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Syllabus for BASQ (ANTH) 471, 671:
Basque Culture

Profs. Joseba Zulaika and Sandra Ott
Office: Center for Basque Studies (GL 281)
Phone: 784.4854

Course Description and Goals

The course focuses on the cultural heritage of the Basques in local and global contexts, national and international frameworks. Its chief goals are to explore Basque culture, its definitions and transformations, through a range of different approaches and genres and within both local and global contexts. A second aim is to examine current political, economic and cultural dilemmas facing the Basques at the crossroads of tradition and post-modernity, and to consider these within the wider framework of contemporary Western society. The course draws upon anthropology, history and cultural studies; it utilizes film, literature and forms of popular culture which provide contrasting images of the Basques and their culture.

Course Evaluation
40% of the final grade will be based upon 3 take-home assignments (response papers) which will be evaluated on the basis of: effective use of readings, analysis of the primary issue(s), cohesiveness of argument and clarity of prose. 40% of the final grade will be based upon a take-home mid-term exam and a final exam. 20% of the final grade will be based upon class participation.

The grading scale is: 94-100 A; 90-93 A-; 87-89 B+; 84-86 B; 80-83 B-; 77-79 C; 70-73 C-; 67-69 D+; 64-66 D; 60-63 D-; below 60 F.

General Course Schedule & Topics
Week 1: Images of the Basques: Tradition and Modernity
Using documentary film, the popular press, literature, and art, the introductory session will contrast traditional, romantic images of the Basques with modern, global representations of their identity and culture. An overview of traditional, rural Basque society will be provided alongside that of industrialized, urban society, epitomized by the Guggenheim Museum and its re-invented venue, Bilbao.

Week 2: Basque Identity & Culture: Biology, Prehistory and Anthropology
Basques are often called “the mystery people of Europe”; and both popular and scholarly arguments have been made about their descent from Cro-Magnon man. We will explore Basque ethnicity and identity through their prehistory and biology, and then assess the impact of anthropology upon Basque culture, society and politics.

Week 3: Language, Heritage & Identity
We will explore the key role played by the Basque language in the shaping of Basque society, politics and identity. An enigma to linguists and a powerful, controversial tool in defining Basque-ness, Euskera both unites and divides society at local, regional, and national levels.

Week 4: Identity, the rural farmstead (baserri)
& the house

Anthropologists identified the rural farmstead and house as a primary institution in both French and Spanish Basque rural society. We will explore the intricate relationship between the individual and the house through documentary film as well as ethnography.

Week 5: Individualism, Collectivism and Gender Relations
Basques have been depicted as supremely individualistic and yet, in both rural and urban society, forms of cooperation give precedence to the collective good of the institution (an eating society in town, a shepherding syndicate in the mountains) rather than the individual. We will look at these contrasting images of the Basques in relation to gender stereotypes and inversions of ideologically male and female roles (specifically in the annual military parade of Hondarribia and in the shepherding syndicates of Soule).

Week 6: Fisherman’s Luck, Shepherd’s Delight
For centuries the Basques on the Cantabrian coast have been closely associated with fishing and the sea. We will first explore the Basque fisherman’s concept of luck and see how it informs and shapes a seaman’s experience; and then look at the contrasting world view of Basque shepherds and their notion of “the mountain”, as a physical and spiritual source of power.

Week 7: Economy, History and Ruins
An overview of the Basque economy in both urban and rural settings will reveal crises and transformations in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. We will look at economic and social factors underlying the emigration of Basques to the New World and the ingenuity of Basques as global traders. We will also look at the rise and fall of industry in urban centers such as Bilbao and examine the success of Basque cooperatives in Mondragon within the context of Basque values and culture.

Week 8: Basque Diaspora and Basque Multi-Culturalism
A range of economic, political and social factors contributed to the Basque diaspora. We will trace the patterns of Basque emigration to North and South America and consider their differences. We will focus on the Basque emigrant’s experience in the American West and explore the consequences of emigration on Basque culture and identity.

Week 9: Culture, Heritage, Emotion and Memory
Among the Basques, the culture of hunting entails an organization of the senses and emotions in primordialist terms. We will first look at the ways in which human/animal dichotomies and animal metaphors operate. We will then explore Basque heritage in relation to memory, seeing how Basques reconstruct their past through oral testimony, museums and popular theatre.

Week 10: Spoken Word, Written Word: Cultural
Models of Performance

Improvised singing (bertsolaritza) is central to traditional Basque culture, and provides a fascinating opportunity to explore verbal art and performance, and their relevance to Basque society. Another special, social context of communication among Basques is offered by the Souletine phastorala, a form of highly stylized popular theatre, where performance and verbal art explore specific periods in Basque history. Videos of both improvised singing and popular theatre will bring to life the power of performance and orality, as well as the controversy to which it can give rise.

Week 11: Mythology and Popular Religion
We will explore Basque mythology through stories about Mari and her mediating role in spatial, social and cultural transitions. We will then examine the centrality of religious belief in traditional Basque society. An ethnography of local Catholicism (including ritual practices and beliefs) in one Basque community will provide a sociological framework within which to understand the importance of religion in traditional society. We will also consider the relationship between traditional Basque culture and visions of the Virgin Mary.

Week 12: Basque Culture in Art and Film
With the help of slides, we will look for connections between traditional works of art of a religious or decorative nature and the works of high modernist artists such as Oteiza, Chilida and Amestoy. By considering art as a cultural system, we will examine the continuities/discontinuities between “low” and “high” artistic forms, primitivism in 20th century art, and the transition from local tradition to “universal” art. Using video, in the second part, we will look at Basque culture through documentary and film. We will look to see how the discourse of the anthropologist, historian, film-maker and imaginative writer overlap.

Week 13: Witchcraft and War
Witchcraft in 15th/16th century Basque society provides a fascinating opportunity to debate issues such as belief and perception, knowledge and superstition. The ritual of torture and the politics of the inquisition entailed in a study of witchcraft provide interesting parallels in the 20th century, when we look at the experience of Basques under Nazi Occupation during the Second World War. Accusations of collaboration and denunciation also raise issues about perception, knowledge and politics.

Week 14: Victims and Victimizers: From Nazism to the Terrorism of ETA
The Nazis who occupied the French Basque Country between 1940 and 1944 claimed that the men and women of the Resistance were “terrorists”, owing to their acts of sabotage and subterfuge, their relentless harassment of German troops and, in Soule, armed combat. In 1959, ETA was born in the Spanish Basque Country and thus began a different cycle of Basque resistance to authority, a different period of Basque “occupation”. We will compare and contrast the moral, social and political dilemmas posed by the Nazi Occupation and by the ongoing violence of ETA.

Week 15: Revision and Final Exam


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