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Member of the Month – Lucila Mallart

September 18, 2015

Ever since Lucila joined HARN in April of last year I’ve been intrigued by her research on Catalonia so I’m particularly pleased that she has agreed to be this month’s Member of the Month. Lucila writes:

Presently I am in the final stage of my PhD project on the construction of modern Catalan identity through the works of the architect, politician and art historian Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1867-1956). Recently, you may have heard of Catalonia – a country in north-eastern Spain – in the news with regard to the current independentist movement. My research aims at shedding light on the historical process of construction of the imaginaries and narratives through which that cultural and political identity has been articulated. It is always somewhat challenging to discuss national identity, particularly when it is one’s own, and when it has featured so intensively in the media and in the political arena – as it is the case with present day Catalonia. At the same time, however, that is what makes my work more interesting and – I want to believe – truly relevant.

The move to Nottingham, in the United Kingdom, to conduct PhD research certainly contributed to adding some perspective and dimension to an otherwise so personally embedded and intensively contemporary research topic. There, I have tried to build upon the work of the so-called modernist school of historians of national identity, while using, in many cases, the built environment and visual culture as primary sources rather than textual documents. Historians of archaeology interested in national identity will be familiar with Eric Hobsbawm’s idea of ‘invented tradition’, as well as Benedict Anderson’s ‘imagined community’. Through my research I began to understand the construction of modern national identities – such as Catalonia’s, or Spain’s for that matter – as a very common process that cannot be dissociated from the emergence, consolidation or fragmentation of any modern nation-state, and not as the invention of some ‘fake’ historical identities vis a vis some more ‘legitimate’ ones, something that Hobsbawm seems to suggest when he distinguishes between invented ‘traditions’ and what he conceives as more organic ‘customs’. In other words, I am not so much interested in the ‘legitimacy’ of the national narratives and imaginaries I study, as I am in how and why they were mobilised. On the other hand, my emphasis on visual and material culture finds a more useful framework in Anderson’s notion of ‘imagined community’.

Another important aspect of my work is the understanding that political ideologies, such as nationalism, do not exist isolated in the world of ideas but are instead deeply rooted in materiality and in everyday life. In that sense, I understand that culture is not a convenient adornment to politics, but a key constituent of politics. I must admit that Foucault changed the way I look at the past and the relation between culture and politics, or, to put it in his words, between knowledge and power. Josep Puig i Cadafalch, mentioned at the beginning of this text, is an excellent case study to explore that relationship as he was simultaneously a successful architect and man of letters involved in many crucial cultural developments of early 20th c. Catalonia, as well as an influential politician; so much so that he became President of the federation of Catalan provinces, known as Mancomunitat, between 1917 and 1923. I like to think that he did not forget his architectural expertise in his role as President likewise his historical findings when designing contemporary urban spaces. Moreover, he did not ignore his political ideas when he wrote on history of art or excavated and restored historical monuments. Rather, I understand that he developed his projects and ideas using different idioms.

Because Puig is a relatively unknown figure in the English-speaking world – at least outside the community of historians of Romanesque art and architecture – in my thesis I have tried to cover the different facets of his work, while also looking at three spatial tiers of identity construction: the city, the state, and Europe. Thus, I explore two of his urban planning projects for Barcelona. I look at the interplay between visual culture and material transformation in the renovation of the old town and the opening of the Via Laietana (1900-1915), as well as at his project of a metropolitan ring (1905-1915) during the preparatory works of the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition. His exhibition project and architectural design for a display of Spain in that event (1914-1918) allow me to address his conceptualisation of the relationship between Catalonia and the Spanish state. Finally, I analyse his numerous intellectual relationships in the United States and across Europe (ca. 1920-1950) particularly those in the periphery – such as Romania and Scandinavia – in order to highlight the transnational framework of his ‘nationalistic’ contributions to the history of Catalan medieval architecture.

Through this project I have found myself engaging with scholars from different countries and with a wide variety of disciplines, from architecture and art history to the history of science and archaeology. In fact, I learned of HARN through a Swedish friend and historian of archaeology, with whom I soon hope to be able to expand my work on intellectual history and transnational networks. Hopefully my work will be also of interest for other HARN members – I am more than open to collaborations!

Thank you Lucila for a fascinating insight into the construction of Catalan identity.

Have a great weekend everyone

Julia

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