is one we did with a selection from la Celestina. Of course, word frequency doesn’t equate with importance, but it is one more way to get students to look at a text, and think about the words an author uses, and the meaning behind them.

Don Quijote Digital: Two Experimental Seminars to Celebrate 400 Years of Innovation

This is a copy of remarks I’ll be making at the Mountain Interstate Foreign Language Conference at Furman University in Greenville, SC this Saturday, October 18th, 2014.

In this brief presentation I will share some ideas and plans that I have in place to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the second volume of the Quijote, 21st century style. This year is a personal celebration of Don Quijote for me. I’m not a Cervantista. I’m not even a specialist in Siglo de Oro. My specialty is eighteenth-century peninsular, with a focus on gender, and a recent interest in digital humanities.

My only claim to any sort of authority is that I read the Quijote for the first time 25 years ago with the great Javier Herrero Herrerowhile in graduate school at UVA. Since then, I’ve read the novel two more times—once in English and again in Spanish. For the past fifteen years or so I have led students every fall semester through their own readings of chapters 1 and 8 of the first volume as part of a Survey of Spanish literature course I teach. My program has a course on Cervantes, last taught 10 years ago when our Siglo de Oro specialist left and was replaced with a Colonial Latinamericanist, who has also since left. So after the 400th anniversary of the first volume came and went in 2005, I decided I couldn’t avoid teaching this class anymore. Generations of Spanish majors were leaving with very little idea about how wonderful this novel is, and I had to do something about it. So this is the year that this will happen, in various ways and with various groups of students. To me it was a crazy idea, but I’ve approached it in my best quixotic style, taking an adventure with my students that I hope they don’t forget, and I know I won’t. If you’re interested you can read more of my musings about the projects on this blog (see the category “Don Quijote“), on my professional website, and on a course domain that I and my students are developing around the year’s experiences:

This fall semester I am offering a first-year seminar (FSEM) “Digital Don Quixote.” All of our students must take an FSEM as part of their general education requirements, providing freshman the experience of a college level seminar early in their academic career with the aim of engaging them intellectually in ways that the typical introductory courses don’t. My FSEM uses Don Quixote as a gateway to various issues of digital studies and digital humanities, and also requires students to develop their own web domain through our UMW Domains program. All together students will be reading about 25% of the novel, together with about a dozen other articles or blogposts about either Don Quixote or issues in digital studies. Some of the topics we’ve been discussing so far have been digital identity; game studies; the future of the library; authors, authority, copyrights and Creative Commons; social media; digital humanities, MOOCs, and digital storytelling. Students reflect weekly through their own blog posts, are currently writing a critical review of a scholarly book or article on Don Quixote, will be developing their own digital identity on their own domain, and will create a group final project that brings together the issues we’ve explored in the class. In addition, students are working on some skills basic to all freshman seminars in writing, speaking, and research. Here are some of the observations from my students thus far on their blogposts:

Blog 1Blog 2Blog 3Blog 4

Recently students have broken into groups to plan a final project that, in addition to having written and oral components, needs to incorporate a digital component as well. Some of the suggestions I’ve given students to spark their own ideas include:

(“Creative” digital projects”)

  • A video of key episodes from DQ highlighting certain themes from our course
  • Another digital storytelling method, such as a game, using a web application like twine (
  • A parody website or a parody profile of DQ in social media
  • An animated GIF, or series of GIFs

(“Academic” or Digital Humanities projects)

  • a digital exhibition of illustrations associated with a particular episode in DQ
  • a comparison/contrast analysis of various translations of a particular episode in DQ, using Voyant (
  • a database and graph tracing the bibliography on DQ, perhaps analyzing by categories to see areas of scholarly emphasis. Could also compare by time–how has our interest in DQ changed over time?
  • a map of the translations of DQ

As I’m taking this journey with these freshman students, I’m planning the next with my advanced students, a senior level seminar that I’ll be calling “Cervantes y Don Quijote en el siglo 21”. Span 451

In some ways the two courses will be quite different: one is for freshman of varying majors and interests, the other for advanced Spanish majors only; in one we’ll be reading selections of the novel in translation, and the other we’ll be reading and discussing the entire two volumes in its original Spanish. But I hope to unify the two through an emphasis on digital studies and digital humanities. The senior-level seminar (to be taught Spring 2015) will focus on critical reception of Cervantes’ novel, and will explore how Don Quijote continues to be vibrant in our digital age. As part of the class we will work as a group to create our own class digital humanities project on the novel, perhaps even a larger version of one of the projects students begin in the FSEM. One of the main objectives of the course will be that students read all of the Quijote in Spanish. I know plenty of programs do this with undergraduates, but it really is a monumental task for our undergraduates. I hope to help it along by encouraging students to accept a challenge, and to log their reading in to our site as they progress.
Donquixote en biciThere’s one more component to our year-long celebration. I’m trying to organize a spring break bike tour of the Ruta del Quijote. This part may or may not happen, depending on enrollment. If it happens, we will connect to the other two projects by documenting our trip on the gohidalgo domain.

Oh, and one more thing. I’ll turn 50 this year just like our ingenioso hidalgo. To paraphrase one of my students, I too am just ” an elderly woman living humbly” hoping to have a great adventure this year!  But seriously, it is my hope that seeing Don Quijote through this modern digital lense might open up possibilities for new perspectives and new learning for me and my students, not only about an amazing novel, but also about some of the most current topics in our society today.

Here is a copy of the Prezi that I’m using at the MIFLC conference:

Don Quixote and (Digital) Identity

I just had a great first day of classes!! I’m teaching two courses this semester–one I teach every semester, but love it every time (Spanish 323, Introducción a la literatura española), and the other is a brand new first-year seminar I’m calling “Digital Don Quixote” which will using the novel as a springboard into digital studies and digital humanities. Today we started the beginnings of a discussion of identity. Here’s the prezi I used to start that discussion today:

On it, I shared my various identities to the world–some very purposefully created (my professional domain, or my twitter account), some created for me (my son’s “Mom” Mii), and some I might not have created with as much forethought, but that I created then nonetheless (Facebook). Don Quixote created his identity, and we are still creating identities for him as new generations and groups give the novel fresh perspectives. We’ll be thinking more deeply about this all semester: Don Quixote’s identities and our own–what are they, how are they determined, who determined them, and how do/can they change?

Humanidades Digitales en español: What I learned at the Segundo Encuentro de Humanidades Digitales

I’ve just returned from my first digital humanities conference, the Segundo Encuentro de Humanidades Digitales (2EHD) hosted by the RedHD (a group based in the Universidad Autónoma de México-UNAM) at the Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City. Biblioteca VasconcelosWhile I had attended some sessions at MLA and ASECS on digital humanities before, and participated in an MLA DHCommons workshop and a THATCamp ASECS, I still feel pretty new at DH (or HD in Spanish) stuff, plus I’ve really wanted to meet digital humanists who work in Spanish. This was a great conference for me, and I feel like I’ve come away with a better understanding of some of the DH/HD work going on in Latin America and Spain, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to meet some great people doing very interesting work. In this post I want to share some of the sessions and information that I found interesting and pertinent to my own work. I have to confess I didn’t go to all the sessions. The conference went all day from 9-6 for three days, plus two days of pre-conference workshops. But I also had never visited Mexico City before, and experiencing all the historic sites, and museums that I’ve read about—even taught to my students—but never experienced, was also important to me not only personally, but also professionally. So, all the great information I’m about to share is only a fraction of what went on at this conference, and what I present is really from my point of view, as a professor of Spanish from a small public undergraduate liberal arts institution in the United States who is still discovering DH. Still, I think it might be of interest to others who, like myself, would like to know more about Humanidades Digitales.

Some of the sessions dealt with libraries, digital collections, and digital archives. I heard a presentation from Alberto Martínez of the Biblioteca Daniel Cosío Villegas at the Colegio de México in Mexico City, detailing plans for their Proyecto Biblioteca Siglo XXI, in which they are working towards something very similar to our own Convergence Center at Mary Washington, seeking similar connections between libraries, technology, research, and teaching. I also heard about digitalization initiatives by the Mexican Institución Nacional de Antropología e Historia, and the Fondo Antiguo of the BIblioteca Central of the UNAM. Beth Plale of Hathitrust gave one of the keynote talks on her work at the Hathitrust Research Center, explaining some of the tools and resources available to researchers (both from member institutions, and non-member institutions) and demonstrated a few examples of what could be done. Her main point is that the idea of massive scale being the future of DH research was already a reality with their collection of 11 million volumes. However, she also cautioned that because of the problems of copyright, two thirds of that 11 million are not available in full text to the users. So they have developed tools that will allow researchers to collect large quantities of data from all the volumes of the Hathitrust collection, returning only the data requested but not the full text, which they believe to fall under “fair use”. Some in the audience questioned the validity of such limited views, similar to the “snippet view” in Googlebooks. Others questioned errors in the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of the texts. Clearly Hathitrust is making some progress in this idea of massive scale, but we’re not there yet either technically or legally. This connected to some of the more theoretical questions of the conference. For example, Glenn Worthey, a digital humanities librarian at Stanford University, argued that DH research focused on the text is rooted in Russian formalism, now possible on a much larger scale than, for example, Vladimir Propp could detail almost a hundred years ago in his Morphology of the Folk Tale.

There were some interesting projects and new applications presented. RedHD has developed a questionnaire that will help guide students and researchers as they evaluate their digital projects to make sure they are following best practices, following MLA guidelines, something I could really benefit from with my digital humanities work with my own students (and the topic of my poster presentation of my undergraduate research project “Women and Charity in Spain”). 20140523_104544

Rocío Romero and Alberto Rodríguez of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Azcapotzalco(UAM-A) presented their website on the essay “Del ensayo y su escritura”, which presents students with important characteristics of the essay, the works of major Mexican essayists, and a space for them to present their own essays (similar to an approach that I take in my Escritura Avanzada course).

I learned about some important digital humanities centers and digital initiatives in Spain, Latin America and the US. In Spain, Nuria Rodríguez Ortega, an art historian at the University of Málaga spoke about her university’s ArtHis_Lab and their multiple digital initiatives to promote art and digital culture in the Spanish speaking world. Esteban Romero-Frías, a sociologist at the University of Granada, spoke about numerous projects that his group GrinUGR has begun, promoting digital studies and digital pedagogy in Spain. Like ArtHis_Lab, this group is very interested in the idea of “public digital humanities” and Dr. Romero pointed to several initiatives directed beyond the academy.  Elena González-Blanco García of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) shared her group LiNHD (Laboratorio de Innovación en Humanidades Digitales) and a new certificate program (taught on line) they’re offering a summer course this June digital humanities in Spanish for students, researchers, professionals, and anyone else interested, with more planned for the future. In Mexico, there are several groups working along similar lines. RedHD, the hosts of the conference, sponsors a Seminario HD, which seems a bit similar to some of the ideas emerging from Mary Washington’s own Digital Scholars Institute. Iván Martínez, of the UNAM and also representative of Wikipedia Mexico and president of the board of directors of the Wikimedia Mexico Foundation, spoke of efforts to add more content about Mexico to Wikipedia, and of guidelines to help contribute to the project. Mexico will be hosting Wikimania 2015 at the Vasconcelos! The Department of Philosophy at the UNAM has begun to look into the relationship of philosophy and technology in their project Seminario Tecnologías Filosóficas. Alex Gil, of Columbia University, and Barbara Bordalejo of the University of Saskatchewan, spoke of their work with Go-DH (Global Outlook::Digital Humanities) and efforts to network and create working groups for digital humanists all over the world, with special emphasis in countries not often represented in current anglo-centric DH centers.

Which brings me to my final take-away, and really why I wanted to come to this particular conference—that is the presence of digital humanities in Spanish. One glaring problem with initiatives like Hathitrust, that Beth Plale didn’t really address in her talk, is the under-representation of Spanish. According to Plale’s statistics she shared, of the 11 million volumes that form their collection, only about 300,000 are in Spanish—that’s less than 3%! And Hathitrust is not the only place where Spanish is under-represented. DH is thus far an anglo-centric field. Elika Ortega (University of Western Ontario) and Esteban Romero-Frías highlighted in their presentations problems with surveys like Centernet whose map of digital humanities centers focuses heavily on English-speaking and European countries, and doesn’t represent as well DH/HD activity in Spanish speaking countries. MapaHD and Atlas de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Digitales are two projects that have tried to map digital humanities in Spanish. MapaHD, through a questionnaire distributed through social media and various email lists, collected information from 80 self-declared digital humanists in Spanish and Portuguese, and found that the largest group of them were located in Spain (24), followed by Mexico (14), Portugal in third place (13), United States fourth (7), and United Kingdom (5) and Argentina (5) tied for 5th place. The majority of respondents identified their research as related to literary studies, followed by history, information science, linguistics, visual arts, and philosophy, although there was much overlap between these fields. They are creating digital editions, doing digitalization of texts and images, and creating databases among other activities.

I definitely left this conference with a sense that there is a lot going on in DH/HD in Spain and Latin America, and I hope to see more Hispanists in the US and the UK learning from them and collaborating with them, as I hope to do. I also am more convinced than ever of the importance for those of us teaching students of Spanish language, literature, and culture to include digital humanities and digital studies in our curriculum, because cultura digital is part of the many culturas that speak Spanish, and is an undeniable and ever-increasing part of all of our present and future.