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Writing Algiers

April 1, 2019 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

A watercolor "map" depicting the Spanish shore, islands, and the Mediterranean with the city of Algiers (“Argel”) shown at the lower right corner. The painting has a fascinating perspective -- as though the Mediterranean were merely a wide river. A purple national historical archives in Spain stamp is visible in the upper right corner.
Image: A watercolor “map” depicting the Spanish shore, islands, and the Mediterranean with the city of Algiers (“Argel”) shown at the lower right corner. Created by a former Spanish captive, probably a “renegade,” the map was recently found in the national historical archives in Spain. Image Credit: Archivo General de Simancas, MPD, 67, 024.

Monday Seminar:

Steven Hutchinson

Senior Fellow (2016-2020)

Spanish and Portuguese, UW-Madison


Until the early 16th century, Algiers was a modest port city, but from then on became one of the most important urban centers of the early modern Mediterranean. At least until the early 18th century, European writers obsessively focused on the city as the epitome of the Maghrib, not to mention the scourge of Christianity. Algiers was regarded as the most important of Muslim “corsair” cities and, with the possible exception of Istanbul, was also by far the most diverse city in the Mediterranean world, with some 75% of the population – Jews, sub-Saharan Africans, Turks, ex-European “renegades”, Spanish Muslim exiles, etc. – coming from elsewhere. Algiers had to reinvent itself politically, socially, religiously. While Turkish, Arabic and a great many other languages were spoken there, Algiers was the most important crucible for generating the only language spoken throughout the Mediterranean world, the lingua franca. In the account of his own captivity, the Belgian Emanuel d’Aranda says that “there is no better university than a prison in Algiers to teach people how to live.” Long before him, Miguel de Cervantes, five years a slave in Algiers and often considered the first modern novelist, expanded his concept of humanity far beyond what he had known before, and for the rest of his life wrote novels and plays about the Mediterranean, with Algiers figuring as the most important city in all of his works. A great number of texts in many genres were written about Algiers (histories, biographies and autobiographies, captives’ tales, novels, plays, poems, etc.). Among other questions, I’m interested in exploring how different kinds of slavery coincided in Algiers, how the vast numbers of religious converts to Islam adapted to life in Algiers, what cosmopolitanism might mean in this context, as well as in mapping out the genealogy of texts in various languages.


Steven Hutchinson is a Professor of Spanish at UW–Madison. He received his doctorate in Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago, and works primarily on Spanish literature of the 16th and 17th centuries.  He is author of Cervantine Journeys, which delves into the relations between narrative and travel, and Economía ética en Cervantes, which posits the notion of ethical economy in human relations through systems of value, “debts” and “payments”. He has also published some sixty essays in journals and edited volumes on poetics, rhetoric, genre, emotion, ideology, gender, eroticism, religion, conversion, captivity, martyrdom, modes of mutual understanding, etc. He recently co-edited a multidisciplnary volume entitled Cervantes and the Mediterranean, and has finished a book manuscript entitled Writing the Early Modern Mediterranean, which draws on a wide variety of sources from different languages and engages with how writers represented the Mediterranean world of that era. His awards include a Fulbright Research Fellowship in Madrid and fellowships at the IRH. He is  president of the Cervantes Society of America.


April 1, 2019
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Categories:


University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States