Memory and History

Memory and History: Transforming the Narrative of the Spanish Civil War and Francoist Dictatorship is an interactive digital publication that pairs 250 hours of enhanced audiovisual testimonies from the Spanish Civil War Memory Project (SCWMP)  with multimodal scholarship to explore how individuals negotiate subjectivities in the context of repressive regimes and construct meaning through personal memories that engage the evolving social memories of their times. Designed for multiple audiences, the project will appeal to members of the interested Spanish and English-speaking publics, students, and scholars of memory, political violence, and anti-fascist resistance.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was a central event in the twentieth-century struggle between fascism, communism, and liberal democracy. The triumph of General Francisco Franco’s insurgent forces and fascist allies left the country in ruins and sent 500,000 loyalists and civilians into exile as a fear-based state was consolidated in Spain. The ensuing Francoist regime (1939-1975), one of Europe’s most pernicious and enduring dictatorships, eventually gave way to a political transition (1975-1982) based on a 'pact of silence.' This informal agreement  to leave the violent past behind  to peacefully construct a democratic future remained fixed in place until the Cold War’s end, when human rights became the world’s dominant moral language. Employing the global discourse, historians began to conduct 'empirical investigations' into Francoist political violence and activists started to mobilize around unmarked mass graves to 'recover historical memory.'

Memory and History bridges these foundational initiatives of the 1990s and 2000s through a systematic analysis of witness testimonies at scale. In contrast to other post-conflict societies such as Germany, Argentina, Chile, and South Africa, witness testimonies have not been collected for truth commissions or human rights proceedings in Spain. Instead, the still-in-force Amnesty Law of 1977, which shields perpetrators from trial, continues to hinder domestic and international inquiries, including Judge Baltasar Garzón’s thwarted Resolution of 2008 and the ongoing Argentine lawsuit on Francoist crimes depicted in the 2018 award-winning  documentary The Silence of Others. To date, the University of California San Diego’s SCWMP—which conducted 111 open-ended life-history interviews across Spain, France, and the United States in collaboration with the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, the Association of Ex-Political Prisoners and Victims of Reprisal, and other memorialist associations—constitutes the most comprehensive collection of witness testimonies documenting the Francoist repression and multiple political cultures that opposed the regime. What is more, despite current barriers to use, the SCWMP has been recognized in diverse literatures and its unprocessed testimonies are regularly viewed and cited in published research.

Memory and History not only increases access to the SCWMP through the creation of Spanish- language transcriptions, English-language translations, and entity indexes, making it the first major collection available to both Spanish and English-speaking audiences, but it helps to center the witness in historical narratives about the Spanish Civil War and Francoist dictatorship. When the 2007 Law of Historical Memory was debated in Spain, prominent historians were quick to distinguish memory from history. In the midst of an outpouring of cultural productions about the war and dictatorship, some argued, "while history seeks knowing, understanding, interpreting or explaining—acting under a demand of totality and objectivity—memory strives to legitimize, rehabilitate, honor or condemn" (Julía 2006). In addition to setting the work of professional historians apart from that of filmmakers, novelists, activists, and policy makers, these debates "marginalize[d] the witness as a primary source of knowledge about the past" (Faber 2018). Memory and History uses critical archival and digital storytelling methods to reverse this trend. Building on the work of cultural historians who have identified the ideological parameters of the Francoist regime and traced the development of social memories about the war, the project advances a witness-centered narrative about subject formation and memory construction that contributes to scholarly understandings of the long legacies of repression in Spain.