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The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad

Join a seasoned expert on Spain and witness the dazzling history of the Spanish culture and its unique role in the West.
The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 196.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Tour guide, not scholar The lecturer was more of a tour guide than a scholar. Given that, parts of the series were enjoyable and informative from the point of view of someone taking a casual tour of Spain and portions of its history. However, when the lecturer got to divisions among Christians she showed a lack of understanding of Protestantism as well as poor scholarship. She quoted a very small fragment of a speech by Martin Luther out of context and used that snippet to misdefine what Protestantism is about. I might engage her as a guide for casual tours but would not take an academic course from her.
Date published: 2024-03-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too Condensed to Do Political History Justice When trying to cover 5,000 years of history and culture of one of the most history-rich nations of Europe in only 24 lectures it should be of little surprise that the type of course you receive is a mix of flashes of brilliance coupled with rushed commentary of some of the most crucial events. Examples? Flashes of brilliance: the first 8 or 9 lectures covering the early history of the peninsula and lecture 19 on the Hapsburg's never ceasing religious wars. Rushed commentary? A lecture entitled "Spain Loses its Empire" doesn't even begin to discuss this "central" theme until the last 5 minutes! The first 26 minutes recounted Enlightenment ideas, guerrilla warfare against Bonaparte rule, construction of the Constitution, and the Romanticism movement. Then in 5 quick minutes Spain loses all of South America, Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam. How these events weren't given at least 2 full lectures of consideration outside of the Napoleonic struggle is mind boggling considering the sizable amount of time discussing how these lands were gained in the first place. It is unfortunate that TGC has abandoned the 36 and 48 lecture formats. This is the exact type of lecture series that would thrive in an expanded format or if it was split into multiple courses focusing on different time periods: a 24 lecture course on prehistoric times to medieval times (say up until about the turn of the 15th century), one on late medieval times to early modern times (15th to 18th centuries), and one on the 19th and 20th centuries would fit rather nicely. Sorry but TGC got it wrong here. Their instructor selection was certainly not a primary factor: Professor Joyce E. Salisbury brought it. Her presentations were engaging and of high quality. Her expertise is unquestioned. The content we did get was well done. She just seemed somewhat limited. If you like the study of cultural contributions from writers, architects, artists, and musicians then you are in luck: the giants in these fields throughout the ages are covered time and again in the course. If your interests lie with political history I suspect you'll have a mixed reaction. Hapsburg and early Bourbon kings are covered in enlightening detail especially the time period when Spain was carrying the flag of Catholicism for Europe. Yet little was said about the early monarchs of Spain from the Reconquista to Charles I (even Charles was covered somewhat sparingly--surprising considering the size of his empire. We hear little about how he happened to obtain such a large collection of lands spanning the Holy Roman Empire principalities to the Netherlands to Spain and the new world or how he was viewed and how he ruled). And most disappointing of all? There just wasn't enough time spent describing how Spain became a unified kingdom following the Reconquista. How did a number of Christian kingdoms that slowly conquered the Muslim lands coalesce themselves into the sovereign state entity we know as Spain today vs. remaining independent kingdoms like Portugal had? Feels like there's some history there that was left untold. How did these lands unite? Who were the leaders involved with this union? How did it come to be? The story here is missing. Still this course is rich in learnings and worth exploring if you wish to learn the accounts of the various peoples that settled in Spain and some of their famous leaders as well as how they shaped the various stages of Spain’s evolution. These included: Pre-historical peoples Celts Phoenicians Ancient Greeks Carthaginians Ancient Romans “Barbarian” tribes (Suevi, Vandals, and Alani) Visigoths Islam rulers (Arab tribes, Berber tribes, Umayyad Caliphate, and Abbasid Caliphate) Christian kingdoms waging the Reconquista Conquistadors of the new world Hapsburg Kings (1500’s and 1600’s) Bourbon Kings (1700’s) Bonaparte Rule in early 1800’s and the return of King Ferdinand VII Franco’s rule after the 20th Century Civil War Modern Bourbon kings of the 20th Century This course is certainly worth your time but a country this interesting and fascinating deserves much more of it and should have got it.
Date published: 2024-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course on Spain I visited Spain in 2006 and 2008 and wish I had seen this course first. I would have been better to know all this history before my trips. She has inspired me to return to Spain and visit places I did not get to see before.
Date published: 2024-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good place to start I watched this DVD in anticipation of a trip to Spain we took this fall. The course certainly covers a lot of territory in 24 lectures. I think this is a more recent course as it does not follow the straight lecture style of the 8 other Teaching Co/Great Courses videos I've viewed. I found Dr. Salisbury to be an engaging lecturer. She is passionate about Spain and obviously steeped in Spanish history and traditions. I also appreciated her Suggestions for Further Reading. Dos pulgares para arriba! Two thumbs up!
Date published: 2023-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spain in all its glory My wife and I watched this course over ~3 weeks, usually 2 lectures per evening. Dr. Salisbury is a wonderful lecturer-enthusiastic about Spain, well organized, non-judgmental, just the major topics, religious conflicts, immigration, changes in rulership from Christians to Moors and back again, the role of Jews Roma and other minorities, the conquest of South and Central America, The Hapsburg dynasties, Spanish Civil War etc. Her lectures are rich with detail. and her personal reactions to various cities and architectural sites in Spain. The course is terrific with a real pro for a guide.
Date published: 2023-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course covering a long period of time. The instructor is fantastic; she conveys a great deal of history, while highlighting the many facets of Spain. Informative and enjoyable!
Date published: 2023-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bought this to go with Learning Spanish 1 and 2 Professor speaks clearly and with great enthusiasm. There are many maps and photos of the material being discussed, all clearly labeled.
Date published: 2023-06-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Comprehensive historical account The broad scope of this course was, for me, a strength as well as a weakness. I found myself highly engaged with some of the lectures but quite disengaged from others. Hence my overall appraisal of "good".
Date published: 2023-06-13
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Spain has played a unique and pivotal role in Western civilization. In this course, you'll learn its epic history, from its rule under Rome and the breathtaking drama of Islamic Spain to its emergence into the modern world, as well as its phenomenal contributions to art, architecture, literature, music, and learning. Travel with us to this remarkable culture, and savor the great human drama of the story of Spain.


Joyce E. Salisbury

When dealing with human beings, nothing is simple or predictable, and these are the kinds of wonderful contradictions that have kept me engaged for so long.


University of Wisconsin–Green Bay

Joyce E. Salisbury is Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she taught history and served as associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of International Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Medieval History at Rutgers University, specializing in religious and social history.

Professor Salisbury began her career performing research in Spain, and she has continued to travel there to conduct further research, lecture, and guide students and other travelers. She is currently working on a book about the history of early Christian martyrdom.

In addition to receiving the University of Wisconsin's Outstanding Teaching award, she was named Professor of the Year in 1991 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. She has taught three times on Semester at Sea, a study-abroad program on a ship that circumnavigates the world with more than 500 students for a full semester.

Professor Salisbury is a prolific author whose books include the award-winning Perpetua's Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman; The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages; Rome's Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire; and the widely used textbook The West in the World. She has been interviewed many times on National Public Radio on topics from religion to the books she has written, and she appeared on the PBS special The Road from Christ to Constantine.

By This Professor

Warriors, Queens, and Intellectuals: 36 Great Women before 1400
The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad
The Middle Ages around the World
The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad


From Stones to Bronze: Prehistoric Spain

01: From Stones to Bronze: Prehistoric Spain

Begin by exploring the origins of human settlement on the Iberian Peninsula. Learn how the rich spiritual life of early hunter/gatherers in Spain is reflected in magnificent cave paintings. Study the geography of the peninsula, and how it drew peoples from Africa and the Middle East. Finally, discover the extraordinary megalithic tombs of early Copper and Bronze Age builders....

31 min
Celtic, Phoenician, and Greek Colonists

02: Celtic, Phoenician, and Greek Colonists

Follow three remarkable immigrant groups who left their mark on Spanish culture. First, trace the impact of the Celts and the technology they brought to the region. Learn about the Phoenicians, famous as mariners, and their legacy of trade and engineering. Continue with the singular influence of the Greeks, who shaped the history and culture of the peninsula for future immigrants....

29 min
Rome Conquers the Iberian Peninsula

03: Rome Conquers the Iberian Peninsula

Roman conquest changed the peninsula in ways that endure today. Track the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage, through which Iberia became part of the Roman Empire. Observe how Rome joined the Iberian provinces together, created thriving cities, and developed commerce. Learn about the marvels of Roman engineering, infrastructure, and mining, through which Spain grew rich....

30 min
Christianity Comes to Hispania

04: Christianity Comes to Hispania

Witness the events through which Christianity took root on Spanish soil. Learn about early Christian communities in Spain, and the factors that led to persecution and martyrdom of Christians. Chart the role of Spanish churchmen in the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, how pagan practices were transformed into Christian ones, and how Spain became a bulwark of church orthodoxy.

32 min
Barbarian Tribes Divide the Peninsula

05: Barbarian Tribes Divide the Peninsula

As Rome's empire waned, Germanic and Iranian tribal groups besieged Spanish territories. Take the measure of these peoples, and the new agricultural technology, clothing, and other innovations they brought with them. Observe how they partitioned and ruled different areas of the peninsula, and how their culture and religion kept them separate from Spain's Roman population....

30 min
The Visigoths Unite Spain

06: The Visigoths Unite Spain

As a prelude to the three-century rule of the Visigoths, learn how the Goths penetrated Roman territories, and how they came to dominate Spain. Study the structure of Visigoth society, which gave rise to influential legal codes, monasticism, and great scholars such as Isidore of Seville. Take account of Toledo as a center of learning, and the diffusion of Visigothic scholarship and culture....

29 min
Islam: The New Religion

07: Islam: The New Religion

Islam was to play a critical role in Spanish history. As background, delve into the founding of Islam by Muhammad, its five tenets or "pillars", and how the new religion spread with astonishing speed. Witness the Muslim invasion that conquered most of Spain, and observe how the invaders ruled, coexisting effectively with Jews and Christians....

30 min
Conflict within Islam

08: Conflict within Islam

Internal divisions in the Muslim world shaped Islamic rule of Spain. Investigate issues concerning the larger governance of Islam that led to enmity between Muslim Spain and the Caliphate in Bagdad. Study the role of the Frankish king Charlemagne in these conflicts, and trace conspiracies and rebellions within Muslim Spain that culminated in the establishment of the Caliphate of Córdoba....

31 min
The Moors and the Glory of al-Andalus

09: The Moors and the Glory of al-Andalus

Relive the golden age of Islamic Spain, as the capital city of Córdoba emerged as a center of learning, art, and beauty. First, take account of the agricultural advancements and artisanal industries that underlay Córdoba's prosperity. Then, follow developments in music, poetry, intellectual life, science, engineering, and architecture that made al-Andalus famous throughout the world....

31 min
The Christian Reconquista

10: The Christian Reconquista

This lecture charts the centuries-long process by which Christians gradually reclaimed the lands of Islamic Spain. Learn how pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela became a catalyst for the Christian cause. Explore four critical events in the Reconquista: the conquest of Toledo, the taking of Valencia by "El Cid", the creation of Portugal, and the final conquest of Granada....

28 min
Medieval Spanish Culture

11: Medieval Spanish Culture

Discover how the melding of Spanish Islamic culture and medieval Christian ideas produced dazzling masterpieces of architecture. Travel to the times of king Alfonso the Wise, whose rich court life fostered scholarship and medicine, as well as courtly entertainments such as music, sports, and bullfighting. Learn about the flourishing of trade, highlighting the complex wool and textile industry....

30 min
The Sephardim: Iberian Judaism

12: The Sephardim: Iberian Judaism

Follow the changing fortunes of the Jewish people on Spanish soil, beginning with how they arrived in Spain, and how they prospered under Roman rule. Trace repression of Jews under the Visigoths, and how Jewish scholarship and poetic art thrived in Muslim Spain. Then witness the trials of Jews under subsequent Christian rule, leading to the 15th century exodus of many Jews from Spain....

29 min
Gypsy Influences on Spain

13: Gypsy Influences on Spain

Gypsy immigrants to Spain left a far-reaching imprint on Spanish culture. Here, uncover the origins of gypsy peoples, their itinerant nature, and note how they were originally welcomed by Spanish kings and nobles. Study subsequent oppression of gypsies, the nature of gypsy culture, and the iconic flamenco music and dance that is deeply linked with Spanish gypsies....

31 min
The Growth of Catholic Religious Passion

14: The Growth of Catholic Religious Passion

Grasp how Spain was brought into the conflict of the Protestant Reformation. Assess the Catholic Counter-Reformation, as it sought to connect the faithful more directly to God through reinvigorated spirituality and mysticism. Learn how the Council of Trent, codifying Catholic doctrine, led to the horrors of the Inquisition, and how Catholic theology was expressed in glorious Baroque art....

31 min
Columbus and the New World

15: Columbus and the New World

European contact with the isolated Americas dramatically changed the world. Begin by delving into the self-education of Columbus, and the lead-up to his legendary voyages. Follow Columbus's travels, and the impact of his "opening" of the New World. Finally, track further European ventures into the Americas, the Columbian Exchange of foodstuffs, and the devastation wrought by European diseases....

30 min
Conquistadors and Missionaries

16: Conquistadors and Missionaries

Spain now extended both its empire and its Catholicism into the New World. Witness the exploits of Hernán Cortés, who battled the Aztec Empire in the quest for gold, and of Francisco Pizarro and his brutal subjugation of the Incas. Then, take account of the Catholic missionaries who followed, intent on converting native souls, and how Spanish empire building was undergirded by slaver...

28 min
The Spanish Main: Trade Convoys and Piracy

17: The Spanish Main: Trade Convoys and Piracy

Spain's empire in the New World spawned a vast commercial revolution. Learn about Spanish silver mining in South America, and agricultural riches from giant haciendas producing sugar and tobacco. Follow the transport of Spanish goods in armed convoys, and the resulting golden age of piracy, as both pirates and government-sanctioned privateers preyed on treasure-laden ships....

30 min
The Golden Age of the Spanish Habsburgs

18: The Golden Age of the Spanish Habsburgs

Here, encounter Spain's king Philip II, architect of a magnificent era. Observe his strategic moving of the royal capital to Madrid, and his creation of architectural works such as the fabulous El Escorial. Learn how Philip and his sons fostered an artistic heritage emblemized by visionaries such as the painter Velasquez, composers de Victoria and Guererro, and writers Lope de Vega and Cervantes....

30 min
Religious Wars on Muslims and Protestants

19: Religious Wars on Muslims and Protestants

Now witness the Ottoman incursions against Christian lands and shipping that resulted in the massive naval battle of Lepanto. Then, see how the clash with Protestants involved Spain in religious bloodshed in the Netherlands, the assault on Britain of the Spanish Armada, and the Thirty Years War. Note how the ruinous costs of these wars prefigured the downfall of the Habsburg Dynasty....

30 min
The 18th-Century Bourbon Kings of Spain

20: The 18th-Century Bourbon Kings of Spain

Learn how the French House of Bourbon assumed the Spanish throne, and how they transformed Habsburg Spain. In particular, review the reforms instituted by Carlos III, highlighting his architectural and urban planning achievements, and his reforms of education, industry, banking, and religion. Then trace the effects on Spain of the French Revolution and the ascension of Napoleon....

32 min
Spain Loses Its Empire

21: Spain Loses Its Empire

Follow Napoleon's crusade to impose a new French dynasty on Spain, and the cultural backlash of Romanticism that rejected the "universal" principles of the Enlightenment. Witness the emergence of Spanish nationalism, the ensuing deep political strife regarding how to govern the country, and see how the spread of nationalist ideologies culminated in the independence of Spain's colonies....

31 min
20th-Century Spanish Modernism

22: 20th-Century Spanish Modernism

Following World War I, Spain emerged at the forefront of a revolution in the European arts. Grasp the extraordinary innovations of the painters Picasso, Miró and Dalí, the architect Antoni Gaudí, and the contributions of musical masters Segovia and Casals. Also, delve into the political factors that led to the disintegration of Spain's constitutional monarchy....

30 min
The Spanish Civil War and Franco's Reign

23: The Spanish Civil War and Franco's Reign

Study the political antagonisms within Spain which led to the outbreak of civil war in 1936. Track the unfolding of the war, leading to the ascension to power of the dictator Francisco Franco. Then take account of Franco's lengthy, authoritarian regime, and how he strove to create a national identity for Spain through the mediums of the church, language, and Spanish culture....

29 min
Modern Spain: Still on a Crossroad

24: Modern Spain: Still on a Crossroad

Conclude with reflections on Spain's recent history. Look into such subjects as the restoration of the Spanish monarchy, Spain's contemporary links with Latin America, separatist movements within the country, its new secularism and religious freedoms, its popularity as a travel destination, and its diverse economy. Contemplate why this great land stands on a crossroads of the future.

34 min