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This teaching module serves to introduce the Canada and the Spanish Civil War project as a teaching resource. This includes the website,, the print series from the University of Ottawa Press, and the digital collection. The Spanish Civil War is a significant event in Canada’s political and cultural history, and there is a large body of literature by Canadians about the Spanish Civil War. We want to see these texts more widely studied and taught. To that end, we have prepared this document as a way of introducing the war and its cultural-historical context to instructors, signalling some pedagogical approaches to these texts and indicating where they might fit into a curriculums or syllabi. This document offers: a brief historical context; an annotated list of primary sources; key terms; key figures; a timeline of events in Spain and Canada; suggestions of methodologies or approaches to teaching these texts, including examples of relevant primary and secondary sources; a selection of contextualizing documents; suggested assignments.

The Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War The Spanish Civil War began in July 1936, when Spanish military leaders attempted a coup d’état against the democratically-elected Republican government. The Republican government was made up of a coalition of left-leaning parties, and had been shifting Spain away from a feudal system through land reform and pro-labour actions. These progressive changes empowered the people of Spain, but diminished the wealth and power of the military, nobility, and the Catholic clergy. In response, these three groups, known as the Nationalists, banded together to oust the Republican government. The so-called Nationalist values—social conservatism, totalitarian rule, a disenfranchised and impoverished working class—were explicitly fascist. On the other hand, the Republican government represented democracy, progress, and equality, as well as a shift to socialist and communist politics. The fascist coup was initially quelled by quickly-formed militias, but given the might of the fascist-controlled military, the conflict escalated into a full-blown war. The Republicans formed a people’s army, supported by the Soviet Union and Mexico. On the other side, Hitler and Mussolini committed troops and arms to the Nationalist cause. The other western governments committed to neutrality regarding what they considered a civil conflict. But people all over the world did not see a civil conflict: they recognized fascism in Spain as the same fascism that threatened them at home. Thousands of people from dozens of countries travelled to Spain to fight in the International Brigades, or to support the Republican effort as medical personnel, journalists, or administrators. Approximately 1,700 Canadians volunteered for the Republican effort, many of them violating the Foreign Enlistment Act, which forbid Canadian participation in the war. The war ended in 1939 with a Nationalist victory. Francisco Franco ruled the country as a dictatorship until his death in 1975. Western countries diverted their troops and attention to the oncoming world war.


Kaarina Mikalson, Emily Robins Sharpe, Bart Vautour, Erin Wunker