Two students from Brigham Young University will be utilizing research grants during the upcoming spring quarter to study in Garganta la Olla, a small town in central Spain that was the birthplace of a trailblazing Hispanic pioneer in Church history.
Debbie Gurtler and Kimberly Brown are among the 318 BYU undergraduate students to receive a $1,500 grant this year from the university's Office of Research and Creative Activities. They'll both be using their money to answer research questions in Garganta la Olla under the direction of Professor George R. Ryskamp.
"Most of what's been written in Spain tends to study the more dramatic stem family, where the property goes down to a particular child," Professor Ryskamp said. "In (Garganta la Olla), that is not that case; they divide the property equally among all children, male and female. Debbie is going to be looking at wills and death inventories and property sales in an attempt to look at the impact of equal inheritance and look at that pattern generally in an attempt to ascertain what women are doing and what kinds of rights they have.
"Kimberly Brown's paper is looking at the impact of physical space on women's lives. The houses in Garganta are somewhat unique. Instead of the traditional southern Spanish approach to homes where you have a central patio with the other rooms in the house around it, they have three-story homes and the top story has the kitchen — which means that the women are carrying everything they cook up two flights of stairs. Does this push them out more into the streets and therefore more into the community?"
The work of the students fits into a broader, ongoing project Professor Ryskamp is developing.
"I'm attempting to show women in rural Spanish villages in a new light," he said. "This is a place where religious faith is a key part of their foundation. They have traditionally been shown as backwards, restricted, limited in their activities. My position is that that's not the case, that there is actually a vibrant female community."
The geographic location of the BYU students' research projects can be traced through Professor Ryskamp back to the first Spanish-born Church member. Professor Ryskamp became acquainted with Garganta la Olla because of his involvement over the past 34 years in researching the Trejo family line, which includes one Meliton Gonzalez Trejo who was born in Garganta la Olla during 1844.
While in the Spanish army, Brother Trejo read a pamphlet about the Church he received from an LDS missionary in France. He eventually immigrated to Utah in 1874 and joined the Church. In time, he authored the first two translations of the Book of Mormon into Spanish.
Professor Ryskamp says that Garganta la Olla is an ideal town for researching historical trends because of its small size (its population is about 1,500); excellent upkeep of birth, death and marriage records; and lack of any tiered class system (only one of about 400 families in the town is considered nobility).
Six other BYU students in addition will be making the trip to Garganta la Olla, where Professor Ryskamp also led research expeditions in 2005 and 2007.