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  • Los espacios coloniales en las crónicas de Berbería by Mar Martínez Góngora
  • Claire Gilbert
Martínez Góngora, Mar. Los espacios coloniales en las crónicas de Berbería. Madrid and Frankfurt am Main: Iberoamericana - Vervuert, 2013. 272 pp.

In this book Mar Martínez Góngora, Professor of Spanish at Virginia Commonwealth University, analyzes the representations of different categories of space in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century crónicas de Berbería. Martínez Góngora gives the name crónicas de Berbería to a corpus of “textos renacentistas sobre el Norte de Africa y el imperio otomano” (14) whose function was to provide strategic information as well as to justify the expansionist enterprises of the Habsburgs (1517-1700). These texts are of diverse genres, and Martínez Góngora chooses to focus especially on narratives of experience written by soldiers and captives, as well as historiography written by both those who had and those who did not have firsthand experience of Berbería. She argues that the vocabularies developed and used in these crónicas de Berbería for representing the spaces of the city, the marketplace, and the home helped foster the construction of an Islamic other against which the burgeoning Spanish state could construct itself and a proto-national identity.

The book is divided into three parts, each composed of two or three chapters, which explore the discursive representations of first, the city, then, the marketplace, and finally, the home across the heterogeneous corpus of crónicas de Berbería. Part one, “El espacio urbano,” is made up of three chapters dedicated to analyzing narratives and descriptions of cities across the Mediterranean. Focusing primarily on accounts of Algiers, Fez, Marrakesh, Oran, and Córdoba, Martínez Góngora effectively argues that the discursive representations of different urban spaces provided authors with important opportunities to create historical narratives justifying Habsburg military enterprise. In the first chapter of the first part, she shows how Renaissance authors evoked the shared Roman past of the Mediterranean basin to establish legitimacy for territorial expansion by Christian armies (among whose [End Page 539] ranks several of the Renaissance authors had fought as soldiers) led by the new Ceasar, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. In the following two chapters, Martínez Góngora explores a parallel set of historiographical strategies (often used by the same authors in the same texts) in which a common past was evoked between al-Andalus and North Africa, a shared heritage that was itself constructed through military encounters with Christians from the seventh century onwards. These seemingly contrasting shared histories supported the legitimacy of Christian occupation of Muslim territories. At the same time, the memory of such a long-standing tradition of military conflict between Christians and Muslims was used as a principal mechanism in Renaissance texts to reinforce the ideals of the Spanish nobility (especially Andalusian nobility) who were trying to maintain their identity and influence in sixteenth-century society.

In Part 2, “El mercado,” composed of two long chapters, Martínez Góngora explores the ways in which the commercial landscape is constructed in the crónicas de Berbería. Rather than analyzing the language of the marketplace itself—although descriptions of markets and commercial transactions are to be found in the renaissance texts she consults—Martínez Góngora argues that the way in which Renaissance authors described commercial and agricultural practices in North Africa and, to a lesser extent, in the Ottoman Empire, helped create the idea of North Africa as a vital and legitimate source for commercial and natural resources for Spain. It was the site where such resources were acquired, as she describes in the first chapter of Part 2, and also an important node in commercial networks that, in addition to grain, provided gold, slaves, and horses, as she describes in the second chapter. In these chapters Martínez Góngora makes several important analytical points that tie the discursive representations of North African resources into the broader political, economic, and cultural history of Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For example, she explains how the changing qualities of monetary transactions, due to...


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