How the Spanish Civil War Became Europe’s Battlefield takes you to the front line and introduces you to the competing coalitions on each side to look at the issues of a perennially confounding military and social history. Not only did the Spanish Civil War foreshadow the global conflagration to come, but it also had its roots in the modern era’s central divides: urban versus rural, religion versus secularization, rich versus poor, progress versus tradition. Taught by Professor Pamela Radcliff of the University of California, San Diego, these 24 scintillating lectures survey the aspects of an endlessly multifaceted history.
How the Spanish Civil War Became Europe’s Battlefield
Pamela B. Radcliff is a Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. She received her PhD in History from Columbia University. Her dissertation on the origins of the Spanish Civil War later became her first book, From Mobilization to Civil War. Her other books on Spanish history are Modern Spain: 1808 to the Present and Making Democratic Citizens in Spain. She also coedited Constructing Spanish Womanhood and has received teaching awards for undergraduate and graduate instruction.
01: The Spanish Civil War in a European Context
Begin with an examination of the unique nature of the Spanish Civil War, within a context of European civil and world wars. Often overshadowed by World War II, Spain experienced a bloody and total war from 1936 to 1939—a prelude to the global violence on the horizon.
02: Two Spains? Long-Term Origins of War
The long-term structural divisions that led to the Spanish Civil War give the appearance of two countries existing side by side. Here, explore the divides in Spanish geography, agriculture, economics, society, and religion. Consider how these divisions are more complex than a simple narrative of “Two Spains.”
03: The Second Republic: Short-Term Origins of War
Delve into the growing political polarization that occurred in Spain’s Second Republic era from 1931 to 1936. As power swung back and forth between the left and the right, neither side could gain clear majority support. This polarization, combined with the messy process of reform, transformed Spain into a powder keg.
04: The Opening Act: 1936’s Military Coup
By 1936, tensions between the conservative Monarchists and the liberal Republican government came to a head. General Francisco Franco and other military leaders attempted to overthrow the government. Although the coup attempt partially failed, it succeeded in enough places to launch a full-on civil war.
05: A Hot Summer: The War’s First Months
After the failed military coup, the summer of 1936 became the most violent and lawless period of the Spanish Civil War, with Nationalists and Republican coalitions committing atrocities against alleged enemies and civilians alike. From a national terror campaign to the desecration of churches and religious leaders, this time period saw great bloodshed.
06: The Two Sides: Nationalists and Republicans
Who were the combatants on each side of the civil war? In this lecture, you will survey the diversity of two coalitions: the Nationalists, Catholics, and fascists on one side and Popular Front republicans, socialists, anarchists, and even communists on the other side. Reflect on what political platforms held each coalition together.
07: Republican Revolution and Local Power
Continue your study of the Republican side with a deep dive into the revolutionary workers’ groups and their goals. While the Nationalists were using guerilla tactics in an attempt to overthrow the government, decentralized Republican forces used local power to try to create a socialist workers utopia—to mixed results. Learn about the lofty goals and the destructive results from these efforts.
08: Rebuilding a Fractured Republican State
By the fall of 1936, the war entered a new phase as the Republican government attempted to centralize authority and create a more disciplined war effort, in a direct challenge to the local revolutionary groups. Review some of the key challenges on the left, including ideological divisions and regional power centers that were reluctant to cede their autonomy.
09: Francisco Franco Forms a Nationalist State
Shift your attention to the Nationalist side, which had consolidated authority under General Francisco Franco, “el caudillo” (“the leader”). Professor Radcliff introduces you to Franco and his military history, and then she walks through his gradual and unlikely ascent to power during the war. Finally, you will consider how Franco’s leadership compared with that of fascist leaders.
10: Women in the War: Workers, Nurses, Soldiers
Wars may be fought over political ideology, but they involve everyday people. In this lecture, you will examine the critical role of women in the Spanish Civil War. On both sides of the conflict, women took up jobs in traditionally male industries and occupied novel public and private roles. Meet some of the women who made an impact in this war.
11: Western Powers Agree to Nonintervention
The Spanish Civil War was a local conflict on the margins of Europe, yet it had enormous repercussions on the international stage. In this lecture, you will learn about the degree to which foreign intervention (or non-intervention) affected the course of the war—and why so many western powers remained neutral.
12: The USSR and Mexico Aid the Republic
Although many western powers remained neutral, the Republican government received support from the USSR and Mexico. To this day, scholars debate about the low quality of support the Soviets provided and how much it disadvantaged the Republican side. Professor Radcliff weighs this support against what the Nationalists received from fascist countries.
13: International Brigades Join the Civil War
One of the most important features of the internationalization of the war was the thousands of volunteers in the international brigades that traveled to Spain to join the fight. These groups included Communist party members and others, all answering the call to take up an anti-fascist cause. The American volunteers were famously memorialized by Hemingway in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.
14: The Fascist Powers Aid the Nationalists
International aid helped the Nationalists as much, if not more, than the Republicans. From loans and foreign aid to weapons and soldiers, learn about the support for the Nationalist cause from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Then, take a look at how Franco shifted course after it was clear the Axis powers would lose World War II.
15: Vatican and Church in Spain’s Religious War
In many ways, the Spanish Civil War was a religious war over the relationship between the state and Catholicism. Due to a combination of anti-clerical violence from extremists in the Republican coalition and a long affiliation with conservative politics, the Church found itself aligned with the Nationalists. Dive into the Vatican’s role in the war, active or otherwise.
16: The Propaganda War in a Divided Spain
Propaganda in the form of poetry, plays, paintings, and film played a powerful role in all wars of the 20th century. Here, Professor Radcliff looks at the international propaganda surrounding the Spanish Civil War—including Pablo Picasso’s famous masterpiece, Guernica.
17: Military Campaigns in the Spanish Civil War
The military history of the Spanish Civil War has always taken a back seat to the political drama, but it was on the battlefield that the Nationalists won and the Republicans lost the war. Although it is difficult to pinpoint an exact turning point, this lecture outlines the major battles and turning points of the war.
18: Guernica to Madrid: The Urban Battlefield
One of the major divides in the Spanish Civil War was between urban and rural cultures. This divide played out on the battlefield as well, with urban warfare, and particularly bombing of civilian populations, representing a novel aspect of the war. From Guernica to Madrid to Barcelona, discover the lessons from the war’s urban battlefields.
19: The War as Soldiers Experienced It
Here, Professor Radcliff turns from battles to the soldiers who fought them. Because neither side received mass enlistment for their cause, the Republican and Nationalist armies each relied on conscription—and suffered from low morale as the brutal war dragged on. Get an up-close look at the everyday experience of soldiers who fought and died in the war.
20: How the Nationalists Organized for Victory
At the start of the war, the Nationalists were an ad hoc confederation of alliances. Over three years, they organized to create an institutional structure, stable financial resources, and a logistics operation that ultimately won the war. Learn about the Nationalist political structure as they formed a functional government.
21: How the Republic Organized for the Long War
While the Nationalists consolidated and expanded their political power, the Republican side struggled with internal divisions and an increasingly dire military situation. Watch as the Republican government lost its industrial and material advantages in what would become a pivotal moment in Spanish history.
22: Repression on the Two Sides
The atrocities of the Spanish Civil War began with the bloody summer of 1936 and continued with the creation of concentration camps on both sides. While debates about the number of victims on each side continues today, most scholars agree the Nationalists were more brutally repressive—a fact that was hidden from the Spanish public for many years.
23: The New Regime and the Aftermath of the War
After three years of devastating violence, the formal conflict ended with General Franco capturing and disarming the Republican Army. The aftermath of the war included mass executions and arrests, as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees and ongoing guerilla warfare. Follow these refugees and reflect on the traumas of the post-war period.
24: The Spanish Memory Wars
The ghosts of the Spanish Civil War are still with us today—and are being debated as fiercely as ever. As you will learn in this final lecture, the war’s history remains a divisive topic in Spain, and beyond. The course concludes with an overview of the so-called “memory wars” and the competing narratives about Spain’s historical trajectory.