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.