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Spain: A Unique History

Spain: A Unique History

by Stanley G. Payne

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From bloodthirsty conquest to exotic romance, stereotypes of Spain abound. This new volume by distinguished historian Stanley G. Payne draws on his half-century of experience to offer a balanced, broadly chronological survey of Spanish history from the Visigoths to the present. Who were the first “Spaniards”? Is Spain a fully Western country? Was


From bloodthirsty conquest to exotic romance, stereotypes of Spain abound. This new volume by distinguished historian Stanley G. Payne draws on his half-century of experience to offer a balanced, broadly chronological survey of Spanish history from the Visigoths to the present. Who were the first “Spaniards”? Is Spain a fully Western country? Was Spanish liberalism a failure? Examining Spain’s unique role in the larger history of Western Europe, Payne reinterprets key aspects of the country’s history.
    Topics include Muslim culture in the peninsula, the Spanish monarchy, the empire, and the relationship between Spain and Portugal. Turning to the twentieth century, Payne discusses the Second Republic and the Spanish Civil War. The book’s final chapters focus on the Franco regime, the nature of Spanish fascism, and the special role of the military. Analyzing the figure of Franco himself, Payne seeks to explain why some Spaniards still regard him with respect, while many others view the late dictator with profound loathing.
    Framed by reflections on the author’s own formation as a Hispanist and his evaluation of the controversy about “historical memory” in contemporary Spain, this volume offers deeply informed insights into both the history and the historiography of a unique country.

A Choice Outstanding Academic Book

Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the Public Library Association

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
After a number of books on various aspects of Spain (The Collapse of the Spanish Republic; Franco and Hitler; The Spanish Civil War, The Soviet Union, and Communism), Payne now wants to tell the whole story of the country that so fascinates him. The Visigoth conquest kicks things off, followed by centuries of Islamic rule, reconquest and crusade, political and cultural advancement, a Civil War, and the Franco era. Payne's goal, as a historian and "Hispanist," is to create an "objective evaluation" of these events, avoiding extremist opinions and stereotypes perpetuated by the likes of Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately, this also strips much of the flavor from what should be an exciting, as well as informative, effort. The straightforward perspective provides a less-than intriguing entry for the non-historian, resulting in a bland, concise explanation. Also lacking is enough background on significant participants. To be fair, there are nuggets of historical trivia to be gleaned here, like the fact that the region's name, Hispania, is derived from a Phoenician word meaning "land of rabbits"; helpful notes will explain other unfamiliar terms or events. Considering Spain's captivating story and culture, professional and armchair historians alike may be disappointed. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“An excellent, balanced discussion of important controversies.”—Juan Linz, author of Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes

“Payne’s revivalist presentation of a broad continuity of Spain’s history, centered on its Castilian heartland, unfailingly maintains the standards of balance and objectivity that have always been the hallmark of his endeavor.”—Robert A. Stradling, author of The Irish and the Spanish Civil War

“Concise, engaging, and above all scholarly, this volume offers a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of Spanish history.”—Julius Ruiz, author of Franco’s Justice

“Beginning with an informative account of his ‘formation’ as a Hispanist, Payne addresses critical questions in Spanish history, e.g., the role of Islam, alleged decline and decadence, empire, and interpretations of liberalism. Following is a substantial examination and analysis of what Payne labels ‘dilemmas of contemporary history,’ uncommonly valuable as a succinct discussion of major developments since the 1930a, including the origins of the Spanish Civil War. For each of these, Payne reviews and challenges many familiar accounts. Thoughtful yet provocative;  indispensable reading for everyone.”—CHOICE

“Through a critical and distinctive lens of erudition, Payne is able to offer the reader a rational assessment of the various perpetuating stereotypes, including the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’ Black Legend, negativity imposed on the Spanish political milieu of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the romantic Spain of the nineteenth century; and, what Payne terms, a ‘composite stereotype of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.’”—Paulette L. Pepin, Historian

“This is a fascinating and original addition to the canon of single-volume surveys of Spain.”—European History Quarterly

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A Unique History
By Stanley G. Payne


Copyright © 2011 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-299-25024-9

Chapter One

The Formation of a Hispanist

The study of Spain is rather unique among scholarly enterprises in having become an "ism"—"Hispanism." Scholarly activity is normally recognized as an "ism" only when it pertains to a very broad field of study, as in "classicism" and "orientalism," not with regard to a single country. Foreign scholars who study Germany or Russia are sometimes described as Germanists or Russianists, but the term "Germanism" or "Russianism" is not normally applied. The word "hispanista" was originally used in Spain during the late nineteenth century in two different senses, one of them being equivalent to panhispanista or hispanoamericanista, applied to those who sought closer ties among all Spanish-speaking countries, the second referring to foreign scholars who dedicated themselves to studying Spanish themes. During the first half of the twentieth century, the second sense of the term came to predominate.

Hispanism originated during the nineteenth century, parallel to the estheticism of the "romantic Spain" concept developed primarily by the writers and artists of France and England. As distinct from the latter, however, scholarly Hispanism developed at the same time as the expansion of the universities, even though it was vitally assisted by independent scholars and philanthropists. Although individual Hispanists might be found throughout western Europe, their work appeared especially in French and English, and to a lesser degree in German, during the course of the nineteenth century, developing rapidly in the United States. By 1909 Martin Hume, perhaps the leading British Hispanist of his generation, would declare that the North American academic world "now stands absolutely pre-eminent in this branch of learning." Three years later, in a lecture in Salamanca, Miguel de Unamuno expressed much the same judgment.

The origins of Hispanism in the United States are complex. Hume referred to what he termed an "instinctive mutual attraction" between Spain and the United States, but that is probably an exaggeration. The remote origins of the United States lie in Elizabethan England, for whom Spain was the major enemy and which sedulously cultivated what more than three centuries later would be termed the "Black Legend," certainly not a promising beginning. Moreover, during the eighteenth century, the government of Spain was generally aligned with France, the principal enemy of Great Britain, and the attitudes of the Black Legend continued to inform American attitudes during the nineteenth century, and to some extent during the first half of the twentieth century as well.

Spain was much more important for the United States during the early years of the American republic than it would be later. The empire reached its all-time greatest geographical extent just as the United States was being born in the 1770s, and the revival of the Spanish navy meant that it continued to be a European power of some significance. The intervention of Spain on behalf of the thirteen colonies in their war of independence against Great Britain was of some importance in the American victory, while imperial Spain would continue to be the southern neighbor of the United States throughout the first generation of its existence. The fledgling American republic initially established only three full-scale embassies (as distinct from more modest legations) abroad, in London, Paris, and Madrid, relations with Spain being surpassed in importance only by those with Britain and France. Even after most of America was lost to the Spanish crown, two of the three territories closest to the United States—Cuba and Puerto Rico—were retained, so that Spain would remain an important neighbor throughout the nineteenth century, a relationship that reached a violent climax in 1898. After that, connections with Spain dwindled, though they became more important again during the Second World War and the Cold War.

Interest in Spain among American scholars seems to have stemmed from three sources: (1) the importance of classical Spanish literature, which always enjoyed respect in the English-speaking world, facilitated by the fact that Spanish is not a difficult language for English-speaking people to learn to read; (2) the importance of relations with Spain during the nineteenth century; and (3) the sense of Spain and of Spanish culture as fundamental to the greater Western Hemisphere, and therefore of greater importance to the United States than these would be to most European countries.

Its scholarly origins stem from the second quarter of the nineteenth century. George Erving, chargé d'affaires of the Madrid embassy during the 1820s, may be considered the first American Hispanist scholar, publishing the first book to appear in English on the language and culture of the Basques. American writers of the same generation also helped to develop the myth of romantic Spain. Washington Irving (in this regard the earliest ancestor of Ernest Hemingway) published the longest-lived of all American books on Spain, Tales from the Alhambra (1831), which remains in print after nearly two centuries. A considerable number of travel books and historical works published by Americans during the nineteenth century continued in this vein. The first major work of erudite Hispanism was George Ticknor's History of Spanish Literature (1849), followed by the widely read works of the historian William Hickling Prescott. Prescott was, in fact, the first major American historian of any European country; thus, at least in serious American historiography, Hispanism initially led the way. Not for another half century would subsequent American historians of Europe rise to Prescott's level in terms of primary research and interpretative synthesis, and his achievement was all the more notable in that he was nearly blind.

It may have been Prescott, even more than Irving, who set the tone. He was the greatest Hispanist historian of his era in any country, but Prescott provided a sort of canonical statement of the Black Legend during the nineteenth century, defining what Richard Kagan has termed the "Prescott paradigm," which would long dominate attitudes toward Spain. This interpretation made of Spain the very opposite of the United States, its intrinsic antithesis. "America was the future—republican, entrepreneurial, rational; while Spain—monarchist, indolent, fanatical—represented the past." This vision—vision more than analysis—would be repeated in a series of books on Spain, the American Southwest, and Latin America during the nineteenth century, and would resonate on a broader, more popular level during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

There was, however, from the mid-nineteenth century on a minority current within American writing about Spain that was less negative and rather more objective toward the country's problems. Its first major exponent was the Baltimore lawyer and sometime diplomat Severn T. Wallis, who published two judicious and well-balanced books between 1849 and 1853 about contemporary Spanish problems. Wallis did not find Spain to be hopelessly deformed by history, culture, or national character, but to be suffering from a series of problems and flawed policies, which were amenable to reform and need not permanently handicap the country. This minority current, however, would not completely come to the fore until the beginning of the full flowering of a later Anglo-North American Hispanism in the field of history during the 1960s.

Somewhat ironically, the Spanish-American War more or less coincided with the initial flourishing of American Hispanism at a high scholarly level, the product of the expansion of American universities during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The next century would bring the opening of the privately funded Hispanic Society of America in New York, and then completion of the classic study of the Inquisition by Henry Charles Lea. Despite the major work of historians such as Prescott and Lea (and later Robert B. Merriman), American Hispanism would focus heavily on the esthetic, with the proliferation of "Spanish departments" in American colleges and universities, departments dedicated almost exclusively to the study and teaching of language and literature. During the first half of the twentieth century, Spanish history (by comparison, at least) probably received less attention than it had earlier, and more often than not was entirely missing from history curricula, although the study of Latin American history slowly and steadily expanded. As it was, the study of Spanish history was nearly nonexistent when I entered graduate school in 1955.

Moreover, arguably the only book in English at that time that had attempted a searching analysis of the problems of contemporary Spain was Gerald Brenan's The Spanish Labyrinth (1944). Based on Brenan's experience of more than a decade in Spain and his research in secondary literature in the British Museum, it probed many of the key political and social issues, often with a depth and originality not to be found elsewhere. Nonetheless, despite Brenan's lengthy personal experience in the country, he often got lost in his labyrinth and sometimes fell far short of objectivity. As William Phillips has pointed out, in his broader judgments and conclusions Brenan often fell back on his own reworking of the stereotypes of both the Black Legend and "romantic Spain." He insisted on the existence of a national character dominated by spontaneity and by "faith," a "religious ideal" that did not stem from Christianity (since Brenan was not a Christian) but instead "is doubtless due fundamentally to the influence of Moorish ideas in Christian communities. The deepest strata of Spanish thought and political sentiment are oriental." Only in the final years of his life did Brenan retract such stereotypes in an article published in the Madrid daily El País.

The question most frequently asked me, especially in Spain, was what led me to become a Hispanist in the first place. This was never part of any careful plan but simply developed as a consequence of a series of events and experiences, some of them perfectly fortuitous. I was born in 1934 in north Texas in Denton, just to the north of Dallas, then a small town of around 12,000 inhabitants. My parents were "northerners" who had moved to Texas from Colorado in the hope of encountering better economic conditions during the Great Depression, a hope that was completely disappointed. Denton was not part of Hispanic south or southwest Texas, but was almost entirely Anglo-American (with a small segregated black population) and culturally more part of the southern "Bible Belt." There were very few Mexicans, though a slight influence of Mexican food was noticeable. During my four years in elementary school in Denton, I only very briefly had one classmate who was bilingual in Spanish.

During World War II, however, the Texas Board of Education decided that the new global context made it desirable that all Texas schoolchildren, from at least the fifth year of elementary education, should study a foreign language. This was done in a very simple and rudimentary way, having the homeroom teacher simply insert two hours of language study per week into the existing curriculum. Few, if any, of the teachers were particularly expert in a foreign language, but the language almost universally chosen was Spanish, which had already become the one most widely studied in the country. There was one Mexican girl in my class, named Carmen, who happened to be relatively bilingual, and it quickly became apparent to me that Carmen possessed a fluency and precision of pronunciation that quite surpassed our teacher, so that I tried to pattern my pronunciation on that of Carmen. The amount of Spanish that I learned in this way was nonetheless minimal. In June 1944 my family became part of the great wartime migration to California, where language instruction in the elementary schools was not practiced, but nonetheless my brief exposure to Spanish during 1943–44 had, in retrospect, set a precedent.

The standard curriculum in American secondary schools at that time offered (indeed, required) foreign language study only during the final two years. In the larger schools the choice lay between Spanish, French, and German, and it seemed natural that I chose Spanish. When I entered university-level studies at Pacific Union College in the Napa Valley in 1951, I found that the curriculum required both a major and a minor field of concentration. It was a foregone conclusion that for me the former would be history. I had been strongly attracted to history since my early childhood, though my reading had been informed much more by stories of Indian fighting and historical novels than by scholarly studies. Yet approaching history through the imagination was almost undoubtedly the best way for a boy to do so, and it gave me a certain empathy with the past that I could then apply in a more systematic and scholarly fashion later on.

For my minor field of concentration I chose Spanish, without the slightest hesitation, simply because I found studying the language interesting and congenial. At the age of seventeen or eighteen I had little if any thought of using it in a serious way. Moreover, studies in Spanish or about Spanish-speaking countries in the United States had come to focus primarily on Latin America, not Spain. Thus as an undergraduate I learned something about Spanish literature but almost nothing about the history of Spain, nor, for that matter, did the latter then interest me in the slightest. For me, serious historical study revolved around the United States, England, Germany, and Russia. I did learn to read Spanish reasonably well and began to develop a modest conversational ability in the language, but I still had not a thought of using it for more advanced work. My principal research paper dealt with the Colombian poet José Asunción Silva, not with a Spanish writer, and when my Spanish instructor suggested that I might want to learn Portuguese as well, I shrugged the suggestion off, having at that point no particular interest in the Iberian Peninsula. (I could not have imagined that within less than twenty years I would become, so far as I know, the only American historian ever to write a history of Portugal.)

My most absorbing interest in history and culture, during the last two of my four years as an undergraduate, was focused on Russia. At that time, immediately after the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union seemed at the height of its power, but I was more attracted by the literature and culture of Russia, and by its history prior to Communism. This seemed to me the most singular and fascinating of European histories, because of the uniqueness of the culture and the character of its development. The Russian language was not taught at my small college, however, so I was not prepared to enter a doctoral program as a candidate in Russian history. I made application to the Russian Institute at Columbia University, then the leading center of Russian studies, but the institute asked for further letters of recommendation, a response that was held up for some three months in the mail. By the time that it arrived, the deadline had long since passed, together with my principal opportunity to become a Russianist. But "no hay mal que por bien no venga" (there is no ill that doesn't lead to good)—this breakdown in mail delivery proved a blessing in disguise. Temperamentally I would have been unsuited to research in the Soviet Union, which would have been a source of endless irritation and frustration. Undoubtedly I would have accomplished much less in that field, but I never abandoned altogether my interest in Russia. Even after beginning research on Spanish history, I took six weeks during the summer of 1956 to enroll at the University of California–Berkeley in order to begin the study of the Russian language. In retrospect, however, I never necessarily curse inefficient mail service, because in 1955 it had possibly changed the course of my life for the better. I received only one good offer of a fellowship to begin graduate study in 1955. It came from the Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont University), one of the cluster of colleges in Claremont, at the eastern end of Los Angeles County in Southern California. Claremont provided the encouragement to begin work on Spanish history and also an attractive and supportive environment for me to gain the experience needed to make the transition from a small college in a rural setting in northern California to a much more complex and sophisticated scholarly environment in Columbia University and the city of New York two years later.


Excerpted from Spain by Stanley G. Payne Copyright © 2011 by The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Stanley G. Payne is the Hilldale-Jaume Vicens Vives Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His many books include The Franco Regime: 1936–1975; Fascism: Comparison and Definition; Spain’s First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931–1936; and A History of Fascism, 1914–1945, all published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

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