Medieval Multiculturalism: An Immersion in Three Cultures

UC Davis Summer Abroad Spain - Group Shot

Written by Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science

The UC Davis Summer Abroad course “Three Cultures of Medieval Spain” immerses student scholars in a world where Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities coexisted and spawned a flowering of scientific, artistic, and architectural achievement.

“Medieval Spain was one of the most intriguing historical periods precisely because the three ethnic groups were forced to live together, for better or worse, from 711 to 1492,” said Spanish professor Robert Blake, who created and leads the class. “The Arab world was the top of the heap with the best architecture, science, music, and medicine. Students get a real insight into how the Islamic world operated, its widespread influence, and how this multicultural society existed for hundreds of years before the word ‘multicultural’ existed.”

Study Abroad Group Photo
Exploring the allies on Spain

Examining how these cultures interacted also provides students with insights into today’s refugee crisis, mass migration, religious conflicts, and the dynamics of a multiethnic society, he said. They also get a firsthand look at places they’ve only seen in pictures and immerse themselves in the Spanish language.

Offered every two years, the course takes place in Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz, Toledo, and Granada, cities that reflect the Islamic presence. Students visit architectural masterpieces including the Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada.

Charlotte Hoefer, a Spanish major, shared her experience. “Going to the Alhambra or Alcazar — as opposed to reading about them in a textbook — transformed my view of Spanish culture and allowed me to comprehend Spain’s profound historical past.”

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