Friday, September 13, 2013

Sitting on History: Watching Textbooks Come to Life

In school, we spend most of our years of history/social studies classes learning and re-learning the same 400-or-so years of history over and over again.  Eventually, I think we get desensitized to it all.  So, the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower, then we fought the British, then we fought ourselves, and 44 presidents later here we are.  The history of the United States is nothing more than a haiku when compared the extensive novel that is European history.  During my first two weeks of class in Sevilla, I am attempting to retain at least a general idea of the history of Spain--starting with the Roman Empire around 200 B.C. and ending with contemporary history of the 20th century.  It's a daunting task, and I know I'll walk away from this class with merely a short glimpse of the story of Spanish history, but there is still so much more to learn after the final exam.  After all, living in Sevilla, there are hundreds of years' worth of beautiful history right under my feet.

standing over an ancient Roman wall found under the streets of Sevilla

Let's start with the history that I encounter in my daily life here in Sevilla.  For example, the CIEE building where all of my classes take place is a renovated palace that was originally built in 1725.  They even still call it "el palacio" (the palace).  The University of Sevilla, also connected with the program, was established in the 16th century.  It was originally a tobacco factory, and it even says "Royal Tobacco Factory/University of Sevilla" on some maps.  Many of the monuments that I have visited so far with my orientation group and my history class pre-date what we learn in our history books in the U.S.  

aerial view of the courtyard at "el palacio"
Main entrance to the University of Sevilla

Some of the other places I've seen in my first two weeks here include the birthplace of Diego Velásquez, the tomb of Christopher Columbus, and the building that used to be a prison where Miguel de Cervantes was incarcerated and wrote part of "El Quijote," just to name a few.  Seeing these hints of history tucked around every corner of the city make me wonder what the future of the United States will be like.  Our country might be in its infant stage compared to most of Europe, but what will they say about us in another 500 years or so?  Will people tour the city of Chicago someday and view it the same way we view ancient Roman ruins?  Is our system of government going to be studied like we study the reign of the Roman Emperors or the Muslim Kings?  As I sit at my desk reading textbooks that tell the stories of the hundreds of years of history that came before me, the events going on throughout the world will write the history books for future generations.  

La Giralda was originally constructed as part of a mosque,
but was later converted by the Christians into
a bell tower for the Cathedral.  In this photo you can see
it situated between the Cathedral on the left, and the remaining
portion of the Mosque on the right.
Watching my homework come to life is an experience that I've never had in the past.  When we read about the Civil War, for example, there aren't many places we can go to completely immerse ourselves in that piece of history (other than museums, but that's too easy).  This past week, I learned about the Roman Empire's impact on the Iberian Peninsula, then visited the remains of an ancient Roman city later that same day.  Yesterday, we discussed the mixing of cultures that is so very common in Spain. By that afternoon, we had climbed to the top of a tower (La Giralda) that once served as part of the Great Mosque of Sevilla, but now is one of the crowning glories of the third largest Cathedral in the world.  The authenticity that seeing these monuments brings to the learning experience is invaluable.  I don't think I will ever be able to look at history the same way again, now that I have seen it come alive before my eyes.  


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