This article was translated by John R. Bopp
We’ve mentioned the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno on many occasions. For a country as small as ours, knowing that we have a center for studying and sharing the Basque reality like this one is a huge advantage and an extraordinary opportunity. Its scientific production and capacity to spread knowledge about our nation and culture is fundamental.
Today, we bring them up again because, on the Academia.edu website, we’ve found a book that is of huge interest is available there. It’s about the history of our country from the 17th century to the present (it was published in 2003). It’s called Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present, and it’s written by Cameron Watson, an Englishmen with a degree in History from the University of Ulster and a PhD from the UNR Center for Basque Studies, where he taught. As far as we know, the book is only available in English.
The book gives us a thorough look at our Nation, presenting a “snapshot of the situation” of the country at the end of the Ancien Régime, and starting the story of the French Revolution. This historical event was radically important to the history of Europe, and had deep and tragic consequences for the inhabitants of the part of our country under French administration. Those consequences are still felt in the modern history of the Basque territories north of the Pyrenees, even to this day.
We do have to admit that there was one word in the index that took us by surprise. We’re referring to the use of the word “invention” to refer to the appearance of the Basque Nationalist movement. We don’t know if the same term would be used to define the creation of the idea of the US, or the unification of Italy. As the text makes clear, we believe, Sabino Arana didn’t “invent” anything. What he did was articulate a discourse to clearly define, in the new context of the nations-state that had been defined at the end of the 19th century, the reasons why the Basques had, and have, the right to organize themselves as a State. If there are any “inventions” on the Iberian peninsula regarding that, it would be the “Spanish nation”, which was a concept invented in 1812 by the Cortes in Cádiz, who didn’t represent almost anyone and who were making decisions on matters that weren’t theirs to decide.
In any case, having texts like this one to share a global overview that’s focused on our nation’s history is fundamental, especially in English. We believe that this is a book that can help those interested in understanding our reality as a nation have a better general perspective about what happened in our homeland at a key juncture in our history, when so many events that define our modern reality took place.
In addition to sharing the link to the site where the book is available as a .pdf, we’d like to republish the first introductory paragraphs, which are a full-on “declaration of princples”:
Modernity — that indefinable ideology associated with the rational organizing principle of nation-states and the rise of the democratic, technological West — bequeathed European history a legacy of thinking that the historical “meaning of civilization” was intimately connected to the fortunes of the great powers, from ancient Greece to the British Empire Yet beneath the surface of this idea lies another story — at the same time just as interesting and often even more dramatic than its traditionally more esteemed parallel. This is what has come to be known as a “local” story, part of a burgeoning trend of other histories that seek to strengthen that most human of desires — the desire to belong to a collective past predating the cultural homogenization implied by globalization. Today, amid this blurring of international cultural, economic, and political boundaries, people are increasingly turning to local culture as a means of defining their group identity.
I would advocate that the fortunes of the Basque Country (or Euskal Herria as it is termed in Basque ), an ancient, small country tucked away in a corner of western Europe, offer historians just as much insight into the meaning of modern European history as the more widely known events of the large European states.Modern Basque history is replete with all the drama of the modern period, beginning with the French Revolution and its effects on Basque society and traversing the industrial and urban changes of the nineteenth century through to the twentieth-century phenomena of war and totalitarianism. I would similarly argue that the Basque historical experience — especially the seemingly illogical survival of the Basque language and its associated cultural forms — offers those of us from historically more powerful cultural backgrounds an important lesson in comprehending the tenacity of smaller cultures within our globalizing world.
In the following chapters, I will attempt to tell the story of the modern Basque Country while at the same time raising more general questions about the nature of history itself and the meaning of Europe, as well as issues such as how and why historical change takes place and the myriad ways in which culture drives history.
Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present
This book outlines the evolution of Basque society during the modern period. It traces the interrelated histories of the Basque Country, France, Spain and Europe following significant themes such as industrialization, migration, and political violence. It focuses on the survival of a specifically Basque identity amid the tremendous social, economic, political and cultural transformations of the last two hundred years. Cameron Watson contends that there are general lessons to be learned from Basque historical experience, beyond the specific story of this small land in a corner of western Europe. By addressing the topic from a principally cultural focus, he highlights the paradoxical survival of a premodern culture in the modern age and the lessons this serves for Europe’s postmodern future.