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Battleground Spain, 1936-1939


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: to be confirmed
  • Assessment: an essay of 5000-5500 words (100%)

Module description

The Spanish war of 1936-1939 was one of the momentous events of the twentieth century; it produced modern Europe's longest surviving dictatorship and had profound international repercussions, not least by confirming European democracies' policy of appeasement towards fascism. Although the war was primarily an outcome of escalating social and political tension within Spain, at the time it constituted the centre ground of European history and the decisive flash point for a whole set of European conflicts destabilising the continent since the First World War. This fact was keenly perceived by contemporary observers across the continent; many non-Spaniards engaged directly with the war, and many gave their lives in support of the causes defended - or perceived to be defended - by the belligerents. In their minds, the Spanish conflict articulated some of the deepest fears and wildest hopes of the era. To fully understand why, it is essential to analyse the war and its particular character in a comparative European context.

We will explore in depth the nature of the Spanish war of 1936-1939 and the reasons why it reverberated so widely beyond Spain's national borders. The course places events in Spain in the context of Europe's 'dark' twentieth century, marked by the violent pursuit of collective purity and strength, without losing sight of specific national developments and factors influencing its outcome. Key historical and historiographical issues concerning the war form the core of the course, but the aim is to link these debates to a wider analysis of the structural changes conditioning contemporary politics and culture across the continent. By adopting this perspective, the course will encourage you to think comparatively and to reflect on the place of the Spanish war in various longer narratives of Europe's turbulent twentieth century.

Indicative module content

  • Introduction
  • Origins of the war
  • Axis intervention
  • Constructing Francoist Spain
  • International mobilisation on the left
  • Fractures in the Republican camp
  • The cultural battle at home and abroad
  • The end: repression, exile, and social 'peace'
  • Spain in World War II
  • The Spanish Civil War in twentieth-century Europe

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand the causes and consequences of the war within Spain
  • analyse the nature and impact of the war within a wider European context
  • critically reflect on the current state of Spanish civil war historiography
  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in speech or in writing in an accurate, succinct and lucid manner
  • carry out independent research
  • synthesise a wide range of sources.