Isabel de Sena

MA, University of California–Berkeley. PhD, University of California–Santa Barbara. Published works on late medieval and early Renaissance Peninsular literature, as well as Latin American literature (Sarmiento, Altamirano, Manuel de Jesús Galván). Among her translations: Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts (into Portuguese) and Caetano Veloso’s Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil (Knopff, 2002). Taught at King’s College (London), Princeton, and Goucher College; the first resident director of the Sarah Lawrence in Cuba program (2001-04). Currently at work on a bilingual edition of short tales from the Spanish-speaking world. SLC, 1997–

Undergraduate Courses 2018-2019


Intermediate Spanish II

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Open to qualified students as determined by a personal interview with the instructor and the results of the Spanish Placement Test (online).

This course is intended for students who have completed roughly two years of college Spanish or the equivalent in high school. Emphasis will be on reading and watching films while broadening your knowledge of primarily Spanish literature and cinema and, at the same time, honing short- to mid-length essay-writing skills in Spanish. (Given the emphasis on reading and writing, this course is also suitable for first years who would like to work in both English and Spanish as part of their first-year experience.) Along the way, we will look into what it means to be “Spanish,” nationalism and other identities (Basque, Catalán), the violence to which the country was subjected during the Civil War, and the pact of silence that followed 36 years of fascist dictatorship (the Franco regime and then the “transición”). How does the country of Opus Dei enact the first European constitutional amendment to legalize gay marriage? And how do immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America challenge notions of “the other.” These are some of the questions we will ponder, and you will no doubt come up with others of your own as we move through texts and films. Except for a few theoretical/critical texts in English, all readings will be in Spanish. Second semester, we will focus primarily on Cuba and continue to develop writing skills in Spanish.

Related Disciplines

Previous Courses

First-Year Studies: States of Emergence, Stages of Emergency

Open , FYS—Year

The Golden Age of Spain, a period lasting roughly 200 years that coincides in its middle part with the Elizabethan era, is a period of extraordinary creativity that reflects, in myriad ways, the wondrous changes taking place—scientific, economic, social, philosophical, literary, and artistic—as the world becomes truly globalized for the first time and the early modern era is born. In Spain, these two centuries span the emergence and lexicalization of a number of new genres: the picaresque; the Moorish and pastoral romances; the exemplary tale; the sonnet form; a wondrous theatrical tradition, la nueva comedia—synchronous with Elizabethan theatre—that produced playwrights like Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Calderón; and of course, Cervantes (playwright, short-story writer, novelist). We will explore the smaller entities “on the ground” that merge and bloom into this explosion of creativity. In the first semester, we will focus primarily on the emergence of a theatrical tradition as medieval fuses into modern; in the second, on the prose and poetry that leads us to a reading of Cervantes’ Don Quixote...naturally.

Related Disciplines

Advanced Spanish: Literary and Filmic Genres

Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Strongly recommended: Please take the Spanish Placement Test online prior to signing up for an interview with the instructor.

This course is intended for students who have completed at least two years of college-level Spanish or the equivalent. Emphasis will be on developing short essay-writing skills and different kinds of essays while broadening your knowledge of Spanish and Latin American culture, literature, and film. The readings and films will focus primarily on 20th- and 21st-century Spain and Latin America. Some readings that provide a framework for analysis will be provided, both in English and Spanish, but the course is otherwise taught entirely in Spanish.

Related Disciplines

Literature in Spanish: Cuban Literature and Film, 1959 to the Present

Advanced , Seminar—Spring

Taught entirely in Spanish. Unless you have taken Advanced Spanish in the fall or are retuning from a semester abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, please take the Spanish Placement Test prior to signing up for an interview with the Instructor.

We will begin this course with an overview of political events and Cuba in relation to Latin America and the United States in the 1950s, read some key texts by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, and then focus on the evolution of literature and film in Cuba over the decades and how they reflect the changing political, social, literary, and artistic landscape.

Related Disciplines

Advanced Beginning Spanish

Open , Seminar—Year

Taught in Spanish. Spanish placement test (to be taken online during interview week) is required, in addition to an interview with the instructor.

This course is intended for students who have had some Spanish previously but who have forgotten most of it. We will do a thorough review of basic grammatical, lexical, and syntactical concepts at a more accelerated pace than the regular Beginning Spanish class. In addition to the use of a textbook, Invitaciones—which includes a video story, Escenas de la vida—we will also make extensive use of pair and small groups among other supplemental activities, including playing games, seeing films, reading poems and some short stories, animation, and so on in order to enhance comprehension and speaking ability and to deepen cultural understanding of Spain and Spanish America. We will watch films outside of class on a biweekly basis to be discussed in class and written about at home. By the end of the first semester, you should be able to function in informal, transactional, and interpersonal situations; understand key ideas and add some supporting details; ask and answer questions; produce simple narrations and descriptions, as well as explanations; deal with a range of topics from the self to the immediate environment; and produce increasingly sophisticated paragraphs on a variety of topics. By the end of the second semester, you will additionally be able to read and understand simple journalistic essays, read short stories and one-act plays, and discuss them using basic concepts in Spanish.


Becoming Spain: Origins, Golden Age, the Struggle for Modernity, Contemporary Issues

Open , Seminar—Fall

Taught entirely in English, but students proficient in Spanish are welcome to do the readings and their conference projects in Spanish.

The literature and arts of Spain reflect, react to, question, and complicate a long history of cultural and linguistic hybridization (as early as the so-called convivencia of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Middle Ages) and periods of intolerance (the expulsion of Jews and then Muslims and “moriscos” in the 15th and 16th centuries. That brilliant age for literature and the arts coincided with the expansion of a new empire—the Golden Age of literature and theatre—as well as its exhaustion; the struggle for modernity in the 19th century, like much of the world, even as internal conflict and colonial wars (e.g., Spanish-American War) depleted resources; and then the upheavals of the 20th and 21st century, which include more than one Republic, a deadly Civil War followed by 36 years of dictatorship under Franco, an uneasy transition towards democracy starting in 1975, and the incorporation into “Europe” (European Union, 1986)...only to find Spain again struggling with debt (European Union), with various territorial autonomies (Basque Country, Catalonia) and their various languages and identities, and with immigration (from Africa and Latin America, in particular)...raising continuous issues about global, national, local identity, gender roles, class relations, and ethnic issues. Through literature and film, we will explore all of these issues in four basic units. Readings will include the Poem of the Cid, the Celestina, the first picaresque novel, Lazarillo de Tormes, some of Cervantes’ exemplary novels, a Golden Age play, some short stories by María de Zayas, and a play by García Lorca, among other texts. Films will include those directed by Pedro Almodóvar, Victor Erice, and Icíar Bollaín, among others.

Related Disciplines

Literature in Translation: Don Quixote and the Early Modern World: Knight, Lover, Madman, Reader

Open , Lecture—Spring

Don Quixote is many things to many people. To his family and friends, he is a madman—his brain addled by excessive reading of chivalric tales and other nonsense. Yet almost everyone with whom he comes in contact becomes a collaborator in his madness, on occasion outdoing him. To himself, he is a knight in shining armor, whose purpose is to defend and protect the poor, the disenfranchised (and damsels in distress). To most people, he is a sorry-looking old man who, for instance, challenges (older) lions into battle. Yet he can (rarely) battle—and defeat!—men much younger than himself. A member of the lesser nobility, he is singularly obtuse about money and what it means to make it, keep it, and manage it. He is both a lover, ever pining for the ideal lady of his thoughts, and the staunch defender of a woman’s right to her choices. He never married himself, yet he may on occasion provide wise counsel to young hot heads in love. Accompanied by his faithful squire, the rotund Sancho Panza, Don Quixote weaves a unique and luminous path through the so-called Golden Age of Spanish literature, the sum total of an age that saw an empire flourish and, some say, the beginning of its decadence after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. We will read this most extravagant, extraordinary, and very funny book in the context of the early modern world, one that in less than 100 years prior to the emergence of this gentleman had enormously expanded, where “East” and “West” and “Old” and “New” worlds had been linked—not on horseback, Don Quixote’s favored mode of locomotion, but by the technological advances in the sciences and navigation. What is the intellectual context, and how can it enrich our reading? What is the relationship between this rapidly changing world and the many worlds that we find in Don Quixote? What fundamental questions did this tremendous cultural shift raise, and how does the novel textualize them? Additional readings, to be reported in class at appropriate moments, will range from true accounts such as the cross-dressing Lieutenant Nun’s adventures in the “New World” to Lazarillo de Tormes’ earthy view of the underbelly of an unprecedented empire couched in a new and very ambiguous language, Tomas More’s excerpts from the chivalric romances that inspired Don Quixote’s greatness (or his madness and downfall), Moorish tales that play against the fascinating and intricately woven relations between the Christian and Muslim world for control of the Mediterranean, as well as Golden Age theatre, art, and music or Renaissance thought on a variety of topics.

Related Disciplines