EUH 5934 Dr. Harland-Jacobs 30 January 2012 Sir John Huxtable Elliott His Writings and Contributions
In many ways, it is impossible to do justice to the impressive life and career of Sir John Huxtable Elliott in a short essay such as this one. Simply listing his countless awards, publications, and honorary titles and degrees would take up most of the space allotted for this short paper (as the pages attached to the end of the essay can attest). Instead of writing a traditional, chronologically-organized biography of this great historian, this essay will focus more directly on the continuities within Elliotts oeuvre. After even a brief scan of Elliotts vita, one would be more than justified in wondering whether there were any continuities to Elliotts work at all. From his first monograph (The Revolt of the Catalans A Study in the Decline of Spain, 1598-1640) in 1963 to today, Elliott has written books on the Count-Duke of Olivares, the intellectual and cultural impact of the New World on Europe, the palace of Philip IV, and a magisterial comparison of the British and Spanish Empires across three centuries, among many other diverse topics. Yet, despite this breathtaking range of publications, this paper argues that there are indeed many important threads. Due to limitations of space, however, this paper will focus on one of the most fundamental continuities in Elliotts work the use of comparative and/or transnational history to elucidate the history of early modern Spain.
Elliotts many accomplishments are even more impressive after considering the state of the field of early modern Spanish history in the English-speaking academy, when Elliott was a graduate student at Trinity College, Cambridge, in the early 1950s. Spain for most American and British historians was largely a terra incognita, which, if it brought up any images at all, was of a land filled with sadistic Inquisitors and Don Quixotes. It is telling that at Cambridge, Elliott studied under Sir Herbert Butterfield, a historian of the British Isles, who, in Elliotts words, knew nothing about the subject i.e., Spanish history. Yet, the advisor-student relationship was a fruitful one, and by the early 1960s, Elliott had already written two well-received books and was appointed as a Lecturer of History at Cambridge.
Although these first two books were both political histories, Elliott soon demonstrated his prodigious versatility, which has helped him become one of the most well-known and influential historians of his generation. Elliott once said in an interview that he hated being typecast as a political historian, and his next major work would go a long ways in dispelling any notions of typecasting Elliott as merely a political historian. The size of the slim volume, The Old World and the New, 1492-1650 (1970), belies the enormity of the topicand the significance of its contribution. In this book, Elliott posits his famous thesis about the blunted impact of the New World on the Old. Before Atlantic history was a fashionable historical subfield, Elliott demonstrated in The Old World and the New that expanding ones horizons across the Atlantic could lead to intriguing and unexpected conclusions.
Throughout all of Elliotts large-scale projects over the past three decades, one can find many comparative elements in them, culminating in the celebrated work of Atlantic history, Empires of the Atlantic World (2006). For example, when researching the Count-Duke of Olivares, Elliott took the opportunity to compare Olivares to his more well-known counterpart, Cardinal Richelieu, in Richelieu and Olivares, which was published in 1984. One reviewer aptly summarized Elliotts portraits of the two men by commenting that Olivares emerges from this study as a much more complex and subtle personality than usually depicted, whereas Richelieu appears somewhat less masterful and modern. While the critique could certainly be made that Elliott stresses the similarities at the expense of...
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