For a scholar of Catalonia and national identity, recent events in Spain have been “the joy of a lifetime,” said Thomas Harrington, associate professor of language and culture studies. As Catalonia has moved toward independence from Spain, Harrington has been a go-to expert for both media and activists in the Catalan region. Meanwhile, he has been a prolific scholar, publishing two books, consulting on a documentary film, and conducting research with colleagues around the world.
Harrington’s latest book, The Alchemy of Identity, explores the formation of national identity on the Iberian Peninsula. Earlier in 2014, he released Livin’ la vida barroca: American Culture in an Age of Imperial Orthodoxies. In it, he applies the lessons of Iberia to discourse about nationalism and imperialism in the United States. While obviously impressive, the publication of two books is just a sliver of Harrington’s 2014 scholarly output.
Harrington was the subject of several interviews and articles in Catalan media, including El Punt Avui, the Catalan News Agency, Vilaweb, Diari de Prada, La Vanguardia, and the national newspaper Ara. He was also interviewed by the Catalan National Assembly, a group of activists working toward the peaceful separation from Spain.
“The Catalan National Assembly is profoundly democratic,” Harrington said. “They are interested to know what the world thinks of them, and I am sometimes asked for the view Americans might have of their movement.”
He has been called upon to provide his views on other subjects as well. At a conference intended to re-envision the field of Galician studies, Harrington delivered the keynote address. He also assisted in the production of a documentary about Valencian Spanish immigrants to the United States.
What is noteworthy about Harrington’s recent work, in addition to its volume, is that it takes place against the backdrop of the Catalan march toward independence. The Alchemy of Identity in particular is a timely release that offers context into a movement that has been under way for centuries but only recently covered by North American media. For Harrington, it has been something of a perfect storm.
“It’s extraordinarily exciting,” he said. “Catalonia is a small place, so I’ve come to know many of the people involved. It has brought together two of my concerns: democracy and the formation of national identities.”
In an October 2014 non-binding referendum, over 80 percent of those Catalans who voted supported Catalonia becoming an independent state. As Catalan activists work toward separation from Spain, Harrington’s work will continue to take on relevance. With the region’s rich history and exciting present, Harrington’s pace is unlikely to slow.
“Catalonia is like an infinite onion,” he said. “You pull back a layer, you think you understand it, and you pull back another. Then another. Then another.”
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