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The Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire

Learn more about the critical year in Western history as a focal point to follow the events that enabled Spain to become an empire.

Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 131.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important Insight into World-Changing Events We all know that “In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-Two Columbus sailed the ocean blue” but few of us know what was going on in Spain at the time. Dr. Ruiz fills that lacuna in this short (12 lectures) but excellent course. He describes complicated competition among the Christian kingdoms (there was no “Spain” until the late Fifteenth Century), the Iberian Muslims, the Northern African Muslims, and the Jews. He challenges whether the “Reconquest” really was a reconquest as opposed to a long-term expansion or encroachment from the North. He explains how military innovations led to Iberian (actually, Castilian) conquests and eventually exploration and domination of the New World. He describes the complex interaction between Church and state in the Iberian Peninsula. And he describes why it ultimately faded. Two major themes are the Inquisition and the treatment of Jews. Dr. Ruiz is that rarity within The Great Courses (TGC) stable – a teacher who is not either from America or one of the British Isles. Dr. Ruiz is from Spain (although he taught at UCLA) and he provides important insight into the underlying culture leading to these world-changing events. He lauds accomplishments but he also airs plenty of dirty laundry. Just about every lecture provides deep insight. Despite the glorious sounding course title, this is actually a fair, sometimes harsh, look at the golden days of Spain by a Spaniard. Dr. Ruiz spoke with a thick accent. This may make it difficult for some students to follow but I had no trouble with it. The course guide is a little below average by TGC standards. It is in outline format, which limits its usefulness. It averages about 4 pages per lecture, a little more than half of TGC standard. There are no graphics in the lecture pages. The appendix includes a map of the Iberian Peninsula (which is an important reference for most lectures), a timeline, a glossary, and a bibliography. It would have been helpful to include biographical notes as well. I used the audio-only version. That was quite sufficient as long as I remembered the map in appendix. The course was published in 2002.
Date published: 2024-04-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Course ruined by intonation and mannerisms I generally enjoy the Great Courses but have found this course very difficult not because of the content although this is not especially balanced but because of the constant movement of the lecturer and his poor annunciation of the English language - I accept that English may or may not be his first language (he describes hi name as Greek in origin) but this does detract from the content to the extent that one tends to listen for the next time he adds a 'd' to the end of a word
Date published: 2024-01-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not a true "Other" perspective Not great. The very tile "Other" presumes it an alternative way of looking at this period in history, relative to a "traditional" perspective. But in fact, the supposedly alternative exposed by the lecturer has become outdated over time, thus becoming the established canon that contemporary historians are revising. The lecturer's perspective appears bias, hammering at the protagonists of the period with moral hammers of yesteryear, in subtle (and no so subtle) ways. For example early in the course the author poses the question: How Castille, a small state not endowed with particularly rich resources, could have attained the prominent role it held for so long? The implication being that some unique factors must have come into play (i.e., violence, opportunism?). In reality, empires have rarely been build upon prosperous lands. Mesopotamia or Mycenae prospered despite (and maybe, because) very harsh terrains. This course clamors for a more modern, rigorous historic narrative. I look forward to a "truly other" perspective from which to understand the target events and period.
Date published: 2023-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful insights, great synthesis Great course--great material, great teacher. Helped me prepare for a trip to Spain.
Date published: 2022-11-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not able to view on Roku Most of the Courses can be viewed on the great courses Roku app. This one cannot, so I have not seen it yet. I will need to make the effort to watch the DVD soon, I guess.
Date published: 2022-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Memorable I have listened to both of Prof. Ruiz's courses. I find his manner and accent charming. I find his presentations cogent, organized, and intellectually exciting. It has been a while since I listened to this course, but as I think back over the many, many Great Courses history courses I have listened to, this one and Prof. Ruiz's "Terror of History" stand out as among the most thought-provoking. I will re-listen to both again soon.
Date published: 2022-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Really enjoyed these lectures. My only wish is that it I would have preferred a video format instead of audio.
Date published: 2022-04-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very disappointed to discover that course does NOT stream and I can only access it by DVD. I would not have purchased it had I known since I can only access the lectures on my desktop and not laptop or iPad. This is not to be taken as a negative review of the content-1st lecture was fine and I like the lecturer’s methodology.
Date published: 2022-01-28
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The Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire uses this critical year in Western history as a focal point to follow the events that enabled Spain to become an empire. Guided by Professor Teofilo F. Ruiz, an authority on Spanish history, these lectures paint an engaging portrait of 1492 as the centerpiece of the transformation of Spanish society by tying together several key themes including the rise of Catholic monarchs, the end of pluralism, and the discoveries of Christopher Columbus. You'll quickly discover that there is a 1492 different from the one of most of us were taught—one that is more complex and more complete.


Teofilo F. Ruiz

The terror of history is that awareness not only of the untold cruelties of our life on earth, of the ephemeral nature of our lives, of our emotions, of the cultural constructions we make.


University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Teofilo F. Ruiz is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. A student of Joseph R. Strayer, Dr. Ruiz earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Prior to taking his post at UCLA, he held teaching positions at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York Graduate Center, the University of Michigan, the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris, and Princeton University-as the 250th Anniversary Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching. In 1994-1995, the Carnegie Foundation selected Professor Ruiz as one of four Outstanding Teachers of the Year in the United States. Professor Ruiz has been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the American Council of Learned Societies. Dr. Ruiz has published six books, more than 40 articles, and more than 100 reviews and smaller articles in national and international scholarly journals. His Crisis and Continuity, Land and Town in Late Medieval Castile was awarded the Premio del Rey Prize by the American Historical Association.

Europe and the New World in 1492

01: Europe and the New World in 1492

The historian Walter Benjamin wrote that "every document of civilization is also a document of barbarity." This lecture broadly evaluates 1492 as an era of great creativity and great destruction, and describes the governing institutions that enabled Castile to take the lead role in both processes.

32 min
Reconquest, Pilgrimage, Crusade, Repopulation

02: Reconquest, Pilgrimage, Crusade, Repopulation

A religious relic in the small town of Compostela drew a cascade of pilgrims across the Pyrenees to northwest Iberia, many of whom eventually settled along the pilgrimage path. As these Europeans moved further south, Muslim kingdoms called up reinforcements from North Africa, sparking the first real conflict between militant Islam and the Christian West.

30 min
The Transformation of Values

03: The Transformation of Values

In the 13th century, the idea of private property evolved from a concept of land jurisdiction to the idea of owning physically bounded space. Laws limiting charitable giving weakened the church and buttressed family wealth. The idea of purgatory allowed the rich to negotiate or "bargain" for salvation, creating a new attitude toward the poor.

31 min
An Age of Crisis

04: An Age of Crisis

Isabella's ascent to the throne found the monarchy's power at low tide. Nobles had encroached upon royal lands. Tyrannical elites extorted income from the peasantry, and rival clans warred in the streets. Devout and determined, Isabella tamed the nobility, bringing law and order to a grateful people.

31 min
Isabella and Ferdinand—An Age of Reform

05: Isabella and Ferdinand—An Age of Reform

The monarchy's reform of the church and establishment of a vast, university-trained bureaucracy led to a blossoming of culture in the 16th century. A new class of royal administrators loyal to the crown seized control of municipal power, and the cortes was reduced to a rubber-stamp body. A centralized state in Castile with a "monopoly of legalized violence" was created.

31 min
Iberian Culture in the Fifteenth Century

06: Iberian Culture in the Fifteenth Century

15th-century Iberian culture was saturated with Italian humanist thought and strengthened by the growth of a lettered nobility. Conventions of grammar, etiquette, and chivalry informed the popular genre of romance novels, and hierarchically arranged festivals became part of the art of ruling.

31 min
The Conquest of Granada—Muslim Life in Iberia

07: The Conquest of Granada—Muslim Life in Iberia

The rule of the Caliphate of Cordoba was peaceful and tolerant. Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived, worked, and wrote in a "garden protected by the spears of Islam." The Caliphate's 1031 collapse gave Christian armies the upper hand, and foretold the end of convivencia between the faiths.

31 min
The Edict of Expulsion—Jewish Life in Iberia

08: The Edict of Expulsion—Jewish Life in Iberia

Historians today suggest a range of motivations behind the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Some cite militant Christianity and a hatred of Jews dating back to Visigothic times. Others argue that economic elites, jealous of Jewish influence at court and in commerce, simply wished to remove the competition.

31 min

09: Jews, "Conversos," and the Inquisition

The horrific pogroms of 1391 were followed by unprecedented levels of Jewish conversion to Christianity. Upper and middle-class Conversos blended comfortably into society, while the lower classes remained segregated at the bottom. The Spanish Inquisition, designed to ferret out "secret" Jews, sought to remove the last visible traces of Judaism from Iberia.

32 min
The World of Christopher Columbus

10: The World of Christopher Columbus

By 1492, the stated purpose of Columbus's trip was irrelevant. The Portuguese had already passed the Cape of Good Hope, and Vasco da Gama would soon return from his profitable Indian voyage. Columbus, a brilliant sailor, an apocalyptic zealot, and an incompetent administrator, returned from the New World believing he had ushered in a new age.

31 min
The Shock of the New

11: The Shock of the New

The Spanish treatment of the New World's inhabitants was riddled with contradictions, a result of Castile's fundamental failure to comprehend them. The eventual conclusion that they were human beings capable of salvation mitigated the brutality of the conquest. To their credit, the Spanish people were open to mixing and blending with the people of the Americas to build a new society and culture.

31 min
Spain and Its Empire—The Aftermath of 1492

12: Spain and Its Empire—The Aftermath of 1492

The legacy of 1492 would be Spain's wrenching entry into world affairs. The ascent of Charles I to the throne of Castile and his election as Holy Roman Emperor committed Spain to a role in the political conflicts of Western Europe. Spain would endure foreign wars, civil unrest, absolute despotism, and economic decline as the cost of empire, but also import its institutions all over the Americas and reap the cultural rewards of a new Golden Age.

32 min