- Entangled Empires: The Anglo-Iberian Atlantic, 1500-1830 ed. by Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra
this compilation professes two aims: to add information about the entangled histories of the British and Iberian empires within a traditional Atlantic periodization and to problematize the narrative of United States exceptionalism, which twists conceptions of the past to the best interests of politics and economics. Certainly Cañizares-Esguerra's sharp eye is oriented in a new direction, not only to review Atlantic history, but also to pay attention to memory: how our Atlantic past is remembered—although not experienced ("prosthetic memory," according to Alison Landsberg)—by the general public; why it is so; and how to change it. Our memories (and bodies) are embedded with fragments of histories, ways of reading our past; they are embodied, being part of our own identities. Below, my review proposes an evaluation of this collection in light of these pressing issues of our time, with insights (and a few useful references) drawn from my own research, which has been supported by the research project, Postory: historiadores, mnemohistoria y los artesanos del pasado en la era posturística ([AGREEMENT NUMBER: 2013–1572/001 - 001 CU7 MULT7], funded by CE. EACEA. Culture. Multiannual Cooperation Projects. 2007–2013).
Current nationalistic trends promote the media's popular assimilation of official histories in which the past (and the future) is invariably linear, progressive, and exceptional. The pasts of these (and other) Atlantic empires are far from linear and have more agents than their official national histories tend to admit. Questioning them has been Cañizares-Esguerra's successful scholarly agenda for two decades. But how much dissemination has it achieved beyond the narrow academic world? The task of the historian, now more than ever, is to become again a public historian, as Jo Guldi and David Armitage remind us in The History Manifesto. The historian's craft is to acknowledge biases, avoid profiting from death, and write history that serves as public history, without succumbing to the impulse to write official histories that serve the powerful. After all, current political discourse suggests we are living a new Sattelzeit (era of transition), and as such, there is a need for [End Page 137] reevaluating our ways of writing academic history to reach wider audiences.
One of the crucial lessons of the entangled-history approach highlighted in this volume is precisely to improve academic history and in so doing, gain wider audiences. Anchoring the approach is a sharper awareness that the past is complex and in need of new narratives that loosen the rigidity of the current roster of journals and presses accorded greatest prestige, even if such changes come at the cost of changing long-standing authoritative historiographic practices and sacrificing certain long-held notions of voice and authenticity. Traditional academic history's literary style and language sometimes constrain a more honest history, as when they yield the repetition of shopworn quotations and strategic omissions in the service of careerism. The dissemination of research will be severely limited so long as academic history stagnates in ivory towers with the broader public rejecting it as unreliable and less authentic than fictional TV series that reimagine the past. At the same time, official histories are more and more distant from historical research; an antidote might be to engage ostensibly popular or alternative media, such as documentaries or video games. In this challenging scenario, with a dramatic economic and ecologic crisis as its background, there is a scholarly debate about the utility and viability of publishing edited volumes instead of special issues of journals. Such compilations of studies by diverse scholars, like journal issues, are often engaged by readers who sample chapters out of the volume's context, with a shared argument only yielded by editors' Herculean efforts.
Despite this caveat about edited volumes, Cañizares-Esguerra's scholarly sophistication aids the reader in making sense of the volume: the chapters are entangled in many ways, and the book is laudably coherent, regardless of whether the reader follows the chapters in sequence...