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Professor Christine Blackshaw's Book Examines Historical Myth in Spanish Cinema

Blackshaw book feature

The term ‘myth’ embodies different definitions depending on the context in which it is used. A myth can be a widely held false belief on a matter, or a traditional story that holds the narrative of a people. In her recently published book, Mito e historia en la televisión y el cine español, Professor Christine Blackshaw, Ph.D, of the Mount’s World Languages and Cultures Department, explains how Spanish historical myth is embedded in Spanish film and television.

blackshaw.jpg“The Spanish have an interest in history, have a love of history, and desire to mythicize history,” said Blackshaw, whose  areas of study include nineteenth- and twentieth-century peninsular literature and Spanish Romantic drama. As the author of multiple peer-reviewed articles focused on the historical Spanish narrative, Blackshaw is a self-proclaimed “historical sentimentalist” who feels a real connection to the work she does and uses her passion for the subject to inspire students to better understand Spanish language, culture and history.

Blackshaw explained that television shows about the history of Spain are very popular in the country.  In the book’s introduction, she talks about the idea of historical myth and summarizes the book's 18 chapters from contributing authors who examine Spanish history and culture through film and television. Blackshaw enjoyed learning how other scholars use such media to explore Spain’s past as well as pulling together all of their work.  “I learned about the different periods of Spanish history and gathered a long list of movies and shows to watch,” said Blackshaw.  She added, “I almost felt I had to hide when I was watching the television shows; it was a little too much fun and hard to believe it was research!” Aside from the enjoyment of watching films and television shows, Blackshaw said the process helped her improve her editing skills.

Dr. Blackshaw contributed an article to the collection, titled “Los comuneros (1978) and Carlos, Rey Emperador (2015-2016): How RTVE has Revised the Myth of the Comunero Rebellion.” Her article examines a recent television series about the Revolt of the Comuneros, when the citizens of Castile rose against the rule of Carlos I, the first Habsburg king of Spain, between 1520 and 1521. She points out that this rebellion has been understood differently at different times of Spanish history.  For instance, in the TV show, Carlos I was understood more positively: the blame was taken off the king and placed on this foreign advisor Chièvre,  who counseled Carlos to ignore the rebels’ grievances. While Spain still has a monarchy, Spaniards are divided about whether they should continue to support it, Blackshaw noted.

In conducting her research, Blackshaw discovered an innovative way to engage her students. When she showed one of her upper-level classes an episode of the Spanish historical science fiction series El Ministerio del Tiempo, she noticed that her students were texting each other about wanting to see more.  Some students asked Blackshaw if they could write their papers about television to show the relationship between ideas and the Spanish historical narrative. She agreed, and this use of television eventually led to research collaboration between the professor and then student Saribel Morales-Rivera, C'18, which led to an article about the series, forthcoming in MiríADA Hispánica.Morales-Rivera is now a doctoral student in history at the University of California, San Diego.  This kind of faculty/student collaboration is a unique opportunity the Mount offers its students.

Blackshaw observed that understanding historical myth can help individuals understand how cultures operate.  She plans to explore such topics in her upcoming spring-semester course, Historical Myth and National Identity (SPAN 330).