In light of the recent riots sparked by the death of an African immigrant in Spain, I couldn’t help but share with you J. N. Hillgarth’s very wise and learned concluding words to his very good book The Spanish Kingdoms, 1250-1516:
“No date can be set for the end of medieval Spain. The tensions created by the past are still alive. Recent events have shown that historical diversity can survive the accidents of dynastic marriage and the centralizing mania of centuries of bureaucrats. In the present day [the book was published in…] the traditions of the crusader-conquistador and that of dialogue are still alive. The Civil War of 1936-9 was seen by the winning side as ‘the crusade of Spain. But the contractual (pactista) strain in Spanish thought, strong in the Middle Ages, not only in the Crown of Aragon and Navarre but in Castile, has also continued to exist. One hopes that the policies of a new generation will turn, in the phrase of Julián Marías, to ‘a scrupulous respect for reality’, that options often exercised by Spaniards in the past will revive, that hegemony will be again replaced by diversity, conflict with convivencia, and that the ‘catholic diversity’ Arnau de Vilanova admired in 1306 will return to Spain. The only contribution historians can make to such a goal is to expose outgrown myths, to abandon, for instance, the practice of seing the medieval history of Spain as one of eight centuries of Reconquista, ending in a united Spain under the Catholic Monarchs, rather than as the chequered pattern of alternatives it actually was, a pattern in which the conquering Christian strain is unintelligible apart from the other threads with which it was involved.”
One of most interesting aspects of history in general are the myths that evolve and become unquestioned and accepted truths. Every country has their share of myths. Brazil still firmly believes in the myth of racial democracy, Canada is often portrayed as a nation that has always been peaceful, tolerant and progressive, while Europe in general – Spain is not alone in this – likes to look at its past as marked by homogeneity and unity. Nationalism as an ideology is hard to shake. I still believe that the future will be in the hands of those who embrace diversity. And this is where the study of history can be helpful.