Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Colonial al-Andalus

Colonial al-Andalus

Spain and the Making of Modern Moroccan Culture

Eric Calderwood

ISBN 9780674980327

Publication date: 04/09/2018

Request exam copy

Through state-backed Catholicism, monolingualism, militarism, and dictatorship, Spain’s fascists earned their reputation for intolerance. It may therefore come as a surprise that 80,000 Moroccans fought at General Franco’s side in the 1930s. What brought these strange bedfellows together, Eric Calderwood argues, was a highly effective propaganda weapon: the legacy of medieval Muslim Iberia, known as al-Andalus. This legacy served to justify Spain’s colonization of Morocco and also to define the Moroccan national culture that supplanted colonial rule.

Writers of many political stripes have celebrated convivencia, the fabled “coexistence” of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in medieval Iberia. According to this widely-held view, modern Spain and Morocco are joined through their shared Andalusi past. Colonial al-Andalus traces this supposedly timeless narrative to the mid-1800s, when Spanish politicians and intellectuals first used it to press for Morocco’s colonization. Franco later harnessed convivencia to the benefit of Spain’s colonial program in Morocco. This shift precipitated an eloquent historical irony. As Moroccans embraced the Spanish insistence on Morocco’s Andalusi heritage, a Spanish idea about Morocco gradually became a Moroccan idea about Morocco.

Drawing on a rich archive of Spanish, Arabic, French, and Catalan sources—including literature, historiography, journalism, political speeches, schoolbooks, tourist brochures, and visual arts—Calderwood reconstructs the varied political career of convivencia and al-Andalus, showing how shared pasts become raw material for divergent contemporary ideologies, including Spanish fascism and Moroccan nationalism. Colonial al-Andalus exposes the limits of simplistic oppositions between European and Arab, Christian and Muslim, that shape current debates about European colonialism.


  • The particular value of a book like Colonial al-Andalus is the way it illuminates and historicizes these mythologies, tracing a story that itself extends far beyond Iberia and Morocco. The book brings our attention to some of the less-acknowledged uses of convivencia and also excises the debate over intercultural and interreligious relations in medieval Iberia from its academic confines. With this book in our hands, we have new tools with which to understand Mediterranean crossings and the rhetoric that surrounds them today.

    —Leslie Harkema, Marginalia


  • 2019, Winner of the L. Carl Brown AIMS Book Prize in North African Studies


  • Eric Calderwood is Associate Professor of Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the author of the award-winning Colonial al-Andalus. He is a contributor to NPR, the BBC, and Foreign Policy.

Book Details

  • 408 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

From this author