Public History in Spain: Looking Beyond the Academy

The frame is full of rows of white chairs, seen from behind.
Author: Jesús Izquierdo Martín, professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid, co-director of the radio programme “Contratiempo,” and co-director of Public History: Knowledge of the Past on the Fringes of Academy with professor Patrick García.

Spain is not a country where history has tended to open up to wider audiences, beyond those defined by the academic world. For years, the past has been confined to a community that extolled its authority and closed itself off to other stories and methods outside of its disciplinary control. Radio, comic books, video games, historical literature, and many other mediums that tell historical episodes or events were considered mere substitutes, infected by subjectivism and expelled from proper History: a history without narration, a “non-text” story. These academic borders were created as a response to the criticism of Francoism’s lies, relying on the written document as the main research proof.

However, in the first two decades of the 21st century, intense pressure has arisen from the citizens, with the aim of explaining what they could no longer take for granted: a country that tells the story of a single Eurocentric and predetermined destiny. Suddenly, Spain was faced with a huge economic collapse, followed by a discredited democracy, and a pandemic crisis. This emergence of historical methods and mediums that seek to tell the story from other points of view, with different formats, has been cracking the discipline’s walls, forcing it to enter into dialogue with producers of narratives emerging from civil society, holding very different kinds of debates. To account for this, a group of professional historians have founded the Spanish Association of Public History, an association linked to the Autonomous University of Madrid and the French Casa de Velázquez, which, above all, seeks to listen to citizens without having the last word.

Our origins are based within the Spanish university framework. Ten years ago, we created a radio broadcast – Contratiempo, Radio Círculo de Bellas Artes – where we experimented with different tools in order to contact broader publics and bring academic and civil society together in dialogue about the past. Over the years, the experience has been quite productive, as you can see from the website. Last year, in collaboration with Casa de Velázquez and Autonomous University, we held a workshop called “Public Appropriations and Uses of the Past” where we discussed  tools for telling stories as videogames, comics, literature, etc. Finally, in 2010 we began a project on public history, which will be directed by the French historian Patrick Garcia and myself until 2022: Public History: Knowledge of the Past on the Fringes of Academy. In creating the Spanish Association of Public History, our aim is to put into operation a network of people interested in public history in Spain and establish links with the International Federation for Public History. If the Coronavirus allows us, next autumn we are hoping to organize a Festival of Public History at the Autonomous University. We expect to invite several international public history researchers and many others producing this kind of work through narratives or accounts of the past. We are interested in developing the network through this festival. 

For the time being, we have to wait for things to get better in Spain. We plan to publish  a letter about public history, signed by 150 interested parties (among them, the IFPH president), in various newspapers. At this moment, we are creating our own website and we hope it will be finished after the summer. Then, we will be able to offer memberships to those who are interested in being part of the association. We look forward to this moment!

Jesús Izquierdo Martín has a doctorate in history from the Autonomous University of Madrid, where he now teaches, and is co-director of the radio programme “Contratiempo.” He currently co-directs a research project on public history in Spain with professor Patrick García, co-financed by the Universidad Autónoma and Casa de Velázquez.

1 Response

  1. An interesting iniciative

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