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Débats. La internacionalización de la historiografía española: ¿una asignatura pendiente?

Modern Spanish History in North America

L’Histoire moderne espagnole en Amérique du Nord
Adrian Shubert
p. 303-310

Texte intégral

  • 1 An earlier version of this text was presented as part of a roundtable on «The Internationalization (...)

1In 2004, the British journal Social History published a special issue on modern Spain. This was, to my knowledge, an unprecedented event. My contribution was a short report entitled «Spanish historians and the English-speaking world» in which I looked at the place of modern Spain in European history, primarily in North America, and the role of historians from Spain1. I started the piece by referring to a «cuarenta principales» song from the 1970s, «I never been to Spain», to make the underlying point that Spain is essentially marginal to Anglophone historical writing about Europe. Now, close to ten years later, the situation has not really changed.

2Before going any further, it is essential to point out three things. First, the history of modern Spain is more marginal in North America than it is in the United Kingdom. Second, there is a whole other world of people in departments of Spanish and Romance Studies who attract large numbers of students and who often give courses on Spanish «civilization» that take the place of history courses. And third, Spain is not being singled out for special treatment. Europeanists in North America have a curiously limited view of what constitutes «Europe». Basically, the continent is reduced to Germany, France and Russia/Soviet Union. Great Britain also has a powerful place but whether it is considered European depends on the structure of individual History departments (in my own, for example, British history is a separate field) everywhere else: Italy, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, the Balkans, Scandinavia, and what used to be called Eastern Europe gets the occasional glance, at best. As marginal as it is, Spain is probably better represented than any of these places.

3One way of getting a sense of this situation is to return to the question asked by Michael Geyer back in 1989: who do historians hire as Europeanists?2 The quick answer is certainly not historians of modern Spain. By my count —and I apologize if I missed anyone— there are currently (2014) 29 specialists on modern Spain in tenure-track or tenured positions in North American universities. Twenty-seven of these are in the United States and only two in Canada, which has 93 universities. By way of comparison, the American Historical Association’s Directory of History Departments and Organizations in the United States and Canada, which covers only some 800 departments, lists 267 historians who work on modern Germany and 204 who work on modern France3.

4Perhaps what is most interesting about this group is what is not there. To begin with, many of the most senior and best-known scholars: Carolyn Boyd, William Callahan, Richard Herr, Edward Malefakis, and Stanley Payne have all retired. None of them has been replaced at the university in which they taught. These institutions: University of Texas, University of Toronto, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, Columbia University and University of Wisconsin-Madison, would all appear on any list of the best-ranked history programs on the continent.

  • 4 These were Wisconsin-Madison (14), Rutgers (20), UCSD (34), Carnegie-Mellon (36), Arizona (42), Cal (...)

5This leads to a second point. The history of Spain is almost totally absent from the most prestigious universities, and the most highly-regarded departments. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, Berkeley, Michigan all feel they can get by perfectly well without offering modern Spanish history. North Americans love rankings; the best known is done by US News and World Report and in the latest available ranking, done in 2009, only seven of the top fifty History programs in the United States had a specialist on modern Spain4.

6But this is not simply a matter of pure prestige. A disproportionate number of the people hired by history departments in the United States come from the largest, most prestigious programs. The latest available statistics from the American Historical Association, which are not all that recent, show that the top 30 (25 per cent) programs produced about as many PhDs as the remaining 123 and had a much higher placement rate: 42.6 compared to 23.5 per cent5. What this means is that when so few of the top programs produce PhDs in modern Spanish history, the odds are that fewer people in the field will be hired.

  • 6 Pamela Radcliff confirmed this in a personal communication.
  • 7 Phillips, William D. (2002), «Images of Spanish history in the United States», Bulletin of the Asso (...)

7There is one glimmer of good news in all this. Although one almost never sees positions in modern Spain advertised, newly-minted PhDs in Spanish history are being reasonably successful in getting jobs defined in other ways. In many cases, these positions are advertised as being in «Modern Europe». In others they are more broadly cast, for example «Comparative Global/European Women’s History» or «Comparative Historian with a Transnational Focus». At the same time, these outstanding young people are not being hired by the very best departments, or even by those that have doctoral programs6. A decade ago William Phillips found that only 14 of the 135 US universities with doctoral programs, barely 10 per cent, had specialists on modern Spain and the situation has not changed much, if at all, since then7. The situation in Canada is even worse: mine is the only a doctoral program with a specialist on modern Spain.

  • 8 I also looked at Comparative Studies in Society and History, which published nothing about Spain in (...)
  • 9 Umbach, Maiken (2005), «A Tale of Second Cities: Autonomy, Culture, and the Law in Hamburg and Barc (...)

8A second piece of evidence for the marginality of Spanish history is the articles that are published in the most prestigious journals. For this presentation, I went through all the issues of the Journal of Modern History and the American Historical Review between 2005 and 20128. The results are in graph 1. Of the four articles on Spain, one, a comparative study of Barcelona and Hamburg as «second cities», was written by a specialist in German history9.

Graph 1. — Articles in the Journal of Modern History and American Historical Review, 2005-2012

Graph 1. — Articles in the Journal of Modern History and American Historical Review, 2005-2012

© Adrian Shubert

9The story they tell is very clear: Spain has a minimal presence in these two important journals. If we put this in the form of the results of an Olympic event, France and Germany would share would get the gold, Russia would get the bronze and Spain would have been eliminated in the heats. Little has changed since the 1990s when these two journals published 24 articles on Germany, not counting those about the Holocaust and 17 on France, compared to one each on Spain.

10Finally we can get a sense of the number of books published and reviewed where non-specialists might see them. To do this, I examined the voluminous book review section of the American Historical Review for 2011 (graph 2).

Graph 2. — Books reviewed in the American Historical Review, 2011

Graph 2. — Books reviewed in the American Historical Review, 2011

© Adrian Shubert

  • 10 Kagan, Richard (1996), «Prescott’s paradigm: American historical scholarship and the decline of Spa (...)
  • 11 Among the recent books are Eastman, Scott (2011), Preaching Spanish Nationalism Across the Hispanic (...)

11It is easier to describe this situation than to explain its causes or to suggest how it might be changed. As to why the history of Spain remains so marginal, I can only repeat what I said in my 2004 article. Until not so long ago, high politics, high culture, diplomacy and war were the stuff of «real» history; in this context it is not surprising that declining lesser powers and ones that produced relatively few «big names» cultural figures should be neglected. The explosion of new types of history, starting with social history and gender history, might have led to a broadening of vision but they did not. In the United States, Spain has suffered from the belief that it embodies a particularly noxious combination of religious bigotry and religious despotism, a version of the Black Legend that Richard Kagan has called «Prescott’s paradigm», after the great 19th-century historian of the Americas10. Perhaps the growing prominence of transnational approaches, in which studies of the «Spanish» or «Hispanic Atlantic» are finding a place, will change things for the better11.

12There is also something of a vicious circle at work. If no one is teaching modern Spain, how are undergraduates ever to develop an interest? In my own case, I came to Spanish history through classes taught by William Callahan when I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto. Had I attended any other university in Canada at the time, I would not have had this exposure and I am certain I would have ended up doing a different kind of history.

13As to what we can try to do about this situation, I have a couple of suggestions. The first is that those of us who train new PhDs with ambitions to work in North America need to train them as broadly as possible. They need to be able to credibly claim to be, at least, historians of modern Europe. However, given that the American Historical Association reported that the number of jobs advertised in European history fell by 50 per cent between 2000-2001 and 2010-2011, this may well not be enough. At the same time, there have been more positions in the fields of world and transnational history.12 As one person who was hired by a small department in the last five years put it to me in an email, he «had been trained by Pamela Radcliff and David Ringrose to place Spain into a larger European and world context, which means I can do more at universities that don’t have the luxury of hiring a large number of specialized historians». In this respect, the reopening of the doctoral program at Tufts, now with an emphasis on Global History, is a promising sign.13

14A second thing is for us ourselves to produce work that address concerns and interests that go beyond Spain itself. Works that speak solely to the context of Spanish history, however good they may be, are not likely to make much of a broader impact. Imperial history, which has experienced a renaissance in Spain the last fifteen years or so, is a good example.

  • 14 For a discussion of some of these issues in another context, that of Europeans who write the histor (...)
  • 15 Beckert, Sven (2014), «The Travails of Doing History from Abroad», American Historical Review, 119 (...)
  • 16 Green, Nancy (2014), «Location, Location, Location: We Are Where We Write? », AHR Roundtable Comme (...)

15To this point my discussion had addressed objective, easily-identifiable and measurable aspects of modern Spanish history in North America. There are other, more subjective, harder-to-get-at considerations as well14. What are the implications of writing the modern history of Spain from another country, of living and working in very different cultural and institutional contexts, of not having Spanish (or Catalan, Galician or Basque) as a first language? Or without having grown up in Spain or even had any serious connection with the country before becoming an adult? Do we write that history differently? Are we struggling with a handicap or enjoying an advantage? Do we lack local knowledge and cultural and linguistic grounding or are we free from preconceptions that might constrain our thinking? Is it «easier to write a history of a country you have been born into?» Or, «[i]s it not often just the opposite?»15And how do we relate to our colleagues, both those in our home departments and countries and those in Spain? To use the terms employed in the AHR roundtable, when in Spain do we become brokers or do we «go native», do we «enter as far as possible [Spanish] historiographic debates and university norms» or do we try and provide «another vision based on the advantage of distance rather than proximity?»16. How will our Spanish colleagues receive us?

  • 17 I address these questions in Shubert, Adrian (forthcoming) «Lost in Digitization: the changing face (...)
  • 18 In considering the role personal relationships, we should not forget our relationships with archivi (...)

16A final question, and one which will become only more significant as time goes on: How will the unstoppable growth of digitized resources affect historians of Spain in North America and our relationships with our Spanish colleagues?17 The benefits of digitization are unquestionable, especially for researchers who live far away from Spain, but there are also some downsides. Dangers also loom over the experiential side of our research. Of these, one of the most serious is the threat to our direct experience of the country whose history we study. Good research, and even more good history, is not just a matter of access to sources. Engagement with the country and engagement with its historical community are crucial ingredients, and the increasing availability of digital sources may well help undermine these. The thin, or not so thin, edge of the wedge is already here: some funding agencies are demanding that applicants for research grants indicate whether or not archival materials are available online before awarding money for research travel. And selection committees have been known to reduce a requested travel budget on the grounds that with a digital camera an applicant can do with two weeks in the archives rather than the two months she had requested. Email and social media are undeniably powerful networking tools but will the relationships they allow be of the same quality as the relationships developed through face-to-face encounters?18

  • 19 Beckert, Sven (2014), «The Travails of Doing History from Abroad», American Historical Review, 119 (...)

17These are not, I think, questions many historians in Spain, or almost anywhere in Europe, have to ask themselves. Most history departments on the continent are strikingly provincial places, home to what Sven Beckert, himself a German teaching US history at Harvard, describes as «a system of history instruction that is to an overwhelming extent focused on their own respective national histories»19.

  • 20 Shubert, Adrian (1984), Hacia la revolución: orígenes sociales del movimiento obrero en Asturias, 1 (...)
  • 21 Id. (2002), A las cinco de la tarde, Madrid.
  • 22 Id. (1990), A Social History of Modern Spain, London.

18At the moment, these are questions that can only be answered by each historian of modern Spain based in North America for him or herself. What follows is necessarily individual and in the first person. My own view is that coming to Spanish history as a foreigner has, on balance, been an advantage. Both as a student and a professional I have benefitted from working with historians doing research on many different countries and having been exposed to a variety of historiographies and methodologies. My dissertation, which became my first book,20 and which was one of the first «social histories» of the Spanish working class as opposed to institutional histories of the labour movement, was very much inspired by the work of Edward Thompson and the teachers I had at the Centre for the Study of Social History at the University of Warwick. Being the only historian of Spain in a department of 45 for the last thirty years has been a hugely enriching experience, and the work on cultural history and leisure by some of my colleagues in Canadian, British, and even ancient Roman history helped convince me that bullfighting was a legitimate topic for a serious historian21. Even working with Anglophone publishers has been beneficial: my synthetic social history of modern Spain exists because it found a place in a series, «A Social History of Europe» edited by the historian of Germany, Richard Evans.22

19Being a historian of Spain based in North America has had another advantage: it has given me two distinct audiences and two distinct outlets for my work: historians of modern Spain, and especially Spaniards, on the one hand, and historians of other times and places who read the English-language journals in books. I have always wanted to reach both, and have considered my Spanish audience in many ways the more important, but even if I had been interested is speaking only to specialists, the professional pressures of advancing my career would have compelled publishing in English-language venues. (This is something which historians in Europe have begun to feel in the last few years with growing emphasis, as university and government authorities have placed on things such as «impact».)

  • 23 The situation in Spain has certainly been better than that in some other European countries, especi (...)

20The need to speak to this dual audience has undoubtedly affected the type of history I write, forcing me to speak to interests and debates beyond those of modern Spanish history. It has also been important helping me develop my own «voice» as a historian of modern Spain. I and, it is safe to say, all my colleagues in North America want our research to be taken seriously by historians in Spain —«going native» in the terms of the AHR roundtable— and, overall, the Spanish historical community has been wonderfully welcoming of us and our work, even though I do recall the occasional grumbling about Spanish publishers applying lower standards to the anglosajones23. At the same time, some of my work, especially my book on bullfighting, is marginal to the concerns of many historians in Spain.

  • 24 Beckert, Sven (2014), «The Travails of Doing History from Abroad», American Historical Review, 119 (...)

21In the end, though, what matters is the quality of the history we write and what it contributes to the broader historical conversation. Historians in North America come to the study of modern Spain with a desire, as Beckert puts it, to «engage important issues in the human past and [we] do so in a cosmopolitan spirit»24. This is no small thing.

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Notes

1 An earlier version of this text was presented as part of a roundtable on «The Internationalization of Spanish History» at the meeting of the Asociación de Historia Contemporánea in Granada on September 12, 2012: Shubert, Adrian (2004), «Spanish historians and the English-speaking world», Social History, 29 (3) pp. 358-363.

2 Geyer, Michael (1989), «Historical fictions of autonomy and the Europeanization of national history», Central European History, 22 (3-4), pp. 318-319.

3 See <http://www.historians.org/pubs/directory2/search_institution.cfm?CFID=1278186&CFTOKEN=32204798>.

4 These were Wisconsin-Madison (14), Rutgers (20), UCSD (34), Carnegie-Mellon (36), Arizona (42), California-Irvine (42), and Florida (48). See <http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/history-rankings>. Only two of the top 18 programs in European history, Wisconsin-Madison (13) and Rutgers (18), had a historian of modern Spain. See <http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/european-history-rankings>.

5 See <www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2005/0501/0501new1.cfm>.

6 Pamela Radcliff confirmed this in a personal communication.

7 Phillips, William D. (2002), «Images of Spanish history in the United States», Bulletin of the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, Summer-Winter, pp. 40-51.

8 I also looked at Comparative Studies in Society and History, which published nothing about Spain in this period.

9 Umbach, Maiken (2005), «A Tale of Second Cities: Autonomy, Culture, and the Law in Hamburg and Barcelona in the Late Nineteenth Century», American Historical Review, 110 (3), pp. 659-692.

10 Kagan, Richard (1996), «Prescott’s paradigm: American historical scholarship and the decline of Spain», American Historical Review, 101 (2).

11 Among the recent books are Eastman, Scott (2011), Preaching Spanish Nationalism Across the Hispanic Atlantic, 1759-1823, LSU Press; Paquette, Gabriel (ed.) [2013], Connections after Colonialism: Europe and Latin America in the 1820s, University of Alabama Press; and Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher (2011), Slavery, Freedom, and Abolition in Latin America and the Atlantic World, University of New Mexico Press.

12 See <www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2012/1201/Small-Signs-of-Improvement-in-Academic-Job-Market-for-Historians.cfm>.

13 See <http://ase.tufts.edu/history/graduate/phdFields.asp#global>.

14 For a discussion of some of these issues in another context, that of Europeans who write the history of the United States, see «AHR Roundtable: You the People», American Historical Review, 119 (3), june 2014, pp. 741-823.

15 Beckert, Sven (2014), «The Travails of Doing History from Abroad», American Historical Review, 119 (3), p. 819.

16 Green, Nancy (2014), «Location, Location, Location: We Are Where We Write? », AHR Roundtable Comment, American History Review, 119 (3), p. 810.

17 I address these questions in Shubert, Adrian (forthcoming) «Lost in Digitization: the changing face of historical research in Spain», Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies.

18 In considering the role personal relationships, we should not forget our relationships with archivists. Their knowledge of the peculiarities of their analogue collections can also be an invaluable resource for our research, something from which many of us will have benefitted.

19 Beckert, Sven (2014), «The Travails of Doing History from Abroad», American Historical Review, 119 (3), p. 821

20 Shubert, Adrian (1984), Hacia la revolución: orígenes sociales del movimiento obrero en Asturias, 1860-1934, Barcelona.

21 Id. (2002), A las cinco de la tarde, Madrid.

22 Id. (1990), A Social History of Modern Spain, London.

23 The situation in Spain has certainly been better than that in some other European countries, especially France. See Pinkney, David (1958), «The Dilemma of the American Historian of Modern France», French Historical Studies, pp. 11-25 and Id. (1975), «The Dilemma of the American Historian of Modern France Reconsidered», French Historical Studies, pp. 170-181.

24 Beckert, Sven (2014), «The Travails of Doing History from Abroad», American Historical Review, 119 (3), p. 820.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Graph 1. — Articles in the Journal of Modern History and American Historical Review, 2005-2012
Crédits © Adrian Shubert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/mcv/docannexe/image/6662/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Titre Graph 2. — Books reviewed in the American Historical Review, 2011
Crédits © Adrian Shubert
URL http://journals.openedition.org/mcv/docannexe/image/6662/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
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Adrian Shubert, « Modern Spanish History in North America »,Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez, 45-2 | 2015, 303-310.

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Adrian Shubert, « Modern Spanish History in North America », Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez [En ligne], 45-2 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2018, consulté le 19 janvier 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/mcv/6662

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Adrian Shubert

York University, Toronto

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