Investigating Repression During the Spanish Civil War: Seville, 1936

Sarah in Seville




Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History

Project Summary

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was an extremely violent conflict that pitted citizens, neighbors, friends, and families against each other and transformed the country’s political, social, and economic framework. Despite the overall failure of right-wing and nationalist general Francisco Franco’s multiphasic military coup d’état on 18 July 1936, nationalist general Gonzalo Queipo de Llano triumphed in the south; quickly and forcefully occupied Seville, which had remained loyal to the legitimate government of the Republic; and initiated a ferocious repression meant to subjugate all potential resistance. Within the past ten years, there has been considerable academic and popular debate in Spain about the origins, objectives, execution, and consequences of this repression: most contemporary scholarship either condemns or praises the right (Franco and his allies) or the left (parties that supported the Republic). How did this repression originate? What were its original objectives? How was it executed, and by whom? How did repressors and the repressed perceive and project violence during the first six months of the war? What were the consequences? Seville, a majority republican city under complete nationalist control since the start of the war, presents an historically unique environment in which to study repression from various contemporary perspectives.


This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Spain and conduct primary source research. Throughout the trip, I examined a wide range of sources: official government documents prepared by nationalists at the National Historical Archive in Madrid; original memoirs and wartime testimonies at the National Library in Madrid; and four different newspapers published during the first months of the war at the Municipal Archive in Seville. These memoirs and official reports provided contemporary political and everyday perspectives on the conflict and subsequent repression, offering insight into the ideological webs of each side. The four newspapers offered a widespread impression of the extent to which the press tried to shape and represent public opinion in wartime Seville.


Upon reading through these sources, I discovered that while both nationalist and republican factions used violence during the outbreak and throughout the early months of the war, the type and scale of such violence differed considerably. Whereas the initial hours and days of the war favored the republicans and their scrappy, guerrilla-style tactics, the repression inflicted by the organized nationalist forces was much more lasting and intense. The way citizens observed and described repression, moreover, differed greatly depending on factors like the political affiliation, socio-economic status, and profession of the source’s author. Ultimately, the evidence established repression as a tool used primarily by nationalists with power to construct, justify, and manipulate a wartime narrative of dominance and control; to create chaos, confusion, and fear; and to eradicate anyone not supporting the insurgent cause.


Engaging in primary source research in Spain proved to be a crucial component of my overall honors thesis. Working in the capital city of Madrid and the site-specific city of Seville allowed me to specify my search and study sources that had largely originated during the war, been carefully preserved, and unmoved since. The Spanish archives also contained many more original manuscripts and documents than any of the libraries I had access in the U.S., and the Spanish archivists, historians, and technicians had specific knowledge on the subject and were very helpful. In searching through the archival catalogues, furthermore, I was able to find sources whose existence I had no prior knowledge of and am now using to support critical portions of my argument.