The first museum on the Spanish Civil War is virtual and is hosted in Canada

After five years of work and with the contribution of 20,000 euros from the Government of Canada, this Thursday the Virtual Museum of the Spanish Civil War, the first dedicated to this "crucial event of the 20th century", as stated on the front page of the website. The project has been created by academics Antonio Cazorla and Adrian Shubert, along with other researchers such as Alison Rivero de Meneses, Sofía Rodríguez, Jesús Espinosa and Alfredo González-Ruibal.

In addition to Canada's contribution, which comes from its budgets for the research area, they have managed to raise another 20,000 euros from various institutions, such as York University (Toronto, Canada) and Trent University, which will maintain the hosting and updating of the museum's website.

The Spanish embassy in Canada contributes 2,000 euros that will be used to pay for the graphic design of the museum. The creators of the museum say that the most difficult thing has been to get the rights to the images to publish them and here both the General Archive of the Administration (AGA) and the Documentary Center of Historical Memory, in Salamanca, have helped. Has the Secretary of State for Democratic Memory collaborated in the project? “There is a promise to support it with the translation into other languages ​​of the State”, answers the historian Antonio Cazorla. The museum is accessible in English and Spanish, at the moment.

The image with which she welcomes the visitor is the harrowing photograph of the woman crying at the foot of the body of her husband, killed by the Francoist bombing of the city of Lleida. It seems appropriate to Cazorla to point out the contradictions of this civil war, because the deceased man was in favor of the coup. “We don't want to glorify the war, but to recount the misery,” he says by phone from his office at Trent University.

The photo is a revealing icon of the museum's point of view, which could be reflected in the Exile Memorial Museum, in La Jonquera, whose objective is to spread the memory and legacy of the people who had to flee Francoism and “the contemporary Catalan diaspora”. However, there is no institution dedicated to a detailed review of those events that advanced the disaster of the 20th century. He acknowledges that they have launched the virtual museum because there is no “brick” museum in Spain dedicated to recounting the Civil War. "In the Spanish state there has been no interest in telling it," he says. He laments this situation and compares it to France, where Cazorla has counted up to a hundred museums dedicated to reconstructing the story of World War II.

direct language

At the moment, 130 entries will be available on the beginning of the Civil War and the development of the conflict, the rearguards, daily life on the front, the international context and historical memory. Each one of them includes files that explain, for example, the Dragon Rapide plane, the plane rented by the banker Juan March to transport Franco to Tetouan and launch the plans that would unleash the coup d'état and military uprising against the Republic. There are also images about repression, objects, life in the trenches, rebel troops and much more. For the second phase of growth of the museum, a chapter dedicated to the causes of the Civil War, the role played by women or the landscapes of the war will be included.

The intention is to deepen the knowledge and dissemination of secondary studies on the war, relying to contextualize them on documents and artifacts, preserved in the largest Spanish repository, the AGA. “The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was a defining event in the history of Spain and one of the seminal events of the 20th century. Despite its importance and the immense academic literature dedicated to its knowledge, both in Spain and worldwide, the ways in which the civil war has been communicated to the Spanish and international public have been, in general, very controversial”, they explain. the museum organizers comprised of an international, multilingual, and multidisciplinary team of historians, archaeologists, cultural studies scholars, and digital humanities specialists.

“It is a project outside the official narrative. Part of civil society, in occasional collaboration with institutions, which contribute money or image rights. The focus of the museum is from social and cultural history”, indicates Cazorla, although some of the most important battles of the war are also told.

Public history deficit

Cazorla believes that in Spain "there is a deficit of public history", which is the history dedicated to educating the public. “The problem is that our public history lacks a story for the public. That is what this museum wants to cover,” he says. “The usual thing is that the nation is counted as a victim and a heroine, but not as a rogue nation. This is why civil war museums are so rare. For this reason, we have tried to build a space that the Spanish State has refused to build. Neither the left nor the right have dared to make the proposal. One prefers to take refuge in memory and the other, in which wounds are reopened, ”adds Antonio Cazorla from Ontario (Canada), where he has been a professor of Contemporary European History for more than a decade.

The stated mission of the Virtual Museum of the Spanish Civil War is to synthesize the most up-to-date scholarship on the war and its long-term aftermath. It also intends to evaluate the documents held by the associated institutions for their analysis and exhibition. And put together an exhibition that combines scholarly synthesis and primary sources in a way that appeals to a wide international audience. These are objectives that insist on reinforcing the idea of ​​“public history” that, without sacrificing the quality of the content, it strives to communicate. Because, as Cazorla says, "in Spain there are many places without memory and many memories without a place".

A museum to read

Among the objects that have been rescued so far, and that will continue to grow, a handkerchief embroidered with the colors of the flag of the Second Republic stands out. The researchers who have written the files explain from this case the legacy of the symbols of repressors and victims. They point out that the memory of the Second Republic has faded before that of the civil war and the dictatorship. “Spanish cinema and literature, which have focused heavily on recovering the forgotten victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship, have tended to present the Second Republic as a simple prelude to action, for example, in La lengua de the butterflies, by José Luis Cuerda, or in Belle Époque, by Fernando Trueba”, can be read in the museum.

This virtual museum is also an exercise in counter-propaganda, in which it is clarified that, since the immediate post-war period, the memory initiatives of the dictatorship reinforced Franco's victory and disqualified the vanquished from any presence on the horizon of national memory. . From there the current state of the Valley of the Fallen has been reached, originally planned to glorify the dead of the rebels and transformed to contain the fallen of the two armies. "It is a monument that has never been neutral and continues to be the focus of a very justified controversy," can be read in the museum. Nor does it avoid the situation of the recovery and dignity of some victims of Franco's repression, "buried in mass graves or holes next to the roads since the years of the conflict, although many places have yet to be excavated."

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