The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39

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The Spanish Civil War is frequently seen merely as part of the wider struggles of the 1930s. This course examines the war and its causes, seeing it as a Spanish conflict with Spanish origins and with consequences for Spain which, long after the death of General Franco in 1975, are still controversial in Spain.

In July 1936 an attempted military coup sparked a three-year civil war in Spain. The conflict ended in April 1939 with the victory of the military rebels, who called themselves Nationalists, led by General Franco. The Spanish Civil War was the most destructive European conflict of the 1930s before the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. The war and its aftermath caused the deaths of half a million Spaniards and many more were wounded, driven into exile or sent into Franco’s labour camps. The war produced passionate responses across the European continent and beyond. Franco, supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, was opposed by many who saw his cause as part of an international Fascist conspiracy. Franco’s opponents, known as Republicans, received support from the Soviet Union and were labelled by the Nationalists as Marxist and communist stooges of Stalin. The victorious Nationalists continued to promote this view of the conflict after their victory in 1939: the civil war was portrayed as a patriotic ‘crusade’ against the ‘anti-Spanish’ forces of Communism, Liberalism and Freemasonry, which had, allegedly, been inspired from Moscow.

The civil war can be seen as a turning-point in modern Spanish history. Spain had become a democracy and a republic in 1931 and many saw this as an opportunity for Spain to become ‘modern’ and to join the democratic mainstream of Western Europe. However, following the Nationalist victory in 1939, Franco governed Spain until his death in 1975 and, in many respects, Spain was isolated from the main currents of post-war European development – excluded from NATO, from the European Common Market and, initially, from the United Nations. Only after Franco death was Spain able to re-establish democracy and overcome this international isolation.

Although foreigners have often seen the Spanish Civil War as part of a general European crisis of the 1930s, this was a conflict which had specifically Spanish origins, which was fought mainly by Spaniards and which had long-enduring consequences for the Spanish people. This course will focus primarily on the Spanish origins of the war and on the role of the Spanish in determining its outcome.

The course will begin by examining the background to the war, focusing particularly on the social, economic and political conflicts which afflicted Spain in the period of the Second Republic (1931-36). This will be followed by an analysis of the course of the war and the causes of Franco’s victory, including the political conflicts in the Republican camp and the roles played by the great powers in the conflict.

The death of Franco and the end of the Cold War have led historians, both Spanish and non-Spanish, to re-evaluate the work of previous generations of historians and to challenge many of their assumptions, throwing new light on the causes and conduct of the war. This re-evaluation has, however, not been accompanied by a decline in interest in these events in Spain. Over 70 years after the defeat of the Spanish Republic, the war continues to be controversial in Spain, its relevance for modern-day Spain still vigorously – and at times bitterly – contested. This course aims not only to help students understand the war itself, but also some of the reasons for this continuing controversy.

This course is part of the University of Cambridge History Summer Programme.

To apply for this course, please enrol on the History Summer Programme and select the course you wish to study.

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Unless otherwise stated, teaching and assessment for ICE courses are in English. Students whose first language is not English should refer to the Competence in the English Language Policy for further guidance.

Printable versions of our brochures are available to download from the Summer Programmes brochure download page.

This course is part of the University of Cambridge History Summer Programme.

To apply for this course, please enrol on the History Summer Programme and select the course you wish to study.

For more information about other Summer Programmes please visit:

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University of Cambridge
International Programmes
Institute of Continuing Education
Madingley Hall
United Kingdom
CB23 8AQ

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Course details

Start date

21 July 2013

End date

27 July 2013

Application deadline

8 July 2013

Course code



1 week


International Summer Programmes
Sidgwick Site
Sidgwick Avenue
United Kingdom

Teaching sessions

Meetings: 5

Course director