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The Law of Historical Memory

Underneath the deep red earth and gnarled olive groves of Andalusia lies a painful reminder of Spain’s history, the uncovering of which raises sensitive questions about how we remember, repatriate and commemorate past conflicts. 

Spain’s great poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca was executed by forces loyal to General Francisco Franco in 1936, at the start of a three-year civil war that left hundreds of thousands dead. He was shot by a death squad and buried in an unmarked grave at the edge of an olive grove. 

Monument to Lorca - 300x350

The precise location had been a mystery for years and a taboo subject in Spain as political parties still wrangle over the status of statues honouring Franco’s regime as well as of the unmarked graves of his opponents. But renewed efforts in the last three years have brought Spanish archaeologists closer to finding his final resting place.

The search for Lorca, who was a highly visible Republican sympathiser, is symbolic of the wider search for bodies and whether or not the country’s 2,000 or so mass graves containing bodies from the 1936-39 Spanish conflict should be exhumed and commemorated.

Thanks to funding from Santander Universities a collaborative team from the University, with experts in literature, history and archaeology, have taken part in an internationally-focused project centred on the search for Lorca. The team, involving academics, researchers, students and alumni, were able to observe and take part in the Spanish archaeological dig and search for Lorca’s remains.

As a result of that visit and developing an ongoing relationship with the team in Spain, Nottingham academics Dr Stephen Roberts, Associate Professor in Spanish Literature and Dr Gareth Stockey, a historian of contemporary Spain, have just staged an international conference The Archaeology of the Spanish Civil War: Searching for Federico García Lorca and Shaping the Memory Debate in Spain. Thanks again to Santander generosity, Dr Roberts has visited Granada and Madrid to carry out research for a new biography of Lorca which is due to be published soon.

“We had the key members of the archaeological team at the conference, along with the Lorca specialist whose work inspired the digs in the first place,” said Dr Roberts.

“We also welcomed Spanish and British archaeologists who work on other Civil War sites in Spain, academics who work on political violence and on the question of memory in post-dictatorship Argentina and Chile and, crucially, Spanish journalists and politicians who were able to reflect upon the Law of Historical Memory and how well it works in practice.”

Whether or not Lorca’s remains are ever located, the University is playing a key role in the modern Spanish debate about post conflict memory.
Finding Lorca - University of Nottingham team led by Dr Stephen Roberts - 320x300