In his new book, The Deepest Border: The Strait of Gibraltar and the Making of the Hispano-African Border
(Stanford, 2019), Sasha D. Pack
considers the Strait of Gibraltar as an untamed in-between space—from “shatter zone” to borderland. Far from the centers of authority of contending empires, the North African and Southern Iberian coast was a place where imperial, colonial, private, and piratical agents competed for local advantage. Sometimes they outmaneuvered each other; sometimes they cooperated.
Gibraltar entered European politics in the Middle Ages, and became a symbol of the Atlantic Empire in the Early Modern period (the Pillars of Hercules of Emperor Charles V are featured on the Spanish flag to this day), but Pack’s study focuses on the nineteenth century. Europe’s new imperialism, Britannic naval supremacy, the age of steam, the ever-present danger of cholera, all mark the change of a Spanish-Moorish border into a multilateral one. So too does the multicultural mix of Europeans and North Africans, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, and Protestants who brought a spirit of convivencia
(mutual toleration) into the region, unlike the nineteenth- and twentieth- century homogenizing nationalism that was at play elsewhere.
In the middle of this theater, Dr. Pack follows the careers of adventuresome entrepreneurs, who manipulated the weak enforcement of conflicting laws in overlapping jurisdictions for their own gain. He calls these characters “slipstream potentates” because they maneuvered creatively in the wakes of great ships of state on their courses in the seas of international politics. (Other historians have called them “the last Barbary pirates.”) They bring color and detail to this already gripping narrative of international politics in Spain and North Africa in the century between Napoleon and Franco.
Sasha D. Pack is Associate Professor of History at the University of Buffalo. He studies Modern Europe, Spain and Portugal, and the Mediterranean, focusing on transnational and political history.
Krzysztof Odyniec is a historian of the Early Modern Spanish Empire specializing in culture, diplomacy, and travel. He completed his PhD in 2017 at UC Berkeley where he is now a Visiting Scholar and a Fellow in the Berkeley Connect in History program.