Building bridges is clearly top-of-mind for Laura Bass as she begins her dual role as associate professor of Hispanic studies and chair of the department this fall. She also holds a courtesy appointment in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture.
As department chair, Bass lays out an agenda of long and short-term plans for further expanding the reach of Hispanic studies on campus: furthering connections with several departments including art history, comparative literature, modern culture and media, Portuguese and Brazilian studies, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, among others; co-sponsoring more events, lectures and symposia; bringing in Latino and Latin American writers for readings and workshops; hosting Hispanic film series and conferences.
“It’s all building on what we already have in place,” Bass says.
She’s equally enthusiastic and thorough in her areas of research — 16th- and 17th-century Spanish literature and culture, an era toward which she was immediately drawn when she began her master’s degree at the University of Virginia.
“This so-called Golden Age of Spain was one of brilliant contradictions,” Bass says. “On the one hand, it was a time of ideological and social repression, but on the other it was a period that witnessed the creation of the modern theater, the modern novel, international law, and experimental poetry, not to mention the paintings of El Greco and Velázquez.”
It’s these forms of expression that Bass is currently looking at in two simultaneous projects. The first, a cultural history of Madrid from the mid-16th century, when it became the capital of imperial Spain. Working with a colleague in Spain, Bass is examining everything from popular culture to the commercial market for books and theatre, to religious festivities, to the architecture of the city at a time when it was becoming a cultural and political epicenter not just for Spain but for much of Europe and the world.
Building on that, Bass’s second current project delves even deeper to reconstruct Madrid’s changing urban footprint in the period and its virtual representations in text and image, not just for local consumption, but for global export as well. Other works by Bass have investigated the place of fashion, the commercial stage, and the visual arts in shaping early modern Spanish society. Her most significant contribution to date is her 2008 book The Drama of the Portrait: Theater and Visual Culture in Early Modern Spain.
Bass, who earned her Ph.D. in Spanish from Princeton, first came to Brown in 2010 as a visiting associate professor and said she felt an immediate affinity with the University. “I felt very welcomed and at home here. My year was wonderfully fruitful in terms of scholarly research and intellectual exchange thanks to groups like Renaissance and early modern studies, colleagues across campus, and a phenomenal set of graduate students. I also loved my time in the classroom. In every class I found inspiring, dynamic students. The whole intellectual vibrancy of Brown was amazing.”