- Posted by Amy Bell
- On November 12, 2023
BritishSpanish Society member Professor Paul Preston was in conversation with BSS chairman, the author & journalist Jimmy Burns in the latest ‘meet the author’ BSS event transmitted from the conference hall of the Instituto Español Vicente Cañada Blanch, the Spanish international school in Kensington, London.
See a review of Paul Preston’s latest book in the latest issue of La Revista
A recording of the ‘in conversation’ with Prof. Sir Paul Preston is available here. (Password te97Q$c&)
Preston, the pre-eminent historian of 20th century Spain, joined the event via video link to also participate in a Q&A with attendees on the subject of “A Life Wrestling with the History of Spain’ explored through a number of books on the Spanish Civil War, Franco, King Juan Carlos, and other topics related to modern day Spain.
You would have been forgiven for believing at the start of this event that you had accidentally joined our upcoming in conversation on the subject of football. We had barely taken our seats before host Burns and our guest Preston were swapping thoughts on Everton and Liverpool, where the historian was born in 1946. Paul threw in a witty comment about his club Everton historically being better than the rival that took its name from the city. Then the two old friends got into into their stride, focusing on the planned conversation on making sense of the history of Spain.It was clear that whilst Paul’s return to his much-loved aula at the school was virtual, his presence was very much felt.
A lively dialogue continued with Preston recalling the debt he owed , during his student years,to the late hispanist Hugh Thomas, who fuelled his enduring interest in the Spanish Civil War, before ranging over his lost sympathy for anarchists, and the late Spanish communist party general secretary Santiago Carrillo, and his enduring dislike of Franco, all subjects of his books. He described the process of researching and writing a biography on the late dictator, as “living with one’s worst enemy”.
No topic was off the agenda as Preston fielded questions from former students, academic researchers, and fellow authors. The overriding theme in Paul’s answers to questions about Franco, coalition governments, truth and lies from foreign correspondents, Juan Carlos, graphic posters and the Catholic church was the need to remain open minded as a historian.
Paul noted that it had been said that 25,000+ books had been written on the subject of the Spanish war and advised young historians that they would need endless passion and enthusiasm, something he had found easy to gain through his studies of the Spanish war. He was again
Paul recalled that his interest in the civil war was first driven by anarchists and romantic stories. Whilst his opinions on the anarchists had altered over time one thing he felt was unchanged was his deep sympathy for ordinary people. A sobering thought in 2023.