Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Commentary: The Roots of Catalan Identity and Ethno-Nationalism

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Commentary: The Roots of Catalan Identity and Ethno-Nationalism

Article excerpt

For decades, ample attention has been devoted by international social scientists and humanists to documenting and analyzing Catalan ethno-nationalism. Yet relatively few of these scholarly sources have delved into the long history of Catalonia. Indeed, an appreciation of the complex history of Catalonia is vital in understanding how deep-rooted have been the Catalan search for identity, the uniqueness of Catalan language and culture, and the development of Catalan politicization. One particularly useful, recently re-published and updated source is The History of Catalonia., written by F. Xavier Hernandez, Professor of Didactic Social Sciences at the University of Barcelona. The first edition in English was initially published in 2007, with a second edition published in 2014, available (in English as well as other languages) from the Museu d'Historia de Catalunya in Barcelona.

There are seven (unnumbered) chapters in this concise yet detailed book. The first chapter, titled 'Prehistory and Old World', takes us a very long way back into the history of the region which eventually became Catalonia - in fact, an astonishing 450,000 years into the first evidence of pre-Neanderthal remains and Palaeolithic tools. Accompanying maps indicate the locations of Palaeolithic (800,000-10,000 BP), Epipalaeolithic (8,000-6,000 BP), and Neolithic (6,000-2,000 BP) settlements, as well as rock art locations, graves and menhir monuments during the Megalithic Age (3,500-1,200 BC), and settlements and mining sites during the Calcolithic and Bronze Ages (2,000-800 BC). The chapter goes on to describe the arrival of Greeks and Phoenicians, then the development of Iberian settlements, followed by extensive Roman development along the coast. Eventually, Romans introduced Christianity, which spread during the third and fourth centuries.

The second chapter, on Proto-Catalonia, essentially covers the long period of Arab/Berber influence within the Emirate of Cordoba, beginning with the disintegration of Visigothic kingdoms, countered by the Hispanic March within the Frankish Carolingian Empire, which consisted of eight Catalan counties by the tenth century, yet Tarragona and Lleida remained under Islamic control through the early twelfth century.

The first explicit reference to the designation 'Catalonia' appeared in a chronicle dating 1114-15. The third chapter describes Catalonia during the feudal era, at which time much of the region became consolidated into the extended territory under the Count of Barcelona, with the addition of what was known as 'New Catalonia' during the eleventh to twelfth centuries. Longstanding French influence continued with the Occitanian expansion toward the end of the twelfth century; yet this was followed, in turn, by the eastward expansion of Aragon into Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands during the thirteenth century, and farther to Sardinia by 1327 (where the port of Alghero retains a Catalan identity to the present day). This was a time of urban development, together with economic and demographic growth, particularly centred on Barcelona. Most of the increasingly cosmopolitan Catalan cities and larger towns included settlements of hitherto marginalized Aljama Moors and Jews. Science, thought and culture flourished, however a widespread plague in 1348, followed by repeated earthquakes, took their toll. A ten-year civil war in 1462-72 led to French intervention and the occupation, then annexation of Catalunya Nord in 1462-64.

The fourth chapter, titled 'On the Edge of the Empire', describes the increasing 'assimilation' of the Catalan nobility into the Spanish nobility through an explicit policy of intermarriage. Catalan society fell under 'the severe control of a restrictive establishment' (65), while suffering from frequent violence, banditry and on the coast Turkish and Berber piracy. In 1610, over four thousand Moriscos (Spanish Muslims baptized - often forcibly - as Christians) were expelled from Catalonia, while an intransigent Catholic counter-reformation dominated the church. …

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