Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mallorca's History ... In Catalan

On 19 November 1981 the culture department at the Council of Mallorca held the first of what has since become an annual conference. It was the first Jornades d'Estudis Històrics Locals. A prime objective of this conference was to allow young researchers to present their projects and discuss them with those of greater seniority and experience. Initially, project submission was open only to researchers who were resident in the Balearics. This soon changed. The door was thrown open to international researchers, and some of the results of these conferences were published.

Next week, on 28 and 29 October, the thirty-third conference will take place. It will be held at the university's Sa Riera building in the street named after one of the more important figures in recent Mallorcan history, Miquel dels Sants Oliver, the journalist and political thinker who, it might be argued, was the father of twentieth-century Mallorcan tourism. Its theme will be the era of the Taifa of Denia, the Muslim kingdom that was one of various other taifas that were formed after the disintegration of the Caliphate of Cordoba. The Denia taifa was all important in Mallorcan history, as it controlled Mallorca. One of the presentations is entitled "Power and culture in Mallorca (or rather Mayurqa) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries". Others include the use of coins in the taifa and the relationship between Islam and Christianity.

Overseeing all this is the Institute of Balearic Studies. a consortium for the diffusion and promotion of Balearic culture and the development of the Catalan language. Presentations, papers have, therefore, to be in Catalan, and you wouldn't really expect them not to be. But this does have one drawback. The audience is not as wide as it might be.

In December 2009 the institute published a whole collection of papers. It stretches to over five hundred pages. I have a copy, and much as I might attempt to read some of it, over five hundred pages would be taking an interest a bit far. Yet, what this particular publication contains (and it is the second volume) are papers devoted to the theme of studies of the local press by which is meant not so much newspapers or magazines but research devoted to towns across Mallorca. The conference on local history studies is not the only conference of its type. There are similar conferences in various towns as well. Alcúdia, as an example, will be holding its latest conference over three days at the end of next month; the ninth such conference to be held.

The collection of papers published in 2009 doesn't cover every town on the island - it was the second volume after all - but if I start to list the towns that it does cover, then you will get an impression of how comprehensive the collection is: local studies in Alcúdia, in Algaida, in Ariany, in Campanet, in Campos. In addition, there is a separate collection - "The Civil War in Mallorca: village by village" - while there are also papers to do with Menorca. Most of the papers are entitled "local studies of ...", but there is one which dispenses with this. It is simply called "The Local History of Pollensa". It is in fact more a history of historians who have contributed to the town's history, but its pages are naturally enough full of the stuff of the local history.

The papers in the collection, though academic, are not presented in the manner in which much academic research is, i.e. in the formulaic style highly valued by academia in which methodology and proof of research rigour can seem to assume greater purpose than the message and which is thus totally baffling to anyone unused to, for instance, the detail of statistical analysis or literature reviews.

This might all sound like dry stuff but it isn't, and fortunately some of the more extreme academic material which does get published in the proceedings of town's local studies conferences finds its way into more digestible forms, such as the histories which town halls have produced. I have, by way of example, a couple - one for Sa Pobla and one for Santa Margalida. They're in Catalan, but they are also goldmines of information.

The point is, though, that someone without any understanding of Catalan wouldn't even start to read them, and so vast resources go to waste in terms of taking local history to a wider audience. And these are vast resources. Mallorca does history extraordinarily well and in great detail: not just the broad brush stuff of conquest, kings and battles but the more focused stuff, as with the histories of each town.    

Mallorca desperately wants the foreign visitor to engage with its history and its culture. It has a wealth of history and of material which explains it. Development of the Catalan language by all means, but history is not or should not only be Catalan.

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