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  • The Splintering of Spain: Cultural History and the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939
  • Carolyn P. Boyd
The Splintering of Spain: Cultural History and the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939. Edited by Chris Ealham and Michael Richards (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005) 282 pp. $90.00 cloth $18.00 digital

The publication of this valuable collection of essays demonstrates that, despite the voluminous bibliography already in existence, there is still something new to say about the Spanish civil war. It also provides additional evidence that the best historical writing on the war has largely overcome the partisanship that marred it in the past. Although black-and-white dichotomizing continues to characterize popular histories of the war, serious scholarship, like the essays in this volume, now strives to add texture and complexity to the old master narratives that interpreted the conflict within binary frameworks such as "fascism vs. democracy (or communism)," "Spain vs. anti-Spain," or "tradition vs. modernity."

Instead of focusing on high politics, the clash of ideologies, or military and diplomatic events, the contributors seek to recover the experiences and perceptions of ordinary Spaniards through an understanding of the social, cultural, and spatial dimensions of politics, broadly defined. Behaviors, beliefs, and social relations are examined through three overarching themes—language, locality, and identity. Together, the essays call attention to the multiple cleavages and conflicts that fractured Spanish society, but also to the inherited cultural symbols and meanings that rendered collective action intelligible and rational to participants. Many of them draw on sociological and anthropological theories that have informed historical writing in other fields for nearly two decades but that [End Page 285] are only now having a serious impact on the historiography of modern Spain, for reasons that the co-editors make clear in their introduction. Historical writing, like other forms of social memory in twentieth-century Spain, was profoundly shaped by the civil war and the Franquist dictatorship. The dichotomizing tendencies mentioned above, as well as the survival of Marxist paradigms well after their disappearance in other historiographies, can be attributed to the trauma of the war and its long aftermath.

The nine essays in this volume are organized into three parts, entitled "Overviews: Violence, Nationalism and Religion," "Republican Political and Cultural Projects," and "Identities on the Francoist side." In Part I, three essays analyze the ways in which the war intensified and transformed traditional discourses that structured and gave meaning to individual and collective action. Eduardo González Calleja discusses the radicalization and polarization of language during the Second Republic as the manifestation of a more general recourse to violence, especially among militant youth organizations. Xosé-Manoel Núñez Seixas suggests that the nationalist rhetoric that increasingly characterized political discourse on both sides in the civil war may provide evidence of a shared national identity more deeply rooted in Spanish society than previously thought. Mary Vincent concludes that the rites of violence directed against the church and the clergy, which inverted traditional Catholic practice and power relations, were symbolic acts of purification and catharsis that their perpetrators believed would make possible the creation of a new revolutionary order.

The essays in Part II stress the importance of local cultures and spatial organization in shaping working- and middle-class responses to war and revolution. Writing about Barcelona and Gijón, Enric Ucelay-Da Cal, Ealham, and Pamela Radcliff all emphasize the persistence of myths of urban populism that, at least for a time, mediated divergent corporate interests and inspired visions of a "revolutionary city without alienation and hierarchy" in 1936 (113).

In Part III, the contributions of Rafael Cruz and Francisco Javier Capistegui examine the processes by which the universe of possible cultural representations of the Nationalist cause was simplified and codified in the aftermath of the military rebellion. In contrast, Richards' essay seeks to understand how the tension between the needs of the Franquist regime, the doctrinal absolutism of the Church and the ambiguities of popular religiosity fragmented the definition of the war as a "crusade" and the meaning of Holy Week as a communal expression of mourning and sacrifice.

Carolyn P. Boyd
University of California, Irvine


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pp. 285-286
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