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review 2018-04-26 12:17
A book for those who are not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions and are willing to challenge the status quo.
Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography - Sebastiaan Faber

Thanks to Edelweiss and to the publishers (Vanderbilt University Press) for providing me a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I was drawn to this book because although I was born and grew up in Spain, I have spent the last 25 years of my life in the UK, and between the time invested in education and work, I know I have missed some of the big debates about the past that have taken place in the country. From personal experience, I know that living abroad gives you a different perspective, usually wider, on a country’s history and society, and I was interested to learn the opinions of a foreign Hispanist on the controversial topic of the book.

This book was illuminating for me. I’ve discovered that I need to catch up and read books, watch documentaries, and explore the memory movement in Spain. I know some details thanks to my mother’s family, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the many initiatives and projects that have been implemented. I learned about laws (helpful and, mostly, unhelpful), about controversy and debates, about the origin of well-known photographs and documents (including the fact that photographers shared cameras and subjects during the Spanish Civil War, and no matter what their intent, those photographs also had, even at the time, a commercial value), about the uneasy relationship between Culture, cultural objects, and History. Is fiction less valuable when it comes to documenting the reception and the collective memory of a historical event? Or more?

Although I am not an expert in History, I have read some History books over the years and one of the things I found more refreshing about this volume, which collects a variety of essays on topics that fit in well together, is the fact that rather than offering an authoritative version of events or pontificating about the right or wrong way of looking at a particular period in history, it asks questions. On relevancy: how can an academic book written in English discussing events and recent debates about Spanish history and politics reach a wider audience? Are academics simply talking to themselves without ever reaching the general public (unless given an “official” status)? On the approach and the position historians should take when researching and writing their findings: Can historical essays and books ever be “neutral”? And should they be “neutral”? Isn’t it better to be open about one’s point of view and allegiances? (As the author observes, WWII historians are clearly positioned when writing about the war, but in Spain, this is frowned upon). On comparative studies and the risks of conflating similar events in different countries and eras, thereby missing the most interesting and fruitful aspects for analysis: Is it legitimate to apply international models (like those developed through the Holocaust studies) to the Spanish Civil War and the Francoist repression?  On the position of the intellectuals and how politics and affiliations affect even those who try hardest to be rigorous. How can those intellectuals who were heavily invested in the Transition open up to other opinions and not consider them a personal criticism? On the memory movement, the hurdles faced by those trying to find out more about relatives or friends, and about the resistance of historians to see any value in memory narratives. Is forgetting the past the best option, or do the unhealed wounds and traumas that have been festering, no matter how long for, always find a way to resurface? About the boom in historical fiction novels about the Civil War and what they tell us about society and popular opinion. Although the author’s opinions are clearly stated, the questions hang there and readers can take them up and find their own answers.

As I said, I cannot claim to any expertise on the topic, and I suspect experts will have much to take issue with in this book, but for me, it helps provide the tools to answer some of the questions that inform the author’s work and that are the same that a large part of the Spanish population are asking. Quoting from the book:

How have history, fiction, and photography shaped Spanish memory? How has democratic Spain dealt with the legacy of the Civil War, the Franco dictatorship, and the Transition? And how have academics, writers, filmmakers, photographers, and journalists in Spain and elsewhere engaged with a collective process that is central to the country’s future as a unified, functioning democracy?

In view of recent events, these questions are more pressing and relevant than ever, and I hope this book reaches as wide an audience as possible. I recommend it to anybody who is open to fresh perspectives on the subject and is up for a challenging — but ultimately rewarding— read.

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review 2018-04-07 18:12
Spain's empire project
Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763 - Henry Kamen

Long before there was a Britain to have an empire upon which the sun never set, Spain established a presence that spanned the globe. From the Caribbean and Central America to the Philippines, the Spanish empire thrived as the first expression of European global dominance — an achievement even more remarkable when set against the unpromising circumstances from which it started. How Spain achieved this is the subject of Henry Kamen's book. A longtime scholar of Spanish history, Kamen marshals a career of study to explain the nature of Spain's dominance, one that he reveals is all too often misunderstood.

At the core of this misunderstanding is the nature of Spain itself. Kamen begins by highlighting the often-overlooked fact that in the 15th century "Spain" was an abstraction consisting of a collection of Iberian territories united only by a common monarchy. Because of this, the monarchs were constrained in their ability to deploy Spanish resources to achieving their goals. Fortunately for them, their resources were not confined to Spain alone. One of Kamen's main contentions is that the "Spanish" empire was actually more of a pan-European one, as Spain's leaders in the 15th and 16th centuries frequently drew upon the resources of their extended empire —including Italy, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire —to finance and staff their presence throughout much of Europe

While this mobilization was key to Spain's presence in Europe, their overseas empire was more of a purely Spanish operation. Because of this, as Kamen makes clear, their control was far less secure than their cartographic assertions made it appear. Spain's "empire" in the New World was concentrated mainly in the Caribbean, Mexico, Peru, and a few other coastal regions, while their control over the Philippines was limited mainly to their outpost in Manila. Much of this depended upon cooperation with (or co-option of) local elites, further underscoring the non-Spanish nature of Spanish control. While effective and profitable, this structure came under increasing strain as European competitors emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries, first to displace Spanish dominance in Europe, then to undercut Spain's presence in the wider world. Though the Spanish fought back against this, Kamen makes it clear that their efforts were ultimately unsustainable with their traditional imperial structure, forcing them to follow the example of their competitors and establish more of a truly "Spanish" empire by the 18th century.

Kamen ends his book short of Spain's loss of their Latin American empire early in the 19th century. While he makes it clear that the writing was on the wall by that point, it is unfortunate he did not carry his analysis forward to that point, for he has provided a superb overview of the rise and decline of Spain's empire in Europe and elsewhere. It does so by blending the political, social, cultural and economic history together, showing the multifacted interactions that defined Spain and the Spanish presence in the world. While this comes at the understandable cost of a lack of coverage of events within Spain itself, supplementing this book with a national survey covering these years (such as J. H. Elliot's classic Imperial Spain or Kamen's own Spain, 1469-1714 fills this gap nicely, giving readers a good understanding of Spain and its "Golden Age" of global preeminence.

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review 2018-03-29 01:35
A useful introduction to an important monarch
Charles V: Elected Emperor and Hereditary Ruler (Men in Office) - Manuel Fernández Álvarez

Charles V stands as one of the greatest monarchs in history. As king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, he ruled over an empire that stretched over four continents to total over 1.5 million square miles. His reign included innumerable wars, dynastic struggles, and the growing challenges posted by the Protestant Reformation to the religious stability of Europe. Yet for all of Charles's prominence there are few biographies available in English about him, leaving readers with few options when it comes to studying the life of this fascinating figure.

 

This problem only enhances the value of Manuel Fernández Álvarez’s short study, which provides a concise description of Charles’s life and reign for interested readers. Álvarez presents Charles as a devout ruler who struggled to manage such a diverse and far-flung empire. Much of his reign was spent in transit, having to deal with various expensive crises at one end of his European realm or another. Succeeding to the Spanish throne after the death of his grandfather, Ferdinand, he had to address the discontent of many Castilians, which broke out into open rebellion. Winning election to the Holy Roman Emperorship in 1519 only added to his burdens, particularly with the challenge posed by the French king Francis I. Francis emerges in Álvarez’s narrative as Charles’ bete noire, particularly after Francis broke his oath to the Holy Roman Emperor after his release from Charles’s custody in 1526, and the two often struggled for dominance in Europe. Though Charles enjoyed further successes, final victory was perhaps unattainable, and a series of setbacks led Charles to retire from the throne three years before his early death in 1558.

 

To summarize such a reign is no easy feat, and it is a measure of Álvarez’s ability that he does so as efficiently as he does. Yet the author’s narrative suffers from a lack of analysis. There is little sense of his subject’s inner life, and his explanation of Charles’s motivations, strategies, or broader goals is similarly deficient. Though such an absence is somewhat understandable in a book as short as this one, it is lamentable given Álvarez’s expertise on his subject and the dearth of English-language biographies of this fascinating figure. As a result, English-language readers desiring to learn about the emperor might find themselves having to settle for this informative yet ultimately limited study, which serves as a good introduction but for now has to fill a larger gap than it should.

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review 2018-03-09 03:41
The Story of Ferdinand
The Story of Ferdinand - Munro Leaf,Robert Lawson

The story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf tells the delightful account of a young bull named Ferdinand. With the story taking place sometime in Spain, the reader might assume that Ferdinand is destined to be a matador. However, young Ferdinand is unique. While his peers run, fight, and play, "Ferdinand likes to sit under his tree just so and smell the flowers" (Leaf). The simple illustrations by Newberry award winning illustrator, Robert Lawson, might seem plain - but but do not be deceived! Hidden gems and details beg the reader to revise the text. I would love to use this book to study Spanish culture. One of the more interesting ideas I found to accompany this text is a study on cork, which can be found here: https://www.weareteachers.com/8-fun-activities-celebrate-story-ferdinand/

 

Guided Reading - K

Lexile - AD760L

DRA - 18

AR - 3.7

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review 2018-02-19 22:33
Little Chickies/ Los Pollitos
Canticos: Los Pollitos / Canticos: Little Chickies - Susie Jaramillo

Little Chickies is a bilingual picture book! Readers can enjoy the text in English or Spanish. The text is based on a traditional Spanish nursery rhyme, and has even been translated into song. I would love to include this book in my classroom for multiple reasons. I think it is very important to provide our ELL students with texts that are in their native language. This text is so very beneficial, because they can compare both versions of the book at the same time. I would love to incorporate this book as a cultural experience for children. I think exposing our young learners early on can broaden their understanding of others and help foster an inclusive classroom. I would allow my students to compare this text with other traditional nursery rhymes and songs.

 

Lexile - BR100L - 0L

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