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  • Transforming the Enemy in Spanish Culture: The Conquest through the Lens of Textual and Visual Multiplicity by Lauren Beck
  • Joan M. Hoffman
Beck, Lauren. Transforming the Enemy in Spanish Culture: The Conquest through the Lens of Textual and Visual Multiplicity. Amherst: Cambria, 2013. Pp. 324. ISBN 978-1-60497-854-4.


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With Transforming the Enemy in Spanish Culture: The Conquest through the Lens of Textual and Visual Multiplicity, author Lauren Beck offers an exhaustive study of various subjugating discourses used to define the enemy in Spanish culture. Exploring both textual and visual resources and both archival and mass-produced sources, and with a strong reliance on primary sources, Beck offers an examination both broad and deep. Her study encompasses a wide range of history, geography and people: biblical and Roman times, Muslims during the Spanish Reconquista, the Crusades, Jews, New World indigenous peoples, Turks, black Muslim slaves from Africa, German and Dutch Protestants of the Reformation and Counter Reformation, Portugal, colonial Brazil, and hunters from Virginia. It traces the evolution of Spain’s conception of her enemies through a process of islamification and orientalization—a construction of otherness—in the Old World and the New; further, it demonstrates how, after the sixteenth century, this same “process of deoccidentalization” was co-opted by northern Europeans and used against Spain in the creation of a non-Spanish version of the conquest of the New World (2).

Thus, the text endeavors to highlight and explain the uses of various and sundry names for the enemy: moros, moriscos, árabes, piratas, for example; depictions of black Muslim devils and Protestants wielding scimitars; the labeling of Aztec temples as mezquitas; crescent moons in the Americas; the yamur (an architectural element found on the roofs of buildings from North Africa and al-Andalus); cannibalism; the work of Theodore de Bry and the creation of the Black Legend; representational descriptors of good and evil—Jerusalem, Babylon, the cross, the arch, white, black, Christian, Muslim, European, Indian, helmet, turban—all “visual abbreviation[s] distinguishing the faithful and the infidel” (161). Of particular interest is chapter 5, “Transatlantic Travels of Muslims in the Sixteenth Century,” in which the author turns to archival sources to counter the popular misconception that Muslims were not present in the Americas after the conquest. She argues convincingly that Muslims came as slaves at first and later defied the many edicts against their presence to live and work as explorers and settlers in the New World. [End Page 161]

It is clear that this work has been extensively researched. Each of the six chapters of the book is replete with several pages of bibliographical and explanatory endnotes and color and black-and-white plates depicting artwork, maps, charts, and other visuals in support of the study, and Beck accessed sources in languages as varied as Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, German, Dutch, Italian, English, and French, as evidenced by the text’s many quotes and lengthy bibliography. Additionally, it...


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