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What is a (virtual) Civil War museum doing in Canada when there is none in Spain?


While there is still a year to go before the opening in Teruel of the first center dedicated to the most important historical episode of the 20th century in the country, a website launched by a team of historians and archaeologists from North America covers the main milestones of the war

Episodes such as the massacre at the Montaña barracks or the fierce battle of Jarama, issues such as the non-intervention of European democracies in the conflict or Moscow's gold;

also objects, such as children's drawings about the war, a box of condoms for soldiers, a handkerchief with the colors of the Republic;

and the post-war with exile or the Valley of the Fallen… The most important event in the history of Spain in the 20th century is told from September 15 through more than 120 sections, with texts and photographs, on a website named Virtual Museum of the Spanish Civil War.

The paradox is that the project was not born in Spain, but in Canada.

It turns out that the first exhibition center dedicated solely to the war is digital and North American.

At least, until the Teruel Civil War Museum opens, financed by the Autonomous Government of Aragon and finally scheduled for next year.

The creators of the Canadian page are the Hispanist and historian Adrian Shubert, Professor of History at York University in Toronto, and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez, Professor of History at Trent University (Peterborough), also in Canada.

The website has been financed with a grant from the Social and Human Sciences Research Council of Canada (like the CSIC but for Humanities), with some 24,700 euros.

In addition, it has had to finance its design with a contribution from the Spanish Embassy in Canada of about 1,500 euros, the promoters of the project have explained to EL PAÍS.

More information

The memory inherited from the war

The logo of the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sport appears on the cover of this virtual museum.

Asked by this means, the department headed by Miquel Iceta has limited itself to pointing out that its collaboration "has been the transfer of images by the General Archive of the Administration (AGA) and the Documentary Center of Historical Memory (CDMH)".

Regarding other questions raised by this newspaper —whether the possibility of contributing to financing the project was considered or why such a center emerged earlier in Canada than in Spain, among others— the ministry has declined to answer.

Shubert, in statements to EL PAÍS, says that this website began to take shape about seven years ago and regrets that in Spain "there is nothing like it, only monuments, databases... in some autonomies there is more interest, like Catalonia, than in others , but then all of that is not connected.”

Perhaps that will change when the Teruel museum is inaugurated, the scene of one of the toughest battles of the war due to the extreme cold, with up to 20 degrees below zero.

As the historian Julián Casanova, who has acted as an advisor in the creation of the Aragonese center, says, “what happened in Teruel was like war on a small scale;

practically all the factors of the conflict were present”.

Republican soldiers, prepared for combat in a trench in a 1936.getty image

Cazorla Sánchez stresses that the Canadian page is still “in the first layer” and that “new galleries” will be opened.

Now there are five major themes, from which the different sections hang:

Beginning of the Civil War and development of the conflict, The international context, The rearguards, Daily life at the front


Historical memory.

“In the coming months we want to connect the museum to databases from Spain or France to favor the work of researchers.

It is a project open to suggestions;

in fact, we have received emails from people who want to share materials with us”, adds this researcher, who admits that the website has been set up with “limited resources”, but contrasts it with not depending “on any political agenda”.

The result, for now, suffers from a lack of videos, audios, film material, links to other reference websites or bibliography.

Available in English and Spanish, it has a search engine and the option to enlarge the size of the images.

"We would like to translate the texts into the other languages ​​of the state."

The virtual museum also has the collaboration of other experts, such as Alfredo González-Ruibal, a researcher at the CSIC Institute of Heritage Sciences, specializing in contemporary archaeology;

Alison Ribeiro de Menezes, Professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, or Joan Maria Thomàs, Professor of Contemporary History at the Rovira i Virgili University (Barcelona) and author of a monumental biography on the leader of the Falange, José Antonio Rivera's cousin.

In a column published on October 11 in EL PAÍS, signed by Shubert, Cazorla and Thomàs, they underlined that it is a project that "deals, above all, with ordinary people and much less about ideas."

They also pointed out that the initiative revolves around what they call "public history,

make the results of academic research known to the general public”.

“We have shown that it is possible to talk about the Civil War in a reasoned way without falling into demagoguery”, completes Cazorla.

EL PAÍS has consulted several historians about this virtual museum.

Gutmaro Gómez Bravo, from the Complutense University of Madrid, describes it as "a good initiative, which proposes a visual tour, although it is clear that a lot of material is missing".

“What cries out to heaven is that in Spain there is no Civil War museum, there are different spaces, but not one with the scientific and didactic story in which most historians agree.

There has been no will to start it."

Troops of the rebels enter Bilbao on June 19, 1937.getty

Professor of Contemporary History, Gómez Bravo misses the fact that the Canadian website is "more intuitive" and adds that "it does not seem very well thought out for mobiles".

Director of the Civil War and Francoism Research Group (Gigefra), stresses that the contents are well structured, "they try to popularize".

However, “in the

Beginning of the war

section, it is entered abruptly, there is a lack of background;


The international context

the Soviet part is clearly missing, and on the entire web there is no chronological axis”.

Pilar Mera, UNED professor of Social History and Political Thought, considers that this project “could be good material for high school teachers.

She is well told of the international context to get out of the idea that Spain was different, cainite, but that it was in the midst of an international crisis”, although she points out that she would have liked “more military development”.

Both historians agree in highlighting the images and contents of the chapter on life in the rearguard.

Regarding the section

Historical memory


Gómez Bravo regrets that "there is no relationship with the previous sections, the opportunity to develop a more didactic content is lost."

Julián Casanova, professor of Contemporary History, author of books such as

Spain divided in two

, indicates that the website “is more like a permanent exhibition, and a museum should not be a collection of pieces, although the structure is adequate”.

“It is a work that historians who know the subject have done, although I miss the film material, and that is a disadvantage to attract younger people,” adds Casanova, currently distinguished professor at the Weiser Center of the University of Michigan ( USA).

Mera draws attention to the recent approval of the Democratic Memory Law and suggests that the Valley of the Fallen, which with the new legal text will be called Valle de Cuelgamuros, is "a good space" for a hypothetical war museum, "Because people who died in the war are buried."

However, she regrets that as soon as the Senate has endorsed, on October 7, the text that came from Congress, "it seems according to some that it is an amendment to the current democracy, and it is not like that, it is enough to read the law".

What should the visitor of a future museum of the Spanish conflict find?

"The initiative should come from the State and it would present it, rather than as a space for what happened, as a space that speaks of how society should be."

Teruel will open a museum "without frenzy" in 2023

A street in the city of Teruel after the battle. NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SPAIN

Teruel was the scene of one of the best known battles of the Civil War.

On December 15, 1937, the Republican troops began the offensive on the Aragonese city, which had fallen to the Francoist side at the beginning of the conflict with hardly any opposition.

However, on February 22, 1938, the rebels recovered it.

The general director of Culture of the Government of Aragon, Víctor Lucea, has confirmed to EL PAÍS that the intention is to open the museum dedicated to the conflict in 2023, "but fleeing from confrontations, what is wanted is to show above all the suffering of the population ”.

With an initial budget close to three million euros, "there will be a fixed content and a part that will be renewed".

Lucea emphasizes that a gallery will be installed on the main characters of the contest.

And next to objects,

There will be information panels, interactive material and immersive rooms so that what happened is obvious to the visitor.

In a later phase, we would like it to be a center from which you can investigate and celebrate memorial association activities”.

The main building will have an exhibition space of 700 square meters on two floors.

Later it is planned to build another one that will house an auditorium, library and study rooms.

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Source: elparis

All life articles on 2022-10-22

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