Eminent Spaniards

Introduction, by Javier Gomá

When, some years ago, Fundación Juan March initiated the Eminent Spaniards project (Biografías Españoles eminentes), three objectives were identified. Having observed that the biography in Spanish historiography had not achieved the level of mastery it is known for in other countries, where there are many keen readers and an abundant offering from publishers, it was thought that it would be possible to assist the native development of the genre by commissioning several biographies from specialists in certain historical periods. In order to meet this goal it was important that the biographies have a format that was responsive to the expectations of a well read but non-academic public. On this basis, the biographies would follow a chronological sequence from the birth to the death of the subject. With regard to the contents, the intention has been to offer an interesting, individual and realistic outline of the subject's life, providing the reader with a condensed version of the latest research, rather than including all scholarly details, which are nonetheless covered by a specific chapter dedicated to a bibliography with commentaries.

Secondly, it seems strange that, with the exception of kings and politicians, many of the most outstanding Spaniards have still, today in the 21st-century, not been the subject of an authentically modern biography that sets out the details of their life and especially those characteristics that elevated their figure to the excellence for which they are generally known today. The second aim of the project therefore was to fill this gap, even if only partially, choosing a small but representative group of eminent Spaniards whose biography was yet to be written, or, for whatever reason, was considered to be deficient. The commissioned work had to answer the question as to why the subject of the biography was eminent and if, in the opinion of the author, they continue to maintain that profile in our times, with the change of perspective that comes with the passing of time.

During centuries historiography explained the course of a nation as a series of political events, centred on diplomatic and military decisions taken by monarchs and their advisers. During the 20th-century, on the other hand, a different form of historical writing enjoyed wide acceptance, one which, bypassing the intervention of individual actors, emphasises the analysis of economic structures and social demographics, or descriptions of the geographic and climatic conditions of territories. The abundant results this structuralist historiography has given in the last century are known, but there are many signs that this previously bountiful source has been entirely depleted and it is now appropriate to try an approach to the events of the past that takes into consideration the influence of certain individuals and their eminent, exemplary, paradigmatic conducts in shaping our collective cultural tradition. This approach deals with recovering the perspective of personal ethos in historical explication, but at the same time distanced from the old political, diplomatic or military narratives, based on genealogy, treaties between princes and battles.

This then is the third of the aims mentioned above. It has been shown that event-driven history generates a variety of dissonant interpretations, whereas the histories of the eminent Spaniards that took part in those events, or at least were privileged witnesses, give rise, more easily, to agreements and convergent opinions. For example, historians have many, and very different, opinions about the year of 1812, so full of significance for every social class, but almost all of them, in spite of differing ideologies, find themselves full of admiration or respect before Jovellanos or Goya, to mention those Spaniards who, fortunately, have been the subject of good biographical studies. The Eminent Spaniards project aspires to be a contribution to the history of Spanish culture in the light of the exemplary nature of certain individuals, whose moral excellence is the subject of wide consensus. The use of a historic-exemplary approach, as is the objective of the biography project, seeks to help rewrite Spanish history in a more integrative manner than has been possible up to now.

Ricardo García Cárcel (professor of Modern History) and Juan Pablo Fusi (professor of Contemporary History) made up the advisory board and were fundamental, each in his corresponding area, to every part of the process, from the choice of the biography and of the author, right up to the culmination of the commission. In the Foundation, Lucía Franco was responsible for coordinating the project. The publisher Taurus took an active interest from the very beginning and embraced the project as its own. If the reader of this biography considers that it meets any of the three objectives set out above, it is thanks to these people.

Javier Gomá Lanzón
Director of Fundación Juan March