The blog for this course, Understanding Historical Change: Early Modern Europe, taught by Louie Dean Valencia García (@BurntCitrus on Twitter), is an invitation to dialogue. Inspired by the centuries old tradition of the coffee shop, this blog will aspire to connect students from the class to interact with each other, and our readership. Moreover, Notebooks for Dialogue should be a space that welcomes discussion, questions, and dialogue with our broader community. We welcome contributions from elsewhere. Students will be responsible for regular posting, commentary, and maintaining the blog. While the course is primarily focused on the period we now call the Renaissance until the French Revolution, we will also be paying close attention to Europe today. This is our twenty-first century café.
A little about the inspiration for a space for dialogueThe Spanish café of fin de siècle whirled with many similar sounds of its contemporary counterpart—orders being called out for cortados and café con leche—perhaps, served with a chocolate filled napolitana. The swirling sound of the milk being steamed, the steady chatter of the clientel, and the passing commentary on the news of the day all represented a tradition of pluralistic and democratic dialogue. In the decades preceding the Spanish Civil War a democratic tradition of political-literary dialogue was cultivated in the cafés of Madrid. In these cafés native and transplanted madrileños would participate is active discourse when faced with the loss of the last parts of the Spanish Empire after the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Spanish historian Sebastian Balfour suggests that these questions necessitated that Spain delve into her past to recapture her grandeur, an idea proposed by the politicos, writers, journalists and even the “the amateur philosophers of the cafés”. According to Revilla, for the bourgeois class, cafés were an important part of everyday life in the nineteenth century. These contrasting perspectives on Catholicism, liberalism, democracy, socialism, conservatism, nationalism, identity and modernity were fundamental topics of discussion in Spanish society during the long fin de siècle, and thus amongst the patrons of the predominantly bourgeois cafés of Madrid. It was in these locales, Revilla asserts, that the bourgeoisie would pass hours discussing politics and finding out the latest gossip about town. In fact, during the reign of Fernando VII (1808-1833), which suffered a temporary overthrow in 1823, it was in these very cafés of Madrid that the bourgeoisie and other secret societies conspired against the monarch. Indeed, before the Spanish Civil War, the democratic tradition of political-literary dialogue, exemplified by the tertulia, had long been a fundamental part of bourgeois life in Madrid. With the Spanish Civil War this would all change as strict control and oppression would attack the pluralistic space of the café.
In the 1960s, as dictatorship of Francisco Franco continued into its third decade, years of authoritarian rule had eroded a long-standing tradition of democratic dialogue and pluralism in Spain, exemplified by the vibrant café culture that could be found prior to the Spanish Civil War. However, this tradition had not been forgotten, as it was re-imagined in the form of a magazine, Cuadernos para el Diálogo—bringing together academics, students, and people of all ages with the goal of cultivating a space where diverse ideas could be discussed.
Cuadernos para el Diálogo would be where the memory of the tradition of democratic political-literary dialogue would be re-imagined and would continue in a way that would have broad appeal and circulation. The magazine, which was targeted at university students (apparent in the large quantity of articles related to the university, and the amount of articles written by students and recent graduates), focused primarily on democratic political, literary and cultural issues, and would bring back public literary and political discourse through “dialogue”. In short, Cuadernos would function as a tertulia re-imagined, inviting readers to partake in the political-literary dialogue. This dialogue would in effect legitimise dissent against the authoritarian régime. Indeed, participation in this dialogue would in fact act as dissension manifested in the everyday act of publishing, reading and participation in dialogue.
As Félix Santos Delgado has noted, the word “diálogo” in the title of the magazine was a euphemism used by Ruiz-Giménez for “democracy”. That is to say, that the title of the magazine, in effect, was also “Notebooks for Democracy”. Again, this discussion of “democracy” under a Fascist state too could be understood as dissent. Indeed, the memory of the democratic past was not only present in the creation of the magazine; it was what legitimised the magazine’s existence and purpose. This “dialogue” would continue through the transition to the Spanish democracy in the late 1970s.
It is with this inspiration that Notebooks for Dialogue is created—with the hopes of being a collaborative project for people of diverse backgrounds and disciplines to discuss issues in a way that attempts to better understand historical change and to create dialogue in our everyday lives. This dialogue, it is hoped, will not only ask important questions, but will also point to new ways of thinking of our past, present and future.
Louie is a Teaching Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate at Fordham University. He specialised in Early Modern and Modern European History, Urban Studies, Youth Studies and Continental Philosophy.
 Balfour, Sebastian. The End of the Spanish Empire: 1898 – 1923. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997., 64.
 Revilla, González Fidel., Monteagudo Ramón. Hidalgo, and Guarido Rosalía. Ramos. Historia breve de Madrid. Madrid: Ediciones La Librería, 1994., 189-190.
 Ibid., 189-190.
 Muñoz, Soro Javier. Cuadernos para el diálogo, 1963-1976: una historia cultural del segundo franquismo. Madrid, Spain: Marcial Pons Historia, 2006., 37.