'The history and politics of civil war memories in Spain, 1936 to the present'

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac Creative Arts, Humanities &Education


The Spanish civil war, fought out on the field of battle and within communities during the years 1936-39, cost the lives of some 350,000 Spaniards, caused the exile of approximately half a million, and has become a central element of historical consciousness in Spain. As the historian Paul Preston argued more than two decades ago, the civil war was in reality many wars, contested over conflicts of social class, ideology, religion, and regional and national identity. Accordingly, post-war memories have been equally multi-faceted. The war erupted during the tenure of the government of the Second Republic, a democratic regime which held out the hope of modernisation in Spain, but which was assailed from right and left. The 'presence' of the civil war for years after was symbolised in political form by the dictatorship of General Franco which came to power as a result of the war. Opponents of the regime, not unnaturally, saw the foundation of the Franco regime, which it categorized as 'fascist', in the spilling of a great deal of blood. It has often been claimed, indeed, that the aftermath of the war was as harsh as the conflict itself and many thousands of people died as a result of hunger, disease and political violence in the period between 1939 and 1945. The violence and the hunger, as well as the ideological positions of the war, have long been at the heart of war memories. This project is the first attempt systematically to account for the evolution of memories since 1939 by moving away from the ideological and iconic aspects of the conflict and towards social memory: individual and group commentary on the past in the light of broader social experience. In the process, the social and political dynamics of post-war reconciliation are traced in detail. Evidence of a consciousness of this past fluctuated in Spain during the post-war decades, just as the signs and symbols of war memories in Europe more broadly have experienced peaks and troughs over the decades since 1945. This project presents a comparative case against which to compare the role of memory in peace-building after bloody civil conflict. In Spain there has latterly been a very public resurgence of interest in memories of the civil war and the Franco dictatorship. This resurgence has been conveyed by a movement within civil society whose primary aim has been 'the recuperation' of what is problematically called 'historical memory'. The unearthing of this buried past has been powerfully symbolised in the excavation of mass wartime burial pits containing the human remains of victims of rebel violence in various parts of the country. As elsewhere, representing, sustaining and conveying memories of the tragic period of the Spanish war has depended on the shape and nature of political power and the extent of social change during the post-war period. Historians have studied post-war politics rather more than they have the social aspects of the Franco years. This project seeks to redress the balance by producing a social history of the post-war years from the point of view of war memories. The research is presented in several sections. It begins by examining the intimate nature of wartime violence within communities as the basis of individual and collective trauma. It then explores the construction of power in the aftermath using the methods of micro-history. The social fragmentation of the 1940s, it is argued, led to a process of mass migration which induced a meeting of the rural poor (the Spain of 'the defeated') with the urban middle class (dominated by 'victors'). This 'meeting' produced a complex mixture of suspicion, repression and reconciliation. The project then moves on to explore the effects of the 'economic miracle' of the 1960s, the so-called 'pact of oblivion' after Franco's death and, ultimately, the resurgence of memory since the 1990s, which is placed within a context of 'memory wars' following the end of the Cold War in 1989.

Planned Impact

This document is a précis of those groups, organisations and individuals outside academia who may benefit from the project being completed.

The amount of information provided in the Impact Summary (and in the 'Pathways to Impact' document) depends on the nature of the project. While the range of academic beneficiaries of the current research project is broad (see relevant section of this application), the impact outside academia, in the public sector and within the wider public is less clear. Potentially, however, the impact of this research beyond academia may be very considerable. Political leaders, government, and policy makers need to learn the lessons of history on what works in the aftermath of conflict and this project has ramifications in terms of (1) examination of civil conflict in modern societies and the role of memory in resolution, reconciliation and re-building; and (2) public remembrance, public representation of the past and the politics of memory.

An important part of the appeal of this research from the outset has been how, conceptually, it places historical scholarship alongside public history and public concerns with the past in building collective identity and in learning lessons. In fact, the research is linked to an under-graduate module which I devised and teach called Public History which explores public representations and uses of the past, collective memory, museum culture, and civil society groups interested in conflictive pasts, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. It does so (a) by taking students into the spaces within the public sphere where the past is represented and contested and encouraging direct engagement with social groups and institutions concerned with history and heritage; and (b) facilitating student engagement with policy makers interested in post-conflict situations (from Ireland to South Africa) and the role of memory in reconciliation.

The Peace and Conflict Research Group at UWE acts as a network, bringing together scholars who are working directly with partners in the broader community (lawyers, psychologists, those working directly on social policy or foreign policy, or those providing services) and groups and individuals who generally do not venture beyond the confines of the university. The clear benefit is that the latter are able to discuss their research with those who work directly with migrants, exiles, the traumatised, those who are at risk of social inclusion and with government. They are able, therefore, to have an indirect, though substantial, effect on practices or policy by contributing to this collective fund of knowledge (see 'Pathways to Impact' document for detail).

Memories of conflict in the twentieth century are clearly relevant beyond the rarefied debates of scholars and this project has been cited in the publications of interest groups, the mass media, and civil society organisations, including Spain's Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, because it critically develops the ways in which such groups engage publicly through discussion of historical memory. Work related to the project has been translated and published in Castilian Spanish, Catalan and Galician. In the UK, I regularly give lectures and chair discussions about aspects of war and memory to a wide variety of audiences, including Historical Associations and cultural interest groups and a future programme is in place in 2011-12 to coincide with completion of the project.

Further details on impact, particularly on ways in which information generated from the research can be accessed, can be found in the document 'Pathways to Impact'

Description The key finding is that memories of the civil war have, over the last eight decades, shaped and been shaped by social processes.
Exploitation Route By applying to other post-war European cases
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections