Historical v. sociological imaginations

I've been reading Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 (London: Phoenix, 2006), and just got through the intro and Part I, “Old Spain and the Second Republic”. It's a marvelously clear, though overly concise, account of some of the key events and for this reason will be an excellent starting point for anyone new to the subject and a good refresher for those who already know some of it. There is much to praise here -- but still, it left me unsatisfied. It doesn't really explain why things happened the way they did. And I think this has to do with the hidden, unasked questions that a more sociologically-minded author would make explicit.

The first question is, what are the criteria for selecting certain events and ignoring others? This is a big book (479 pages plus intro, notes, maps, index, etc.), but it can't tell us everything and if it did it would be no more useful than the mapamundi that Borges imagined, of exactly the same dimensions as the territory it mapped. For example, why tell us about the anarchist rising and subsequent massacre at Casas Viejas, in Cádiz (1933)? And not about, for example, the traveling puppet theater and variety performances organized by Federico García Lorca and his associates as part of the cultural awakening of the same stratum of angry, ignorant peasants who were massacred at Casas Viejas? The first mention of García Lorca in this book is his murder (1936), but great upheavals are made up of more than violence and political maneuverings. The cultural changes during the first, left-liberal government of the Republic (1931-34), especially the increasing political and civil consciousness of many women, had a lot to do with the repression during the second, right-wing government of the Republic (1934-36) and the intensity of political conflict in the months between the election of a new, further left government (January 1936) and the rising of Franco and other generals (July 1936).

The second question is really another way of putting the first one: How do we think certain kinds of events affect others? What sorts of cultural phenomena could explain, for example, the extremely inflammatory rhetoric of Calvo Sotelo (on the right) or Largo Caballero on the left? For example, what were the imagined audiences for each one? History? A close circle of sycophants?

I don't really fault Beevor for not posing these questions. He has done what he saw as his job, of telling the overtly political events as clearly as possible. This gives us a good basis for working out the next part of the job, forming and testing hypotheses that may better explain the events and so help us understand other phenomena that may or may not be comparable (factional conflict in Iraq today, for example).

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