Insightful essays by the leading English-language experts on the history of Spain from its prehistoric origins to today.
Deftly edited by Carr (Warden/St. Antony’s Coll., Oxford), this survey will serve scholars and students equally well, but the general reader may have some difficulty. Its chief purpose is to debunk myths and bring us up to date on recent interpretations of Spanish history. Spain is no longer considered to be a “different” country on a special historical path; rather, its history should be seen within its European context. But the richness of Spain’s heritage has also been its tragedy: conflict, from within and from without, has been the one constant. A.T. Fear shows how archaeological finds are illuminating various aspects of prehistoric and ancient Roman life in Spain, while Roger Collins stresses the importance of the Visigothic influence on the late antique and early medieval periods. Richard Fletcher corrects some persistent errors of opinion about early medieval Spain (such as the belief that the Church grew rich on the spoils of the Reconquest of Muslim territories). Angus Mackay tells of the late medieval art in the Muslim palace at Alhambra that depicted human and animal forms in violation of the Islamic prohibitions of figural representation. The height of Spanish power is recounted in two essays, one by Henry Kamen (on imperial successes and failures) and the other, the most original of the lot, by Felipe Fernández-Armesto (on the social and political currents of the new empire). Richard Herr’s fascinating chapter on Spain’s failed attempts at Enlightened rule is followed by Carr’s own tale of woe, documenting a century’s (1833–1931) worth of political struggle between the privileged and the oppressed as Spain grappled with liberalism and modernity. Sebastian Balfour rounds out the opus nicely, showing 19th-century problems continuing into the 20th and leading to the deadly Spanish Civil War and the oppressive dictatorship of Franco. He is informative and hopeful regarding Spain’s newfound democracy within the European Union, its relative internal peace (minus bombings by the Basque terrorist group ETA), and its modern prosperity.
A worthwhile and informative synthesis on Spain’s long road to the 20th century. (72 b&w illustrations, 4 maps)