Castro, Américo

Castro, Américo
b. 1885, Cantagallo (Brazil); d. 1972, Madrid
   A pupil of the leading philologist and historian Menéndez Pidal, Castro followed up his studies at the University of Granada with postgraduate work in Germany and Paris. During the Second Republic, he was Ambassador to Berlin. He left Spain after the Civil War, and taught in Latin America, and in the USA at the Universities of Princeton, Harvard and San Diego. He returned to Spain in 1964.
   Most of Castro's work up to 1925 reflects his early training as a philologist and textual scholar. In addition to studies and editions of works by Juan de Mal Lara, Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Rojas Zorrilla, and Tirso de Molina, he also produced a classic study El pensamiento de Cervantes (The Thought of Cervantes) (1925). In the 1940s, however, he turned towards cultural and intellectual history, challenging the traditional Castilian-centred, unitary view of Spain's past by emphasizing the plural nature of medieval Spanish culture as a blend of Christian, Muslim and Jewish influences. Thus, for example, he argued that the military orders, with their tradition of combining asceticism with warfare in defence of what for them was the true faith, were a manifestation in Christian terms of an institution well established in Near Eastern Islam.
   Castro's essential ideas are contained in The Structure of Spanish History (1954) (first published as España en su historia, 1948). With various additions and modifications, the book was republished in different versions up to shortly before Castro's death. Castro's approach to historiography was essentially a humanist one, in the sense that he dwelt on the experience and self-understanding of the various communities in Spain, using literary texts as a primary historical source, and was impatient with modern methodologies based on a consideration of economic, social or geographical factors. This earned him a sharp rejoinder from Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, and the polemical exchanges between the two scholars enlivened academic circles in Spain and elsewhere for most of the 1950s and 1960s. By contrast, writers like Juan Goytisolo have paid warm tribute to Castro for his willingness to give overdue recognition to the Moorish and Jewish inheritance in Spanish culture, often underestimated by nationalist historians.
   Castro is an important figure in Spanish cultural history and in the development of new historio-graphical perspectives, but he was vulnerable to the charge that his methodology lacked rigour and his interpretations were excessively conjectural.
   Major works
   - Castro, A. (1925) El pensamiento de Cervantes, Madrid: Hernando
   —— (1954) The Structure of Spanish History, trans. E.L.King, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
   —— (1961) De la edad conflictiva, Madrid: Taurus.
   —— (1977) An Idea of History : Selected Essays, trans. S.Gilman and E.L.King, Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.
   Further reading
   - Surtz, R.E., Ferran, J. and Testa, D.P. (1988) (eds) Americo Castro, The Impact of his Thought: Essays to Mark the Centenary of his Birth, Madison, WI: Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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