“So many books, so little time”

I recently wandered through the first part of an article (well: it was in a volume with other pieces, so even though it’s close on four hundred pages I guess it must still be an article, yes?) from 1994 by Carlos de Ayala Martínez (“Relaciones de propiedad y estructura económica de reino de León: los marcos de producción agraria y el trabajo campesino (850-1230)” in El Reino de León en la Alta Edad Media VI, Fuentes y Estudios de Historia Leonesa 53 (León 1994), pp. 135-410, since you ask). I only read the first section, a mere hundred and twenty pages, because it wasn’t actually that I got the volume out of the library for, but it seemed too relevant to pass by and you know, I’m here to learn. In fact it was a useful breakdown sorting rural settlement and production relations (Marxism lite) into analytical categories based on the documents’ own semantics, and it will doubtless make a useful thing to cite, but that, as Arlo Guthrie said, “isn’t what I came to tell you about”.

He cites a vast number of rural history monographs. I don’t survey literature from other areas as often as I should, but it seems to me a particular characteristic of Spanish historiography that these things proliferate so. An initial and perhaps uncharitable assumption is that most of these are doctoral theses reset for publication, each on the author’s own little area which he or she knows better than anyone else and anywhere else. And often a senior academic, the supervisor perhaps, also turns up as involved: José Angel García de Cortazar y Ruiz de Aguirre in particular is a name who crops up again and again (it is a name that’s hard to miss). But I know from other reading that often it is just monograph after monograph from the same pen: in Catalonia Jordi Bolòs i Masclans is another proliferator, Regesta Imperii may only have two monographs for him but I know of at least two more. He has a slight advantage in being an actual digging archaeologist as well as a charter historian, so he publishes a lot of site reports. (In how many ways is that a lesson to English academia? I count at least two.) But there really is just a lot of this tiny-scale high-volume stuff in Spain.

Now of course one has to select. Even if I could get hold of it all I can’t read it all, and while every example of a place’s development is potentially useful as comparison to the ones I work on, some of this stuff will be effectively redundant. A lot of it will contribute very little to the discipline except to keep its author afloat, which is exactly the sort of writing that Barbero and Vigil complained about in 1978, still happening.

The answer of course is to take reviews and review articles by medievalists whose opinions you respect as guidance, but even they cite many many of these studies. And after all they have students too.

I think the question that really niggles at me is simply, how does so much of this stuff find publication? In Catalonia it would be local history societies proudly promoting their academic son, but in Castile it seems to find its way into major series with no problem. Where does all this medievalism money come from, and why just here?

Mainly it makes me despair of keeping up, but that happens pretty much every day anyway. I should be able to free up more research time fairly soon anyway, so hopefully these worries will ease then.

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