Associate Professor Brian Catlos, History

"Muslim Spain and the Modern West
(or "What Bob Dylan & Bill Gates owe to Islam")",
March 19, 2009, Cowell Provost House, 11:30am


Today's popular media presents Islam as the antithesis of all that is 'Western,' often characterizing it as retrograde, unsophisticated, and puritanical. Even many scholars have held that European civilization developed out of Classical antecedents, and that the Muslim world contributed to the process at best as a foil which focussed European energies and sharpened the Occidental character. But is and was the Islamic world in the Age of Caliphate so different from our own imperial age? And would there even be a "West" were it not for Muslim culture? This talk looks at three emblems of Western civilization - chess, rock and roll, and the computer - and asks whether we would have any of these had not a small band of Arab soldiers conquered and colonized Christian Spain in the course of their quest to "let freedom reign" over the entire world.

Brian A. Catlos studies the mechanics of the social, economic and cultural interaction of ethno-religious groups in the Medieval Mediterranean, especially Christians, Muslims, and Jews in Iberia. He received a B.A. in History and Philosophy (1994) from  the University of Toronto (Canada), and an M.A. (1996) and Ph.D. (2000) in Medieval Studies (History) from the Centre for Medieval Studies. His dissertation, The Victors and the Vanquished: Christians and Muslims of the Ebro Valley, ss. XI-XIII was awarded the Governor-General of Canada's Gold Medal  as well as the First Leonard E. Boyle Dissertation Prize (Canadian Society of Medievalists). He has been a postdoctoral fellow of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, a visiting scholar at the Institute for Medieval History (Boston University), the Institut Milà i Fontanals (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Barcelona) and the Institut d'Estudis Catalans (Barcelona).  In addition he has received grants, fellowships, honors and prizes from Spanish Ministry of Exterior, the Spanish Ministry of Education, the Catalan government, the University of California, the University of Toronto, the Government of Ontario, the IODE, the Canadian Association of University Teachers , and the American Historical Association. In 2002 he began as an Assistant Professor of History at the University of California Santa Cruz, where he teaches courses on the Crusades, Muslim, Christian and Jewish interaction, holy war, Medieval Iberia and World History.  In 2005 he was promoted to the rank of Associate, and is cross-appointed to the Jewish Studies Program.  He is a project member at the Institut Milà i Fontanals (CSIC, Barcelona), an external faculty member of the Università di Messina (Italy), and regularly delivers lectures and conference papers in North America and Europe.

In 2005 he received a UC President’s Research Fellowship in the Humanities in support of “Conflicts of Interest: Minority Administrative Elites in 14th-Century Aragon,” a major archival project. In 2006 his book The Victors and the Vanquished was honored by the American Historical Association with the John E. Fagg Prize, and it has been selected by the American Historical Association for the “Premio del Rey” in 2007. He is co-director of the Mediterranean Seminarand President of the American Academy of Research Historians of Medieval Spain.  He is also collaborating in a multi-year project sponsored by the Université de Paris, entitled "Elites rurales méditerranéennes au Moyen Âge (Ve-XVe siècle)." A number of articles are at press, and three book projects are at various stages of completion. Worlds of Economics and History: A Variorum in Honor of Andrew M. Watson is at press with Publicacions de la Universitat de València (Spain), Muslims in Latin Christendom, ca. 1050-1615 is due to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2011, and Common Histories: Everyday Lives of Muslims and Jews in Medieval Spain is well underway and is in development with a major university press. Other current undertakings include a number shorter archival studies on the Muslims and Jews of late Medieval Christian Spain, various projects connected to Mediterranean Studies, and work on a general theory regarding the social and economic interaction of majority and minority ethno-religious groups based on the principle of “conveniencia.”

Since the 1980s he has travelled extensively on five continents (once hitch-hiking from London to Istanbul and back) and has lived, worked and studied in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.  He also writes travel books, and is involved in documentary film.