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Teaching Methodologies

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Transnationalism and Cosmopolitanism: Writers in Canada wrote transnationally; by bringing Spain into their work, they often imagined and wrote in dialogue with artists, activists, fighters, and civilians around the world. Nations and nationality were put aside in favour of anti-fascism and solidarity. Many texts of the Spanish Civil War are useful in thinking through lived transnational experience as well as cosmopolitan ideologies, especially as they come up against physical borders, restricted mobility, patriotism, self-interest, and language barriers.

Modernism: The Spanish Civil War was an important moment for Canadian modernism, as they wrote alongside an international community, and this global literary scene challenged Canadian literary conventions. It is useful to reflect on how Canadian authors adapted or innovated their writing to participate in an international cultural dialogue, and the discussions around poetics that occurred in Canada in reference to changing political and economic circumstances. For example, Canadian poets participated in a modernist chorus by writing elegies to Federico García Lorca.

  • Primary sources: Meet Me on the Barricades; Sealed in Struggle
  • Secondary sources:
    • Kennedy, Leo. “Direction for Canadian Poets.” Right Hand Left Hand. Erin, ON: Press Porcépic, 1977. 228-29.
    • Livesay, Dorothy. “Canadian Poetry and the Spanish Civil War.” Right Hand Left Hand. Erin, ON: Press Porcépic, 1977. 250-55
    • Van den Berg, Ryan. “Dorothy Livesay’s ‘Catalonia’.” Case Study. Canada and the Spanish Civil War. http://spanishcivilwar.ca/dorothy-livesay-catalonia
    • Vautour, Bart. “From Transnational Politics to National Modernist Poetics: Spanish Civil War Poetry in New Frontier.” Canadian Literature 204 (2010): 44-60.

Cultural Production: It is useful to discuss the conditions of cultural production in Canada in the 1930s, and to what extent cultural production was altered by contact with the global political and literary community that coalesced around the Spanish Civil War.

  • Primary sources: Meet Me on the Barricades; Right Hand Left Hand; New Frontier magazine; pamphlets
  • Secondary sources:
    • Vautour, Bart. “From Transnational Politics to National Modernist Poetics: Spanish Civil War Poetry in New Frontier.” Canadian Literature 204 (2010): 44-60.

Diasporic Studies and Jewish Studies: The global rise of fascism in the 1930s led to an increased migration of refugees, exiles and political dissidents. Many marginalized populations fled Germany and Eastern Europe throughout the early years of the twentieth century, particularly Jewish people. The Spanish Civil War offered an opportunity to directly resist fascism, and to participate in a wider anti-fascist community. The global Jewish community was well-represented within the International Brigades. The African diaspora also intersects with the Spanish Civil War, with Black volunteers choosing to fight in the war as a way of responding to fascist aggression in Ethiopia, and the challenge of working in solidarity with Moroccan troops forced to fight on the side of fascism. Furthermore, the fascist victory in Spain led to a massive out-migration, with Spanish populations emigrating to North America, particularly to Mexico, and across Europe.

  • Primary sources: Poetic Asylum; Not in my Father’s Footsteps; The Acrobats; Joshua Then and Now
  • Secondary sources:
    • Sharpe, Emily Robins. “Traitors in Love: The Spanish Civil War Romance Novel in Jewish North America.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 35.2 (2016): 147-164.
    • –––. “Jewish Novels of the Spanish Civil War.” The Edinburgh Companion to Modern Jewish Fiction. Ed. David Brauner and Axel Stähler. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2015. 355-366.

Gender/Women’s Studies and Queer Studies: Many women took on new roles during the Spanish Civil War: many women fought against fascism in Spain and were known as milicianas; women worked as war correspondents, most notably Jean Watts, Martha Gellhorn, and Gerda Taro; La Pasionaria was a powerful woman who marshalled a certain kind of femininity in her rhetoric and appearance. Spanish Civil War takes up these assertive women, but it also grapples with notions of masculinity in radical and/or military cultures, and what sexism looks like in progressive spaces.

Spanish Civil War literature also offers many representations of masculinity and homosocial relations and contexts that can be read through the lens of gender studies and/or queer studies.

  • Primary sources: Meet Me on the Barricades; This Time a Better Earth; Jean Watts’ journalism
  • Secondary sources:
    • Sharpe, Emily Robins and Bart Vautour. “Imagining Spain: Charles Yale Harrison’s Meet Me on the Barricades.” The Massachusetts Review 55.2 (2014): 206-210.
    • Sharpe, Emily Robins. “Traitors in Love: The Spanish Civil War Romance Novel in Jewish North America.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 35.2 (2016): 147-164.
    • Murphy, Emily. “Jean Watts and the Spanish Civil War: Writing, Politics, and Contexts.” Case Study. Canada and the Spanish Civil War. http://spanishcivilwar.ca/case-studies/jean-watts

Archive Studies: Our website offers many primary sources that have not been taken up critically. These can be used by students to build digital projects, exhibitions, or as motivation for interest-based research.

Media Studies/Technology: The Spanish Civil War was a site of innovative and brutal new technologies. It was the first war to broadcast internationally via shortwave radio, and featured the first live broadcasts from battlefields. Bethune developed the first mobile blood transfusion unit, and the unit’s work led to major advances in transfusion techniques. War photographers were closer to the action than ever before, and documentaries brought footage of the war to audiences around the world. But advances in aircraft technology and weaponry also enabled airstrikes on civilian populations, which led to the horrific destruction of Guernica by the German Condor Legion. All of these technologies are taken up in literature, and media technology leaves its own archive.

War Literature: Canada has a large body of canonical war literature, including First World War novels by Charles Yale Harrison, Timothy Findley, and Joseph Boyden. Canada’s development as an autonomous nation is often narrativized through our participation in wars. The Spanish Civil War challenges this narrative to some extent, but it also offers more Canadian war literature dealing with issues of violence, class, camaraderie, masculinity, nationalism and technology.

  • Primary sources: This Time a Better Earth; Best Stories
  • Secondary sources:
    • Sharpe, Emily Robins. “Traitors in Love: The Spanish Civil War Romance Novel in Jewish North America.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 35.2 (2016): 147-164.

Literary Texts