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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Peninsular studies in the US

Peninsular studies in the US has a rich and vibrant tradition stretching back to the 19th century. The only rivals for American Hispanism are Spain itself and perhaps the British Isles. I am proud to be part of this tradition. In more recent years, American hispanism has partly been eclipsed by Latin American studies, for obvious and justifiable reasons. The proximity of Latin America itself, and the historical ties (including historical conflicts) between the states and our Spanish speaking neighbors. The largest minority group (latinos) in the US, that is defined by the Spanish language itself.

So why do peninsular studies at all? There could be tipping point at which the study of peninsular literature and culture were seen as unnecessary or superfluous. The best argument I can come up with is that we kick ass. What a good university needs is people who can do good work in many fields of inquiry. If we have a vibrant tradition of kick-ass scholarship, we shouldn't give it up, just because someone comes along and says we should be doing something different instead.

Latin Americanism in the US is also excellent, but the presence of peninsular studies does not come at its expense. In fact, these fields are mutually beneficial to each other. An all Latin American department of Spanish would be less diverse, from an intellectual standpoint.

What would happen if the US were no longer at the forefront of peninsular studies? To me, personally, it would be a great loss, but I think it would also be a loss to American intellectual life. Maybe a small one, but a loss nonetheless.

I think a couple of people might agree with me: Lezama Lima, Borges, Eduardo Milán, Carlos Fuentes, Vargas Llosa, Juan Gelman, and Octavio Paz, for example.


Leslie said...

They are more mutually beneficial to each other than many people want to admit, yes.

Also, the anti-Spain argument seems to me to be partly an argument against general knowledge. I flash on a conversation with a colleague from the fanciest local R1, I had just come from Peru and was enthusing about a certain kind of archaelogical site of which I had visited several. Her: why did you put so much effort into this, are you going to write something about it? Me: well no, it was recreation. That I would do what amounted to minor fieldwork on something that wasn't going directly to a book project seemed odd to her. I think some of this anti-Peninsular sentiment is the same.

Leslie said...

Also, isn't the field itself Eurocentric by nature? I mean, it is Spanish. Latin America may be Nepantla but much of it is within Western civilization even if it is at the periphery.

I think what most bothers me about that article is that it is recommending cutting Spain out of the history of western civilization. Which might be a colonialist topic itself, but it is freakin' taught, and I want Spain in that curriculum. Spain is one of the main spreaders of western civilization and it is also an interesting instance of it, given all of the connections to north Africa and the ME. This, I think, would be my core objection. Maybe 50-50 is too much Spain for some departments, but one does want Spain to be done right in at least some departments -- France is, England is, why not Spain? -- and I don't think Spain should be cut to the bone even if it is trimmed, because the answer to so many questions about Lat. Am. even today lies in Spain & the history thereof. Am I just insufferably Eurocentric myself and too accepting of Spanish oppression -- so much so that I am unable to see it?

Leslie said...

In addition, Latin American leftist thinkers discuss the importance of Spain at great length. Mignolo, Dussel, people like that will never say Spain is not key to modernity.

el curioso impertinente said...

I think he massively over-estimates the number of departments that even have 50-50 faculty.

Another way of approaching this would be to look at MLA job advertisement statistics for the last few years. See how many are identified as in Peninsular and how many in Latin American. That would tell a very different story...

Leslie said...

These things are true.