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Conference Description

Beyond modernity: how are we writing the political history of the Spanish World in the Middle Period?

Organised by: Frank A. Eissa-Barroso and Andrea Cadelo Buitrago



Over the last two decades, the study of the political history of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Latin America has been on the rise. The so called ‘new political history’ took over the field in the wake of the publication of François-Xavier Guerra’s influential book Modernidad e Independencias: Ensayos sobre las revoluciones hispánicas (1992). Despite the critiques of some renowned scholars, the language and research perspectives introduced by Guerra and his followers have enjoyed tremendous popularity. Even today, Guerra’s preoccupation with the study of political culture and the impact of modernity seem to be the leading paradigm among European and Latin American historians, although British and US scholars have remained more divided between enthusiasm and strong opposition.


Recently, however, more historians have started to question the quest to vindicate the Spanish World’s modernity to which this paradigm sometimes seems to have led us. While everyone would probably agree that today’s political historiography has come a long way from the simplistic and teleological arguments of the ‘nationalistic’ historiography of the early twentieth century, any scholar seriously vested in the study of Spain and Spanish America between 1750 and 1850 must ask themselves: what lies beyond modernity? How should we approach the political history of Spanish America today? What elements are we to keep and which ones should we leave behind as we move beyond the paradigm of modernity, if indeed it is time to move on? With these questions in mind we've organised a workshop in which some of the leading scholars of the field can reflect over the recent developments and the forthcoming challenges the historian of the Middle Period Hispanic World must face.


The conference will be organized in three panels, each composed of three speakers and a commentator and each dealing with a specific aspect or problem. The dynamic of each session will include short presentations from the speakers and commentator, and plenty of time for discussion between the panelists and the audience rather than the presentation of long individual papers.


Panel 1: Spain in Spanish America, Spanish America in Spain.

This panel will discuss the study of Spain and Spanish America as a single unit. Is this possible? Is it desirable? How have Spanish and Latin American historiographies interacted with each other in this regard? Is the eighteenth century experience of Spanish America radically different from that of peninsular Spain? Did any common road end with Spanish American independence? What has nineteenth century Spanish history to say to Latin Americanist historians and vice versa?


Panel 2: Comparative histories: writing across and beyond the Spanish World.

This panel will look into the possibilities and challenges of a more comparative history both within the Spanish World and with other regions. How has the recent historiography managed to stress the similarities between the political practices in use across the Spanish World without drowning the particular characteristics of the different regions and nations? And conversely has enough attention been paid to the larger context when dealing with the specific experiences of provinces and towns? Alternatively, to whom should we compare the Spanish World? If we want to understand better the processes which characterized the region where should we look for similar or contrasting experiences? How have we done this task so far?


Panel 3: Being ancient, colonial or pre-modern: the political practices of what was before.

This panel will discuss what real impact this re-birth of political history has had on the study Ancien Régime/Colonial history. The modernity paradigm has stressed the importance of understanding the ruptures and continuities between Ancien Régime/Colonial practices and Liberal/National/Modern experiences. But has enough attention been given to our actual knowledge of what Ancien Régime/Colonial practices were like? Are we doing enough political history of the ‘pre-modern’ period to be able to reinterpret the ‘modern’ effectively? In other words do we know enough about the politics of the Ancien Régime Spanish World to be able to identify the continuities and ruptures that characterize the Middle Period? Are we still relying on the foundational works written in the 1970s and 1980s —or even before— without questioning their validity? Is the emphasis so far placed on the study of the period before the Crisis of the Spanish Monarchy balanced with that placed on the Crisis and the Wars of Independence themselves and the post period after the Restoration/Independence?