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SP4: Modern Spanish Culture and History


This paper is available for the academic year 2024-25.

SP4 offers an overview of Spanish culture from the late eighteenth century to the present. Each of the paper’s thematic units will situate a range of cultural production—literature, cinema, visual materials (painting, etchings, cartoons, photography), and state legislation—within its cultural, social, and political contexts. Deploying a patently historical focus, SP4 will require students to develop knowledge of major events and central figures in modern Spanish culture while considering artistic representation as an index of the times in which these artists lived and worked. While the historical component of the paper will be emphasized in lectures, seminars, and supervisions, students will be required to engage a number of intersecting fields (literary studies, cultural studies, and cinema studies) over the course of the academic year.

NB: Many key texts can be found online for free at or



Topics taught in Michaelmas 2022:

The Darker Side of Modernity

Francisco de Goya, Los desastres de la guerra​ (1810-20) PRINTS

José María Blanco White’s Bosquejo del comercio de esclavos (1814) ESSAY

Mariano José de Larra’s “Literatura” (1836) and “El día de difuntos de
1836” (1836) ARTICLES

José Zorrilla, Don Juan Tenorio​ (1844) PLAY

(Post-) Imperial Fictions

Benito Pérez Galdós’ Tormento (1884) NOVEL

Jose Rizal’s “Como se gobiernan las Filipinas” (1890) and José Martí’s
“Nuestra América” (1891) ESSAYS

Emilia Pardo Bazán’s “La exangüe” (1899) and “El rompecabezas” (1899) SHORT STORIES


Topics taught in Lent 2023:

The Problem of Spain

Camilo José Cela: La familia de Pascual Duarte (1942) NOVEL

Juan Antonio Bardem: Muerte de un ciclista (1955) and Carlos Saura: La caza (1966) FILMS

Victor Erice: El espiritu de la colmena (1973) FILM

¡Ay Carmela!: José Sanchis Sinisterra (1986/7) PLAY; Carlos Saura (1990) FILM


Spain beyond Spain

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Sab (1841)

Carmen de Burgos: En la guerra (1909) NOVELLA

Alfonso Hernández-Catá: El ángel de Sodoma (1927) NOVEL

María Nsue Angüe, Ekomo (1985) NOVEL


Preparatory reading: 

You are strongly encouraged to read as many texts as possible from the reading list over the summer vacation. At a minimum, however, please prepare Benito Pérez Galdós's Tormento before arriving in Michaelmas
Term. We also ask that you read Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda's Sab prior to the start of Lent Term.

Teaching and learning: 

Teaching is provided through 16 lectures (4 hours on each topic) and four introductory seminars (1 for each topic). Students receive 8 fortnightly supervisions (plus revision support in Easter term if offering the exam). You are expected to attend all classes for the paper. In supervisions you should expect to look at all the topics.

All students enrolled in SP4 will be asked to prepare a brief presentation in Spanish (5-7 minutes) in Michaelmas and a brief presenation OR an abbreviated essay in Spanish (1,000-1,500 words) in Lent to reinforce contact with the target language.

For full reading list, please see SP4's Moodle page. The enrolment password can be collected from the paper coordinator.



Assessment is by 5-hour examination in which candidates answer three questions, in each response making reference to at least two texts, films or artists. Examination Candidates must provide one answer based on one of the novels (Tormento, Sab, Ekomo, La familia de Pascual Duarte) taught in the paper.

This paper is also available for examination by Long Essay.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Rebecca Fell (Paper coordinator)