Over this past summer, I had the incredible opportunity of conducting research in Spain and Portugal through the Laidlaw Undergraduate Programme. My project, titled “Iberian Long Sixties? Youth Culture and Gender in Spain and Portugal, 1958-1980”, applied historian Arthur Marwick’s model of the “Long Sixties” to the Iberian Peninsula. In other words, in two countries that were experiencing transitions from dictatorships to democracies, were there “cultural revolutions” as well as political ones?
The most significant problem I encountered during my research was related to the idea of comparative studies. I struggled to find equal amounts of research for both countries. Contemporary scholars have not extensively explored modern Portuguese history, and I ran into several problems of symmetry. For example, while Spain had a prosperous cinematic tradition that allowed me to analyse cultural change through popular films, Portugal’s film industry was comparatively underdeveloped. Throughout my project, I had to continuously question when it was appropriate and fitting to compare these two countries. I also had to accept that many of the assumptions I had prior to my project were not correct. Before I started research, I believed these two countries were considerably more similar in their political and cultural history than they truly are. This allowed me to understand the difficulties historians face in the field of comparative studies. As academics, we have to continuously question: when is it appropriate and justifiable to compare two cultures?
Despite these difficulties, I was able to locate some gaps in the study of contemporary Iberian history. While there is significant research on the political changes that these two countries experienced in the 60s and the 70s, there is considerably less scholarship on the cultural effects, and how these cultural transformations affected Spanish and Portuguese citizens in their everyday lives. There is much more room for English scholarship on these two countries, and I hope to contribute in my future research plans.
Finally, my project has also taught me something absolutely crucial: what I do not want to do. While my experience with the Laidlaw Programme this summer certainly confirmed my decision to pursue my historical studies to the postgraduate level, my project also helped me narrow down my academic interests. I now know, for example, that I am more interested in an earlier time frame, and will most likely conduct my postgraduate research in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Iberian history. Ultimately, I am deeply indebted to the Laidlaw Programme for allowing me to confirm my future career ambitions, making me feel much more confident about what is to come in these next few years.