- Still Edging Toward Iberia
The review of my book by S. J. Pearce, along with the forum organized by the editors of MLN, present an excellent opportunity to dialogue with colleagues about the disciplinary and theoretical topics my book raises.
Edging toward Iberia derives from the article by the same title published in diacritics in 2006 (Dangler “Edging”). The article focused on three key problems that modern scholars encounter in studying Iberia’s past—place, borders, and names—and ended with the suggestion that we rely on two concepts, the frontier and associations, as a strategy to explore more expansive avenues of research. The book shifts the article’s conceptual presentation of disciplinary problems to a concerted engagement with more capacious research methods in the application of the tenets of network theory and World-Systems Analysis (WSA). The book centers on the desire to devise broad-based research methods that extend outward geographically and conceptually in order to edge closer to medieval Iberia.
Pearce focuses on two main themes in her review—disciplinary troubles and problems of terminology and names—which she claims should have been better resolved before embarking on the exploration of the tenets of network theory and WSA. She begins with a survey of the state of our field and especially the ongoing division between scholars who study “medieval Spain” and those who specialize in “non-modern Iberia.” She presents a model of our field that is dichotomous and at the same time ill-defined, and questions the effectiveness of my book’s discussions about names, terms, and methods in uniting this rift. She characterizes my analysis and approach as redolent of the field’s conservative strain, calling my book “fundamentally and [End Page 473] ultimately a cultural history based on Castilian sources,” a surprising description, given the book’s primary demonstration of network and system tenets and their application in a variety of sources from Iberian and North African historiography (Pearce 466).
Many of Pearce’s comments on my book’s objectives differ from the book’s assertions. My book responds to the move that many scholars have made beyond the narrow limits of “medieval Spanish” to the broader implications of non-modern Iberian studies, and is primarily concerned with the absence of adequate concepts and methods in that shift. Despite Pearce’s claims to the contrary, my book insists on the theoretical, historical, and ethical import of the change, as in the introduction, although it does not profess to convince conservative scholars to alter their views. I see no reason why this should be my responsibility, nor why my book’s proposals depend on the change of mind of conservative colleagues. Pearce aligns my book with “inherent conservatism” in the field, which is entirely contrary to its aim. Many scholars have already demonstrated why it is essential to move beyond imposed modern national limits and traditional Eurocentrism in Iberian studies, and my book builds on that work. Pearce makes several excellent suggestions about medieval terms, sources, and concepts, such as shu‘ūbiyya, but their absence does not, in my view, diminish the book’s theoretical and methodological proposals. She is right in stating that “the priority… is clearly the theoretical framework of the discussion,” since Edging toward Iberia indeed provides a frame for the examination of more specific topics, timelines, and materials (Pearce 471). Its conceptual and methodological contributions are at a broader level than what Pearce seeks in many of her examples.
Pearce’s review raises the germane question of what is lost and gained by focusing, as I do, on the macro level, instead of assuming a more limited, concentrated scope. Without a doubt, much of the specificity that Pearce demands is not addressed in discussions of certain themes in my book. I do not take issue with her call in this regard, but her focus on this theme is at the expense of the contribution my book makes to the larger framework. The book does not set out to resolve once and for all discrete terms, such as mudéjar or morisco, as Pearce suggests, or to focus on an extended analysis of circumscribed sets of documents or terms about...