Our celebrated historian’s good fortune has been to invest in the Early Modern and colonial legacies of the somewhat peripheral country of Spain, the so-called “Imperial Spain” moment of its history (say, 1500-1700; move a few decades up and down starting from the emblematic 1492 and reach the 1800 or 1830, the beginning of the Latin American nation formation, I suppose, and the beginning of “modernity” proper).This is surely a daunting landscape of vast imaginary presences to cover.There is also the presence of the scholar-diplomat Marañón, historiographic precedent in relation to Count Duque of Olivares, and of course the reference has to be to two towering figures of French historiography such as Febvre and Braudel (pp. Past and Present is counterpoint to the Annales school, and our non-Marxian member of the English-historian collective no doubts in the doubling of the “Marxist and marxisant [sic, in italics in the original)” inclinations of the always more revolutionary French side he admired at some distance (national stereotypes can be played up, amusingly, also in relation to historians).
But it is the latest work that directly concerns us here. We are dealing with the no-frill, no-shrill, no-fuss, ever-so-gradual scaffolding of the profession of history according to a historian devoting his best energies to the foreign periphery of Europe, the focus is always on Spain, for the consumption of Anglophone readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
The already four-year-old History in the Making is a rather quiet affair afforded to the undisturbed perspective of a professional historian. There is a certain construction of orthodoxy, a certain manufacture of consent (Chomsky’s formula) apropos Elliott’s work, a quintessential-English calm, mood-free collation of visions landing on the “foreign country” and staying, so it appears, safely anchored there.
Elliott is much less interested in other perspectives not necessarily being subsumed under such privileged examples, aesthetics remaining a rather thin dimension never fully strutting its stuff convincingly, despite the usual story of high achievement and embarrassment of riches for others to enjoy.
Our young man, historian in embryo, had still to navigate a series of figures (Butterfield, Plumb, Runciman, Knowles).
This is our imaginary Bermuda triangle of vortex and vertigo, disappearances and shipwrecks, whilst attempts at the revival of the “special relationship” are being broadcast urbi et orbi by the popular political media.
We must all go on exploring possibilities beyond any type of national (-istic) demarcations never entirely following the directions provided by official interpellations.Three initial questions: What is the global impact or legacy of such “imperial Spain”? and Rajoy’s Spain in the 21st century (it is the ghost of Winston Churchill passing back and forth the Atlantic as well, together with Margaret Thatcher, trying to blow new official life into the “special relationship”)?Why should anyone bother and pay attention today centuries later in the midst of a certain crisis of the profession of “history” and of the “humanities” against the larger constellations provided by the governments of Theresa May’s Brexit Britain, Trump’s U. Elliott’s shopkeeping has been done quietly and dutifully, without inclination towards stridencies and no apparent appetite for polemics, at least outside the Iberian-peninsula circles (we will see soon his endorsement of a certain orthodoxy about the “myth” of the Catalans).If the dawn promised no big deeds, the horizon offers no vistas outside plural options for professionalism with no comments on the present tensions and dilemmas. This must have required strategy and brokering, keeping up the collaboration with British institutions of higher learning, Oxford University mainly I suppose, whilst securing the American platform since the Princeton years, and the sustained cultivation Spanish officialdom, its successive governments and a rich variety of cultural institutions (Casa América, Madrid; Duques de Soria; Fundación Consejo España – EEUU; Real Instituto Elcano, Royal Institute; José María Aznar’s Fundación FAES, etc.).Loyalty is to the arts and crafts of a professional historian the way he understand the social role to be. There is in principle nothing wrong with this active public profile.The promising combination theme of aesthetics and politics is not, I firmly believe, fully explored here, not even hinted at.