Momentous changes swept Spain in the fifteenth century. A royal marriage united Castile and Aragon, its two largest kingdoms. The last Muslim emirate on the Iberian Peninsula fell to Spanish Catholic armies. And conquests in the Americas were turning Spain into a great empire. Yet few in this period of flourishing Spanish power could define “Spain” concretely, or say with any confidence who were Spaniards and who were not. Speaking of Spain offers an analysis of the cultural and political forces that transformed Spain’s diverse peoples and polities into a unified nation.
Antonio Feros traces evolving ideas of Spanish nationhood and Spanishness in the discourses of educated elites, who debated whether the union of Spain’s kingdoms created a single fatherland (patria) or whether Spain remained a dynastic monarchy comprised of separate nations. If a unified Spain was emerging, was it a pluralistic nation, or did “Spain” represent the imposition of the dominant Castilian culture over the rest? The presence of large communities of individuals with Muslim and Jewish ancestors and the colonization of the New World brought issues of race to the fore as well. A nascent civic concept of Spanish identity clashed with a racialist understanding that Spaniards were necessarily of pure blood and “white,” unlike converted Jews and Muslims, Amerindians, and Africans.
Gradually Spaniards settled the most intractable of these disputes. By the time the liberal Constitution of Cádiz (1812) was ratified, consensus held that almost all people born in Spain’s territories, whatever their ethnicity, were Spanish.
Speaking of Spain is a majestic book. It illuminates the deep history of how Spaniards argued about national identity in an interconnected, imperial world. To speak about Spain meant speaking about Others. For Antonio Feros, there was no imagined nation without imagined outsiders. Beautifully crafted, Speaking of Spain is a book about a different time for our times.
This is a brilliantly illuminating, wide-ranging historical analysis of what has become the most pressing concern facing modern Europe: ‘national identity.’ Antonio Feros has written a gripping and authoritative account of how ‘Spain’ was created out of a conglomerate of different polities with different legal traditions, loyalties, and languages. He has also demonstrated, as no previous historian has, just how closely the process of nation-building was tied to empire, and how central that process was to the ever-present, but frequently ignored or neglected, question of race.
Drawing on dozens of legal, political, and/or philosophical treatises, mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as a treasure trove of current secondary sources, Feros demonstrates that the creation of Spain—indeed, the very concept of being Spanish—emerged out of debates by elite intellectuals played out over 300 years prior to the 1812 Cádiz Constitution, which publicly affirmed that all people born in Spanish-controlled territories were Spaniards, regardless of their place of birth or the color of their skin. Given the presence of others within Spain such as Jews, Muslims, and conversos, as well as others without—Indians, blacks, slaves, and, later, Creole elites in the Spanish empire—Feros convincingly argues that these discussions also included evolving discourses on race that escalated in the 18th century when scientific racism discussions in other European nations folded into Spanish ruminations on race. Valuable for its elegant writing, painstakingly thorough research, and Feros’s ability to convey very complicated arguments in his primary sources in clear, accessible English, this intellectual history is a seminal work.
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.