The Hispanic and Anglo worlds are often portrayed as the Cain and Abel of the Western culture, antagonistic and alien to each other. Our project challenges this view by developing a new critical conceptual framework – the ‘Hispanic-Anglosphere’ – to study individuals, networks and communities that made of the British Isles a crucial hub for the global Hispanic world and a bridge between Spanish Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas during the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries, a period marked by the dislocation of global polities, nation-state building and the rise of nationalism.
Direct contact between women and men of the British Isles and those of the Spanish-speaking world increased exponentially from the 1760s. Trade between Britain and Spanish America rose by about 300 to 400 per cent long before South American independence in the 1820s. A good number of companies involved in this trade had branches in different locations of the British Isles, the Americas, the Philippines, in the Canary Islands, and were run by English, Scottish and Irish families based in Spain. Contact further increased in the 1780s with the arrival to these shores of Spanish American revolutionaries. The Napoleonic wars not only took tens of thousands of Britons to fight in Iberia, also encouraged a few to join regular e irregular forces in Spain and later in Spanish America, thus starting a trend of British personal involvement in Hispanic conflicts long before the International Brigades made its name in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Many of these expats either died or decided to settle abroad. A few returned home, bringing wives and children, as well as foreign goods, manners and customs which they helped to popularize. Similarly, hundreds of Spanish refugees flocked to the British Isles after the restoration of Bourbon absolutism in 1814, often crossing paths with Spanish American leaders in search for assistance in the delicate business of new-nation state building.
Scholars have studied some of these cases, but mainly from national perspectives or in terms of either ‘Spanish-British’ or ‘Latin American-British’ relations, often reducing the British experience to the confines of London, thus leaving little room for the study of persons, issues and undertakings that operated in wider areas and both through and beyond national and regional boundaries.
In this project, historians from the UK, Ireland, continental Europe, the Americas and Russia, jointly with scholars from other disciplines and non-academic partners are studying those people who in the British Isles were closely engaged with the Hispanic world, regardless of their birth, religion or political allegiance as well as those who came from the Hispanic world to any point of the British Isles as visitors, exiles and/or migrants. A key question we are addressing is how these individuals and networks worked with and/or counteracted growing restrictions imposed on the movement of people, ideas, goods and capital.
The network is currently working in partnership with the National Trust Tyntesfield, the stately home founded by the Madrid-born merchant William Gibbs who built much of his fortune on the importation of Spanish wine and Peruvian guano. Scholarly discussions have been held in the context of the estate’s rich collection of material culture with the intention of contributing to improving and extending their interpretation. Expert knowledge is being tested and disseminated through discrete scheduled meetings with the general public and through mass and social media, thus encouraging dialogue with wider audiences outside academic circles. The project operates through this online interactive platform that serves to host scholars’ exchanges and to showcase peer-reviewed material generated as a result of the networks’ research such as working papers and an online exhibition (see Individuals, Networks and Communities, Public History).