The historian who saw beyond

A few days ago El fascio de las Ramblas arrived in bookstores.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
17 November 2023 Friday 09:32
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The historian who saw beyond

A few days ago El fascio de las Ramblas arrived in bookstores. The Catalan origins of Spanish fascism by Enric Ucelay-Da Cal and Xavier Casals. The first, emeritus professor of History at the Pompeu Fabra University, in the near future will also republish - as a result of the years-long insistence of Josep M. Fradera - Populist Catalonia: Image, culture and politics in the republican period (1931-1939) . A volume that in 1982 was not a publishing success, but is a reference work on the 1930s and, at the same time, a collector's item. On the used book website Iberlibro, the only copy available is sold for 349 euros. The Taurus publishing house will also publish the Spanish translation thanks to the efforts of Jordi Canal.

The vicissitudes of making it possible seem more like the labors of Hercules than the mechanical process of editing and translating. It is difficult for Ucelay-Da Cal to consider the books finished, even if they are reissues. He always finds new bibliography to contribute and if a work is fallow for a few months there is a danger that he will want to start it again from a new approach. Like Lewis Carroll's story in which the map of a country is reproduced so accurately that one is made on a 1:1 scale until it covers the country itself, his works are the result of an incessant work in progress pursuing perfection.

This meant that a few years ago the professor had the impression that he had written a few hundred academic articles and yet only eight books, and that he had not sufficiently reached the general public. Unlike the academic world, where Ucelay-Da Cal has become a name that, from accession or rejection, always generates debate, based on a central work, Catalan imperialism: Prat de la Riba, Cambó, D'Ors and the moral conquest of Spain (2003). A title -proposed by the editor of Edhasa, Daniel Fernández-, which is the Ulysses of Catalan and Spanish historiography. And, like James Joyce's novel, more historians say they have read it than have done so, although everyone has an opinion.

Arnau Gonzàlez Vilalta and Xosé M. Núñez Seixas, among others, have contributed to focusing on the professor in the last decade. And from here, for example, Contra Companions. Nationalist frustration before the Revolution (2012), October 6. The defeat of the Catalan revolution of 1934 (2014), Macià in the country of the Soviets (2015), Joan Lluhí and Vallescà. The man who brought the Republic (2017), Catalanism in the face of fascism, 1919-2018 (2018) or The Catalan Mediterranean (1931-1939), a contemporary novel (2022).

The collaborations also allow that, in addition to the aforementioned novelties, Ucelay-Da Cal has in preparation together with David Martínez Fiol a volume on Francesc Macià's trip to America in 1928 or another on the relationship between Ernesto Giménez Caballero and Francesc Cambó , with the help of Josep Contreras.

Although he retired a few years ago, taking advantage of the historian's 75th birthday, a group of friends, collaborators and disciples organized an act of recognition for his career. Last October 6, Josep M. Fradera, Xosé M. Núñez Seixas, Jordi Canal, David Martínez Fiol, Joan M. Thomàs, Susanna Tavera, Francisco Veiga, Anna Sallés, Josep Pich, Borja de Riquer and Arnau met at the UPF González Vilalta, among others.

Ucelay-Da Cal's research has inserted the history of Catalonia into European history. And by comparing the historical evolutions of Catalonia and Spain with that of other countries, thanks to their bibliographical knowledge, they have explained what patterns the peninsular board assimilated or rejected. Thus providing a broader look at local stories.

Its mark, however, goes beyond the production itself. Without intending to, the professor has left a group of disciples - he has created a school - among those historians who have approached him out of intellectual attraction. Not because of what is so common in our universities of following a figure to sponsor you for a placement.

Because Ucelay-Da Cal is not the fruit of Mediterranean culture, but was grafted onto it. Born in New York in 1948, the son of Republican and Galician exiles, he arrived in Catalonia in 1972 to begin a thesis at Columbia University on Catalan separatism and in 1983 he undertook another one directed by Josep Fontana. In love with the Catalan language, he stayed in Barcelona to become not an American Hispanist, but a Catalan and Spanish historian. But at the same time without having a defined roots, beyond his North American wife, Dorsey Boatwright - whom he widowed three years ago - and his now legendary library. From this trajectory he has conveyed to students, doctoral students and collaborators a genuine approach to history. A total look, beyond the subject of study, and with a point of skepticism towards it. Very useful for keeping one's own ideological preferences in a drawer and taking a step back to analyze the history of Catalonia and Spain. But, above all, to always look for a different approach to the established canon and try to see beyond.

For those who sought independence of judgment and were not bothered by the label of outsiders, this has been very sweet. When, for example, around 2005 Borja de Riquer, Gonzàlez Vilalta's thesis director, suggested that he go to see Ucelay-Da Cal for a research he was carrying out, he no longer moved from his shadow. . Like everyone who attended the October event, he soon grasped where the true rock and roll of Catalan historiography was.