Dec. 4, 2007 — In early fall, David T. Gies, Commonwealth Professor of Spanish, received a surprise e-mail from the Embassy of Spain in Washington. The communiqué announced that he had been selected to receive one of Spain's highest honors, the Order of Isabella the Catholic. The honor celebrates Gies' academic achievements and devotion to promoting Spanish culture. The award comes with the title of "Encomienda de Número of the Order of Isabel the Catholic," which Gies described as a "kind of knighthood."
Referring to the e-mail, he said, "I just love the fact that it was all so modern."
The award, from His Majesty Juan Carlos I, king of Spain, is one of four granted this year. The honor is named for Queen Isabella of Castile (1451–1504), who, with her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, financed Columbus' voyage of discovery to America, and was established by King Ferdinand VII in 1815.
Gies received the medal at the embassy's Hispanic Day party on Oct. 11.
"Professor David Gies is awarded this distinction for his works on the Spanish literature of the Enlightenment and the Romanticism periods, on Spanish contemporary cinema and for his publications and conferences about our literature across Europe and America," said Jorge Sobredo, cultural counselor at the embassy. He also cited Gies' work as a "member of the Cultural Cooperation Program with American universities, which the Spanish Ministry of Culture has been developing for more than 20 years in collaboration with this embassy."
Gies has published 12 books, including "The Cambridge Companion to Modern Spanish Culture," "Theatre and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Spain" and "The Theatre in Nineteenth-Century Spain," and has written more than 80 articles and 100 book reviews. He currently edits DIECIOCHO, a journal dedicated to the study of the Spanish Enlightenment.
Gies and his former professor and mentor, Spanish professor emeritus Javier S. Herrero, came together to U.Va. in 1979. Herrero served as chairman of the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, with Gies as associate chairman, for five years. Gies then served as chairman for eight years. Together they changed the way Spanish was taught at U.Va., transforming what was then a translation-focused discipline to a dynamic new Spanish curriculum that embraced not only literature, but also culture, film, conversation, civilization and the study of early modern works, as well as the inclusion of Latin America in Spanish studies. Today the Spanish department is ranked at the top among universities.
"David is always asking, 'How can we serve better our students? How can we teach more interesting classes? How can we share our great Hispanic tradition, which every day is more a part of our own country's experience?,'" said Randolph Pope, Commonwealth Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature.
Maria-Inés Lagos, professor of Spanish and chairman of the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, praised Gies' scholarship as well as his ecumenical approach to Spanish studies. "David is not just interested in his field, but in the whole of Hispanic world, and this is also a characteristic of this department. We specialize in an area but people are interested in the transatlantic character of Hispanic literatures and cultures," she said.
Gies has been a champion of the University's very successful Hispanic Studies Program in Valencia, Spain, since it's founding by Professor Fernando Operé during Hererro's tenure as department chairman. The program offers U.Va. students and those from other institutions an immersion experience.
"His vision and constant energy and enthusiasm have been fundamental in the development and success of the Valencia program," Operé said.
Herrero was not surprised to hear the news of his former student's award. Gies wrote his dissertation at the University of Pittsburgh under Herrero. "David was the best student I ever had," he said.
Herrero is also a recipient of the Order of Isabel the Catholic. He and former U.Va. history professor Charles J. Bishko were honored in 1986.
Gies is no stranger to honors for his academic accomplishments and his contributions to the University. He was the 1992 recipient of the University of Virginia's Outstanding Teaching Award, served as chairman of the Faculty Senate in 1999-2000 and was honored in 2000 with the highest recognition presented to a member of the U.Va. community, The Thomas Jefferson Award.