Gabriel Jackson (1921–2019)
Historian of Spain
Gabriel Jackson, one of the most prominent Hispanists and Hispanophiles in the United States, died on November 3, 2019, at the age of 98.
Jackson was born into a highly educated Jewish family in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1921. Gabe retained strong memories of the heated discussions at the dinner table between his Socialist father and Communist older brother when the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936. He graduated from Harvard University in 1942 with a BA in history and literature; Perry Miller and F. O. Matthiessen were among his most influential teachers. After college, he spent several months in Mexico City living among Spanish Republican exiles. His subsequent four-year army service included stints as an aircraft mechanic, photo interpreter, and cartographer. From 1946 to 1949, he taught English, Spanish, and—as a talented amateur musician—flute at the Putney School in Vermont.
After earning an MA at Stanford in 1950 with a thesis on the educational program of the Second Spanish Republic from 1931–33, he began his doctoral studies at the University of Toulouse. In southern France, he again encountered a large population of Spanish exiles. He later described his years in Toulouse as perhaps the most intellectually stimulating of his career. Under the supervision of Jacques Godechot, a distinguished specialist of the French Revolution and a pioneer of Atlantic history, he finished a dissertation in 1952 on the work of Joaquín Costa, the turn-of-the-century Spanish regenerationist. As a Fulbright fellow and GI Bill recipient, Jackson then embarked upon primary research in Spain, which would result in his most important book, The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931–1939 (1965), a winner of the AHA’s 1966 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize. The book remains a masterful work of narrative political history that provides a sympathetic, but not uncritical, portrait of Spain’s embattled first democracy. It was published in Spain only after the death of dictator Francisco Franco. Jackson describes the research experiences that led to the creation of this perceptive and judicious volume in his delightful Historian’s Quest (1969).
Jackson overcame several incidents of McCarthyist harassment and served as assistant professor of history at Wellesley College from 1955 to 1960. From 1962 to 1965, he was associate professor of history at Knox College, and in 1965, he was appointed associate professor at University of California, San Diego. During his tenure in California, he wrote The Making of Medieval Spain (1972). He retired from UCSD in 1983.
After retirement, he lived primarily in Barcelona until his return to the United States during the last decade of his life. He became an important public intellectual in his adopted country, making regular contributions to its major daily, El País, and Revista de Libros, the Spanish equivalent to the Times Literary Supplement. He also produced the comprehensive Civilization and Barbarity in Twentieth-Century Europe (1999); a biography, Mozart: Vida y ficción (2004); and Juan Negrín: Physiologist, Socialist, and Spanish Republican War Leader (2010), a major and sympathetic portrait of the prime minister who ruled the increasingly desperate Second Republic in its final years.
His hospitality and generosity to younger scholars matched his intellectual acuity and deep culture.
University of North Carolina Wilmington
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