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New Medieval Books: On Earth or in Poems

On Earth or in Poems: The Many Lives of Al-Andalus

By Eric Calderwood

Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674980365

A look at how al-Andalus – Islamic Iberia – has continued to be an important symbol in today’s world. It reveals how people from diverse backgrounds, including feminists and Palestinians interpret this era, finding ways for that society to provide lessons for the modern world.


In contemporary culture, the memory of al-Andalus is like a Swiss Army knife, a varied kit of tools ready to address all sorts of problems and needs. Al-Andalus is the name of a world music ensemble from the United States, a park in Cairo, a shopping mall in Saudi Arabia, a historic movie house in the West Bank, and an Israeli publisher that specializes in the translation of Arabic literature into Hebrew. Al-Andalus is a symbol of intercultural coexistence while also being a rhetorical weapon deployed by extremists of all stripes, from ISIS operatives in Syria to right-wing Islamophobes in Europe and the United States. Al-Andalus is a major driver of tourism to Spain as well as a cornerstone of Moroccan national identity. In al-Andalus, generations of Palestinian poets have found a metaphor for their homeland, while generations of feminist thinkers have found in al-Andalus a model for women’s empowerment and creativity. In short, al-Andalus has proven incredibly useful and malleable for writers, scholars, artists, politicians, and businesspeople around the world.


Who is this book for?

This touching book may not offer much medieval history, but it does offer medievalists a lot of insights into how the Middle Ages remain important and how the idea of al-Andalus is still vibrant. People who study medievalism and al-Andalus will want this book, and many others might like to read it too.

The author

Eric Calderwood is Associate Professor of Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he explores the political uses of the past in modern Mediterranean culture. Click here to view his page or follow him on X/Twitter.


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