Friday, September 26, 2008

Insularity

I want to follow up on the end of yesterday's post and the comments. I find that working on medieval Catalonia can be a weirdly disconnected experience, because Catalan scholarship and international scholarship often have little to do with each other.

As Notorious says of Catalan scholars: "they know their local sources inside and out, and tracking down their footnotes is almost always rewarding." Yes, exactly.  But the stuff I read regularly is not much concerned with theoretical frameworks, just as she said.  In particular, I see only a few Catalan scholars who pay much attention to gender. That is partly a reflection of the sort of thing I read. Since I'm working on monasticism, I read a lot of things concerned with the institutional history of regional monasteries, or a sort of antiquarian exploration of some local monastic community.  This is all useful for me, but I have to do most of the work of relating it to studies of monastic life, patronage, etc. in other parts of Europe myself.

Jonathan Jarrett points out: "for the scholars I read from Catalonia theoretical debates do exist, they just tend not to be the same ones that we worry about. Depending on the scholar, the debate is either with the Castilians or with the French, and often enlisting one against the other."  True. I find that at times, too, but I think that's far more true of work on earlier periods--up to 1100 or so--than on the later Middle Ages.

The disconnection goes both ways, though.  If Catalan scholars focus on local materials and debates, there are surely good reasons for that; since I often read older (1960s and 70s-era) scholarship, I'm sure there were political reasons for that, too.  But among the English and North American authors I read, Catalonia (in fact the whole crown of Aragon) is virtually ignored.  The exception is the "feudal transformation" period that Jonathan has been discussing at length.  There Catalonia is seen as an interesting case study and discussed in a number of general works.  For later periods the relationships among Aragon's three religious cultures are extensively studied, but beyond that few references to anything regarding eastern Spain seem to reach general scholarship.  Despite the efforts of recent textbooks, such as Barbara Rosenwein's, to include many regions and cultures, I still get a sense that, for most scholars, France and England are seen as normative, while Spain is strange and exceptional.  But even within Spain, clearly Castile is the best exemplar of that exceptionalism, so Catalonia-Aragon can be neglected.

There are in fact quite a few specialists on Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia working in North America.  But the region still doesn't seem to be well integrated into most scholars' general understanding of the Middle Ages. 

7 comments:

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks for this!

Jonathan is right, but so are you: the early-period stuff (Visigoths, castellan revolt, feudalism) is where you really see the tug-of-war with France & Spain.

I think you're also right that the insularity has political roots. From the way I understand it, during the Franco period, it was unwise (to say the least) to write about the C of A as a separate entity with a separate history. Catalan scholars instead turned to deeply archival studies, critical editions of texts, etc. I think of it as their "German period." And thank god for that, because we all have all those lovely sources to work with (and let's pause here and praise Fundació Noguera, shall we?)

(getting long here, but I can't shut up about this, so part two in the next comment post...)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

The real bit of your post that resonated with me was (if I've understood you right) the idea of Spain as odd & exceptional. Surely that's right in many cases: there are few other areas in Western Europe (Sicily springs to mind) in which you have large populations of three religious cultures living together, with varying degrees of comfort with each other. It's important to pay attention to this, because if we say that Spain is *part* of Europe, then we need to revise what we think of the character of medieval Europe in general (in many ways like what happens when we integrate women into history in general).

But...

The tripartite culture thing is attractive, and most North American scholars working on Spain -- it is what dragged me in in the first place. But that can be a problem. We need people working on these exceptional areas. But we need people (like you & me) working on areas in which Spain is a *part* of the larger conversation. These two things can work together: We show people that Spain *is* a part of the larger European conversation; and the hybridity people showing others that a part of Europe is very different, and maybe we need to rethink what it all means.

(With apologies for incoherence -- I'm only halfway through my first cup of coffee)

clio's disciple said...

Yes, and yes. The tripartite religious identity issue is, of course, immensely interesting, and in fact I love teaching it. But I'm somewhat concerned that this theme has become just another way of making Spain exceptional, and therefore not relevant to wider European patterns.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Hey! Maybe you should retitle this post "Peninsularity"! Huh? Huh?

(Sorry. It's 1:45, and I'm too stressed out to sleep. Less than 48 hours to zero-hour for the MS. Gah.)

tenthmedieval said...

It is certainly what was exceptional about Spain that drew me to study it: frontier society, strong conflictual ideologies (which turn out to evaporate when you try and evidence them... ) and most of all incredible volumes of documentary survival. That latter makes non-Spanish Hispanists very keen to relate Spain back to the rest of the world with whatever provisos are required to explain why that evidence survives although it doesn't in other places. On the other hand, I picked Catalonia specifically because it belonged to a wider polity which was not in Spain, because it was partly Frankish and so the effort to relate it to somewhere non-Spanish was more feasible (and interesting). I think anyone working on local history that's not of their own locality is doing this having-cake-and-eating-it thing where you want your area to be special and like everywhere else at the same time. But there is some justice in this, of course; there are ways in which Spain is part of the medieval European conversation, even though it definitely has its own voice.

And Notorious, yes, indeed, all praise the Fundació Noguera and also may your draft be done soon and fruitful...

clio's disciple said...

As usual, good points from both of you, and I was certainly drawn to Spain because it seemed interesting and different from my normal life, going back to when I began studying Spanish at the age of 13.

But now I still chafe at the notion of Spanish exceptionality. Or, perhaps, at the notion that some area somewhere (France?) is "normal." Really, are French medieval developments typical of anything but themselves? I think studies of each medieval region should strive to balance particularity and comparison.

tenthmedieval said...

There is this problem with the normalcy of France. Germany's units are all too disparate for its scholars to really mass up against, and there is the simple fact that more English-speakers learn French than learn German (why this is I don't know). On the other hand, when you prod the French normalcy idea it turns out that it doesn't include the Midi, really, or if it does it's at the exclusion of old Neustria, and really l'Héxagone is split by the Loire in terms of its historiography anyway. So it has always puzzled me how this France-as-archetype has become established, because it isn't even something that the French agree on. I think Marc Bloch may be to blame for just being too gosh-darned persuasive...