You never know what will happen once you come to the Real Colegio Complutense at Harvard University. Juan Francisco Fuentes and Eva Botella Ordinas met at the RCC; discussed common issues as historians; and decided that “being an RCC researcher is a good habit.” So, on Eva’s initiative, they organized a group of Spanish academic scholars and submitted the successful grant application to be RCC’s 2010 Advanced Research Group.
As a Research Group, they agreed to work together for two months on a topic –, From Empire to Nation: The Making of Modern Nations in the Crisis of the Atlantic Empires (17th-20th Centuries). From the beginning, they wanted to create “something magical” from their group experience. They consciously chose a wide range of generational participants from various universities and from a diversity of perspectives.
The youngest member, Regina Martínez Idarreta, is responsible for the group’s blog. She is working on her PhD thesis and has a grant from the Ministry of Education. “I feel privileged to come here to RCC and Harvard and be a participant of this group.” When asked why such a young person was included, the response was “We trust in Regina Martínez’s work; it is important to have a good balance of ages; and she helps create the magic.”
One member described the group process: “It is very exciting and challenging to work as a team and to be in a context with different, yet connected, subjects. We are used to being in an academic setting with people focused on similar topics.”
The group arrived from Spain in early July. Unlike previous Advanced Research Groups, they came having already written long, detailed, research papers. Their concept is to spend their time learning from each other rather than working independently on their own documents. Strict deadlines were set months ago by the director Juan Francisco Fuentes and monitored by coordinator Eva Botella Ordinas. So, right away, group members dived into exchanges and debates which help improve their own thinking. Juan Francisco Fuentes emphasized, in their very first meeting together, the importance of establishing a balance between contributing and learning from others. He urged that they ask themselves: “What are the things that I’ve received from others and how have I changed my mind.”
Already, this process has produced positive results. “Fortunately, the magic factor exists. It is a feeling, a spirit, a spark that can be felt in our meetings and discussions. Of course, the victory of the Spanish football team in the World Cup helped provide this positive energy!”
How does this process actually work? “Each person gives a seminar. The kick-off was decisive as almost half of us presented in the first week. We are really satisfied with the high level of the papers and the discussions. After each seminar, the chair (in this case, Juan Francisco Fuentes) summarized key new, fruitful ideas that emerged from the presentation and discussion.”
The focal point of the group is to explore issues like modernity, territory, freedom, liberty, progress, independence, war, empires, and nations from the two-way exchanges from Europe to the Americas and from the Americas to Europe. These concepts are different depending on geography, culture, history. Juan Francisco Fuentes used the analogy of a suitcase: “A political/social concept is like a suitcase: you can change its contents and still it is the same suitcase. One of our key ideas is to look at the nature of these changes between both sides of the Atlantic. How do these concepts show up differently in different places?”
For example, the concept of “liberal” has very different meanings in Europe as compared to the U.S. “In Europe, a ‘liberal’ has a conservative meaning; whereas, in the U.S. ‘liberal’ can be a progressive.”
“We are interested in how new thinking uses past references. For example, how does Barack Obama use the Constitution as a basis for his Administration’s ideas and positions?”
by Elizabeth Kline
This interview was published in the RCC’s 2010 July 58# bulletin. Bulletin__58_(July_2010)