Sunday, July 14, 2013

Seville/Cordoba: Week 2

View of La Giralda from Alcazar
This past week I visited the Alcazar of Seville and spent the past two days in Cordoba. But before I get to the sightseeing facet of my presence in Spain I should give an update on my research. This past week it hung by a thread. Having reached the end of one roll of microfilm without seeing nearly as many documents as I expected, I began to wonder if that was the end of the line. However, after talking to one of the archives' research assistants I learned three more rolls of microfilm remain pertaining to Wilkinson's relationship with the Spanish Crown. This was a huge relief. 

Because of the high volume of researchers during the summer months and the lack of microfilm viewing machines, I'm doing everything I can to arrive every morning at the archives well before it opens (8am). Each day I sift through General Wilkinson's correspondence with Spanish Governors of West Florida, Louisiana, and Havana. For each individual letter I record the date and its place of origin in an effort to retrace Agent 13's path through the American frontier. While creating my exhibit in St. Lawrence Special Collections last year I found that given a chronologically concentrated distribution of correspondence and trade related documents I could literally track a historical figure's path and actions through time/space. It's a simple concept really. Yet when carried out on a wider scale with hundreds of documents, each letterhead marks a single waypoint in the complex journey of that person's experience. Whenever I find a particularly important document I take care to record excerpts or some even in their entirety. This has proved to be an effective method for building the foundation of a historical narrative.

That's enough for now recounting my research methods. As you already have begun to see, I've been balancing my hours in the archives by visiting local historical sites. On monday I finally visited the Alcazar of Seville. It has long been a residence of various Muslim and Christian leaders in Spain and is still used by the Royal Family today as one of many places of residence. The prevalence of Islamic art and architecture throughout the Alcazar is breath taking. The dome directly to the right was just one of many ornamental ceilings throughout the palace. 

 As I was exiting the Alcazar there was an artist selling her impressions of Islamic patterns just outside the palace gates. After talking to her for a bit about her work, I found she shared my appreciation for the cultural diversity in Spain of centuries past.

This weekend I had the privilege to see the remnants of convivencia in Cordoba. To the right is a castle I saw while traveling by train to Cordoba on Friday. After looking at Google maps I still can't figure out what it's called.
The Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba
Yesterday I visited the Cathedral of Cordoba. I've called it a hybrid Cathedral-Mosque above because although the Catholic Church now owns it, in reality most of the structure still remains in appearance a mosque. In terms of function however, I recently learned that the Church bars Muslims from praying within the structure. 

Later yesterday afternoon an hour in the Catedral-Mezquita I made my way to one of the three remaining synagogues in Spain. This statistic does not include synagogues built more recently, but refers to the three synagogues that survived destruction during/after the Reconquista. The picture below is of the Hebrew inscription that marks the year of the synagogue's completion (1315).

To end this post, here is a picture I took today overlooking the River Guadalquivir, the Roman Bridge, and the Cathedral of Cordoba. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Seville: Week 1

After sitting on the tarmac in Montreal for an extra hour, missing my connection to Madrid in London-Heathrow, and my luggage spending the night in Madrid as I settled into my apartment in Seville- I made it. Although a lot went wrong travelling I knew it would all be worth it. Seville is fantastic. I haven't seen a cloud all week. Everything is in bloom. And I have the privilege to walk past some of the most iconic structures everyday as I walk to the archives. One iconic building is the bar "El Rinconcillo" featured above. Which if you look closely was founded in the year 1570! Something that constantly reminds me of the  historical saturation of every single building, church, and bar is the recycled materials that went into their construction. Directly above you'll find consecutive circles making up the foundation of a predominantly brick and mortar building. One of the Spaniards I'm living with told me each circular stone was cut from a Roman column. To me they look like mill stones, but either way you can see how the structures themselves are mosaics of different eras and cultures. Another example of this sort of layering is the Torre del Oro, built by the Almohads to control the river, later a prison, now a naval museum, the tower still shows many architectural signs of Arabic influence. Coincidentally the skyscraper in construction across the river looks almost identical to one I photographed for my blog while I was studying in Jordan.

The two following pictures are two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites down the street from the Torre. I id my best to do the Cathedral and the Archivos justice but they are gigantic. The Archivos are what have drawn me here to Seville. More specifically, they contain hundreds of documents pertaining to General James Wilkinson or as the Spanish knew him Agent 13. Yesterday, I wrapped up my first week of research in the Archivos. My eyes needed a break after the hours I spent sifting through piles upon piles of parchment and spinning through microfilm of Wilkinson's correspondence. Though I originally thought I'd be able to peruse Agent 13's correspondence by hand it turns out the collection is damaged and off limits to the public. Luckily for me everything off limits was converted to microfilm in 2010. To be honest I don't mind missing out on complete access, I can cover more ground buzzing through microfilm slides than a stack of letters anyways.

After failing to enter the Cathedral today, as I was lacking a document with my date of birth on it, I decided I'd adventure around near the river. I ended up hanging out in one of the parks reading the newspaper. I think this massive building through the trees might be part of the university.

Every commute to the Archivos or anywhere in central Seville takes me through a serpentine path of cobblestone roads. I am very lucky to be staying so close to the Archivos. I'm only 15 minutes on foot.

To end this post I thought I'd go back in time to when this project was just beginning to crystallize. I've included a picture of me in front of the sign for my exhibit in St. Lawrence special collections. It was only beginning to dawn on me how much awaited me in Los Archivos de Indias. If your interested in what my exhibit entailed here's the catalogue/report I organized I can't believe how much my research has developed in two years. I want to thank everyone who has helped me along the way; Dr. Schrems, Tim Cryderman, Mark McMurray, Paul Hagget, Dr. Jennings, Dr. Ponce-Vázquez, Dr. Eissenstat, Martha Sawyer. The list goes on and on. I believe justice has yet to be done in the case of General James Wilkinson and I'm doing my best to form a more impartial interpretation of his connection to the Spanish. Thanks for reading.

*The Watertown Times owns the right to this photo.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Month in Seville, Spain

It has been over 4 months since I last posted. I have gone through some reverse culture shock since I have been back in the United States, though nothing too stressful. Apart from double checking where the bottom of my shoe is pointing as I cross my leg or pronouncing hard consonants too strongly in English most of my adjustment has been subconscious. I often miss shwarma, hummus, kanafe, and day by day miss the opportunities I had engaging my friends in Arabic while studying in Jordan. I'm writing now as I stand at the juncture of another trip abroad, a month in Seville, Spain. Though Spain represents the confluence of all my interest in Middle East meets West history, I will ironically be spending time there to research the correspondence of an American: General James Wilkinson. More on that later. 

In this post I have for you one of my efforts to build upon the skills I picked up while studying in Jordan. While a student at Amideast I had the pleasure of taking the course offered in Islamic Art. The professors were world-class and possessed a wide range of specialties in various art forms (ceramics, wood working, and illumination). For the second half of the semester I elected to specialize in wood carving. I was lucky enough to learn from an Indonesian master named Aziz. I hope at some point he sees that I have been able to continue our work together in class. This spring I bought a few chisels and set out to carve my girlfriend a picture frame for her birthday. Here's the time lapse photography. 

Between finding time to carve and planning out the design, the time lapse from start to end was about a month. After drawing, stamping, chiseling, and painting I was happy with my results. Feel free to ask me any further questions about the process. After centuries of Muslim influence on southern Spain I anticipate to see similar patterns in the older structures of Seville. Additionally, I will take a couple side trips to the great mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada to appreciate Spain's history and cultural syncretism. Despite my deep interest in the vestiges of Muslim influence, my core purpose for spending the month of July in Seville centers on early American history. 

More specifically, I will spend my days sifting through the correspondence of General James Wilkinson held in the General Archives of the Indies. Why General Wilkinson? Why are his letters held in Spain? After proving himself as a valuable aid-de-camp during the American Revolution under Generals Benedict Arnold, Washington, and Gates, Wilkinson himself became the youngest General of the Continental Army (age 20). This in conjunction with the fact that he would later become Commanding General of the US Army for over 15 years makes his career a worthy research topic. Beyond his service to the United States Wilkinson also maintained a covert relationship with the Spanish throughout much of his military career, receiving multiple payments for leaking information the Spanish deemed important (regarding the frontier). You may have already made your mind up about Wilkinson, along with most historians and his biographers. Though, the same writers who call him a traitor or scoundrel raise the question, but cannot adequately explain, why the Founding Fathers (who knew about his connection) kept him in a position of power. I do not seek to exculpate Wilkinson with the time I spend in the Archives of the Indies. I simply believe there is more to the story of why he became so useful to leaders in Philadelphia, Madrid, Washington, and Havana. I aim to capture this alternative narrative with my research.

While I'm in Seville I will be updating my travel blog on my progress in the Archives and my experiences. Thanks for reading. And I almost forgot, thanks to St. Lawrence University for funding my trip with a variety of research grants and to the Cornwell Family for the research they promote through their funding of the Tanner Fellowship.