Thursday, October 29, 2009

Leo Africanus

This book takes a different approach to illustrating the global system in the late fifteenth-century; it is, after all a collection of stories told to the narrator, Hasan, as well as original stories told by him. The story begins with accounts from Granada, a city in Muslim Spain (Andalusia). We learn through the accounts of Hasan and his parents that Granada is an international city: the doctors there study works from the Hippocratic writers (from ancient Greece) and Galen (a Roman); trade products such as silk are abundant; there are references to the "Tartar" invasions, as well as memories of the plague; and there are also accounts of Christopher Columbus, who could be called a founder of imperialism and (almost-)modern globalization.

However, this global city exists under a dark cloud of invasion, molestation, and exploitation. It is invaded by Christian-Spaniards under Ferdinand and Isabella during the "Reconquest" of Spain against the Muslims and Jews who before had been living in the Iberian Peninsula for several centuries. The Spanish Inquisition, notably brutal, forcefully converted or expelled Jews and Muslims from "Al-Andalus". Hasan, in this story, lives through these tumultuous events, and as he foreshadows in his narrative, he is never again able to stay in one location for the rest of his life; he will be called Leo Africanus, but, as he says in the introduction, he is not African...

I have called the city of Granada a "global city". So I wonder: does the fact that Granada was on the global stage in the late fifteenth-century account for its invasion and "reconquest" by Ferdinand and Isabella? or was it all simply about religion?

-Stefan Larson


  1. I think there was probably some underlying desires to get at Granada because of other reasons besides religion.

    -Dorothy Smith

  2. Probably its position in the world as well as religion but mainly religion. In one of my history classes we had to read parts of Columbus' diary which illustrated that the whole reason that Spain was interested in finding a new way to India was to find treasure and loot that could help the Spanish fund the war against the Muslims. So based on the things that I have read in this other class, I honestly believe that religion was the main reason for Granada's fall.