Pierre Guichard, the passion for the history of al-Andalus | Culture

The French historian Pierre Guichard, at the presentation of a book of his in Madrid, in 2003.
The French historian Pierre Guichard, at the presentation of a book of his in Madrid, in 2003.JJ Guillén / EFE

In recent days, social networks and emails from specialists in the history of al-Andalus have been filled with messages lamenting the death, on the 6th, of a cancer at the age of 81, of Pierre Guichard, one of the great figures of this field of studies, which he contributed to renew in a series of works that described an Andalusian society far removed from the image that Spanish historical nationalism had awarded it. That image was that of a Muslim Spain in which a small number of conquerors, arrived in 711, had been absorbed by the indigenous population, something that the Arabist Julián Ribera compared to the waters of a pond to which a few drops of red aniline they change the color, but keeping their composition intact.

Guichard pulverized this idea in a work published in 1976 in the editorial of Carlos Barral (a publisher little conformist, as he said), entitled Al Andalus. Anthropological structure of an Islamic society in the West. In it he demonstrated the arrival of a considerable number of Arabs and Berbers who, after settling in the Peninsula, had created a society similar to other Arab-Islamic ones. His interpretation saw the year 711 as a rupture, in which some conquerors framed in tribal clans had been the architects of this new social formation. His was an unprecedented approach to historical anthropology, which proposed, for example, a novel reading of classic works of Andalusian literature, such as the Pigeon Necklace, to reveal issues such as the Arab concept of honor, the social role of women or the forms of Arab kinship.

In the boiling atmosphere of the first decades of the newly launched democracy, this brilliant interpretation encouraged many others to investigate the hitherto little studied Andalusian society, whose functioning and disappearance in the face of the Christian push were subjects to which Guichard also dedicated more works. held. He thus inspired and collaborated in numerous studies and archaeological excavations on fortifications, irrigation systems or settlements in al-Andalus, in an indefatigable search for data and approaches to support his thesis. His interest in recently published studies helped to value the work of many young people of that time, who today recognize his teaching in both Spain and France.

As a tweet from the Harca Group of Valencian medievalists pointed out, in one way or another, all of us who study Andalusian society start from Guichard’s work, either to confirm his thesis, to qualify it or to refute it. He always defended his ideas with the conviction of someone who is aware of having constructed a long-range historical interpretation, sometimes making use of irony, others with a sly malice, which disarmed when coming from a person of kindly shyness, but who it always turned out to be, at least, suggestive.

Suffering from a recent painful illness, he had, however, continued to work to the end. His latest article, written in collaboration with another great French Andalusian, Philippe Sénac, has just appeared. It is about coins and lead stamps with Arabic inscriptions from the time of the conquest, which are appearing in profusion and which have us all fascinated by their novelty.

Eduardo Manzano Moreno He is a Research Professor at the CSIC History Institute.

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