Tuesday, 21 February 2012

People's Historian, Ronald Fraser, Dies

TODAY's International Herald Tribune announced the death of Ronald Fraser the oral historian whose most influential book was 'Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War' . Tariq Ali, a mate and colleague reported his death but gave no cause of death. He was 81. Fraser used the oral historian's main tool of transcribed interviews to write his books chronicling the life of the working-classes, Spanish village life and even his own life.

Last July, because he was ill, I stood in for him to give a talk on the 75th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War to the Radical History Network of North East London at Haringay Labour Club. I tried at that time to follow the ethnographic approach recommended by Fraser arguing in favour of first-hand accounts and contrasting this with the narratives of professional historians like Paul Preston. But even Paul Preston, who seems to make his living out of writing books on Spain, commenting in The New York Times Book Review has described Fraser's 'Blood of Spain' as 'tak(ing) its place among the dozen or so truly important books about the Spanish conflict.'

Fraser admitted that oral history by itself can't properly explain the broad historical currents, but suggested that it could render a deeper understanding of the social 'atmosphere'. Fraser, who lived in Spain from 1957, did 2 years of interviews for his book on the Spanish War, compiling 2.8 million words and selecting just 10% of them for publication.

Ronald Angus Fraser was born Dec. 9th, 1930, in Hamburg, where his English father worked for a shipping company. In 1933, the family fled Hitler and used Ronald's mother's fortune to buy an estate in the English countryside. He was troubled by what he called his parent's dissolute lifestyle and he found solace in friendships with the family's eight domestic servants.

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