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  • Iberia On Edge
  • Michelle M. Hamilton

In 2009, Michelle Warren, in an analysis of medieval and epic nationalisms, pointed out that “any ‘national’ history is always enmeshed in global networks (real and imagined, economic and fantastical, political and trivial, etc.) that extend recursively into the past” (“Medievalism” 288). In Edging Toward Iberia, Jean Dangler begins to explore some of Iberia’s real and imagined networks, including the non-modern economic and travel networks connecting Iberia, Africa and the Middle East to Asia and India, as well as the family and tribal networks uniting groups within the peninsula. The network and world/s explored and imagined by Andalusi, Saharan, Maghrebi and Genoese merchants (chp. 3), Muslim and Christian pilgrims (chp. 4), as well as Slavic-Frankish and African slaves (chp. 5), offer examples of people who moved along the networks connecting Iberia to the Mediterranean and the Arab East, and who considered themselves members in social networks such as the clan, the family and tribe.

In order to analyze these networks, Dangler adopts the use of World-System Analysis (WSA) and network theory as elaborated by Immanuel Wallerstein and Manuel Castells. Despite the latter’s focus on predominantly modern European, national and other boundaries/limits, these analytical approaches can help scholars imagine new ways of circumventing the religious, linguistic, social, and identitarian categories that continue to limit our studies and models for thinking about medieval Iberia and premodern peoples such as mozárabes, mudéjares, conversos and Moriscos. The use of WSA and network theory allows for a productive reevaluation of accepted narratives of Spanish history, such as the so-called Christian Reconquest or the multi-faith utopia that critics have come to associate with convivencia. [End Page 493] Dangler’s study looks at how network theory provides a structure more responsive to and reflective of Iberians and Iberian cultural production, which have not easily fit into the binaries (Christian/”Saracen,” black/white, civilized/barbarian, etc.) used to analyze other medieval European traditions.

Instead of focusing on Spanish exceptionalism, Dangler shows how WSA and network theory allow us to focus on Iberia and Iberians as part of large, flexible routes and networks of connections (that include interactions and associations of various types such as trade, travel and diplomacy) that transcend national, geographic and temporal borders. Dangler grounds her work in that of other scholars, such as S. D. Goitein, Thomas Glick, Ray Kea, Janet Abu Lughod, and Olivia Remie Constable, who have examined aspects of the historical, social and economic realities of premodern Iberia/Al-Andalus as part of the larger Islamicate and Mediterranean worlds. Sara Pearce, in her response to Dangler’s work, notes some unease with terminology such as “Islamicate” and “Iberian.” In Edging toward Iberia (and in her response to Pearce), Dangler notes that these terms, like all terms and taxonomies to which they point, will never fully represent the lived realities or imaginaries of past or present subjects.

However imperfect the vocabulary we have, Dangler’s study points to new realms of investigation in which scholars can continue to develop more apt terminology, and with it epistemologies. Thus, Dangler begins Edging Toward Iberia by addressing those critical biases that continue to haunt the field, including the ideas of national borders, identities and concerns that led to the creation of the field of Medieval Studies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In subsequent chapters she offers case studies (such as individuals like Ibn Jubayr, Bama and Abraham Ben Yiju or groups such as the ṣaqāliba, or slaves) that can be mapped onto networks of trade and flows of knowledge, and which show the limitations of former models such as those of Ámerico Castro or Claudio Sánchez Albornoz that were circumscribed by nationalist concerns.

These two twentieth-century Spanish scholars, like the dean of Spanish medieval studies, Ramón Menéndez Pidal, dedicated their scholarship in part to showing that Spain was different from the rest of Europe.1 They ground their studies of medieval Spain in the discourse of nationalism that defines their generation/s of European medievalists, and to which several scholars, including Dangler, have [End Page 494] called our attention.2 The approach of...


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pp. 493-499
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