The work to revise the paper that I’m currently working on, which contrasts evidence for popular, er, expressions of ethnicity from personal names supplied by charters from early tenth-century León with those to which students are more used based on the late-ninth century chronicles of Asturias, has led me inexorably to actually having to get to grips with some of the voluminous work of Don Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz. I had in some sense been avoiding this: when I first began work on Spain it was very much in an area where his convictions (about depopulation and repopulation) were being thrown out by scholars such as (especially) Eduardo Manzano Moreno, and so it was possible to manage without digging into it very far. Also, and partly because of his own polemic style I guess, those refuting him were not above pointing out his rather, er, unfashionably 1930s-style political views, which also made him someone I didn’t want to have to deal with yet. But mainly it was the sheer volume of output that was offputting: observe that the bibliography I linked to above has 23 different monographs in it, and though probably half of them are reprints of papers and older material, multiply overlapping and making each other part-way redundant in a way that the music re-release industry would be proud of, the others aren’t. Various aspects of his thinking seem to reoccur in different versions through all these works, however, and I now realise that the breadth of citation from his work by his followers is at least partly down to those followers selecting the particular presentation of one of his theses which best suits their particular point.
This makes him much easier to cite and agree with than to refute. Pretty much anything you want him to have said is out there somewhere, in an arrogant and brash summary of the conclusions of some previous work which actually puts a very distinct spin on that work’s contents. Things that were established as strong possibilities he appears to have considered proven if left unchallenged (or not challenged well enough) for long enough, like a kind of historiographical version of the 30-Year Rule. So whatever you want him to have said, he probably did put into print at one point or another during his fifty-year exile from the documents on which he based his work.
When you come to want to refute it, however, you go back to the original studies on which the brash assertions rely, and run into trouble. There, the conclusions are advanced more carefully, with a great deal of phrases like “muy probable”, “sin embargo” and “no es probada”. But the setting out of evidence behind them is painstaking to the point of pedantry, and almost entirely inarguable. His view, except in the case of assertions about racial characteristics perhaps, is always supported, and all you can do is suggest variant interpretations. Worse, you find that the points you wanted to make against his statements were actually anticipated and given a nod of consideration in this work, so that if you want to be fair in attribution you now have to cite Don Claudio in detail to support your own contentions that argue against him in general.
I am therefore learning respect for the man and his work, which was approximately the last thing I anticipated when I picked it up. More fool me perhaps: one doesn’t become an institution of a nation’s learning without knowing a thing or two. At the same time, it’s very difficult to get anything past him, and he’s been dead twenty-three years and venerably repetitive for many previous. Apart from the forty-year exile there must be worse careers to have had.