Assorted Historical Musings

Hola from Spain! I realized this week after taking a slew of midterm exams that I’m approximately halfway through my program in Granada. It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling. Studying abroad is truly something of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and there are many things about this experience that I’ll really miss when I return to the states. I’ve certainly fallen in love with this city, and the friends I’ve made here – both Spaniards and Americans – will absolutely be missed.

However, there are still quite a few exciting things on the horizon while I’m abroad. In a couple weeks I’ll be going to Morocco with my program, an experience that will likely be a major highlight of my time here. We will apparently be living in homestays for the 4 days we’re there, something that might pose a bit of a challenge considering the fact that I don’t speak a word of Arabic or French. I’ll also be doing some post-program traveling in Spain with my brother, parents, and best friend from back home. I’ve been regularly jotting down the names of excellent restaurants, cafés, and notable city sites within Granada and am very much looking forward to sharing them with my visitors.

As a foreigner and history nerd, it’s been incredibly fascinating to see how Spain deals with its rich and complicated historical past. Several days ago, Francisco Franco’s remains were exhumed from his pharaonic Valley of the Fallen mausoleum and relocated to his family’s plot in a private cemetery. Franco, the brutal Spanish dictator who ruled from 1939 until his death in 1975, had constructed the Valley of the Fallen basilica and memorial site in order to commemorate his victory in the Spanish Civil War. Franco used the labor of about 20,000 political prisoners in order to build the massive monument; the monument was a bit of a personal vanity project. His exhumation from the site was thus a necessary acknowledgement of the fact that a democratic country should not honor a brutal, murderous, and fascist leader by allowing him to reside for posterity in a government-owned national monument.

Spain’s consideration of its colonial history is also very interesting to me. As far as I can tell, Christopher Columbus is more or less celebrated and venerated here; one of the largest and most prominent streets in Granada is named after him, and there’s a sizable statue of Columbus and Queen Isabel I of Castile in a centrally located city square. Several classmates of mine who are people of color understandably voiced their discomfort with Columbus’s ubiquitous presence around the city. Columbus’s arrival in the New World kicked off a series of horrors for the indigenous populations of Latin America and the Caribbean: slavery, forcible conversion to Christianity, brutal punishments for disobedience (including the cutting off of hands), and diseases that would ravage populations; it definitely seems like it might be time for Spain to think critically about Columbus’s legacy in the way that the US has been starting to do. I’m certainly not saying that his name needs to be scrubbed from the history books, but I do think that unquestioning idolatry and glorification is somewhat inappropriate where Columbus is concerned.

Thanks for reading my historical musings – hopefully they made some degree of sense. I’ll definitely have more nonsensical historical thoughts for you all in future posts – the lovely topic of the Spanish Inquisition may come up at some point!

View from Plaza Nueva – pretty stunning recent sunset.

One thought on “Assorted Historical Musings

  1. Jack – this was a fascinating article and I appreciated your thoughtful consideration of Franco and Columbus. Thanks for sharing.

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