The Recuperation of Historical Memory in the Iberian Peninsula: Social Media as Resistance




Perla Kurtz, Wendy

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The recent upsurge in the recovery of bodies from mass graves (circa 2000-present) dating back to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) has unearthed forcibly repressed memories from one of Spain’s most violent and oppressive periods: Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975). With the enactment of the Historical Memory Law by Parliament in 2007, the Spanish public now has a legal channel through which they can exhume mass graves from the War and postwar, but the job of locating and recovering bodies of victims continues to fall on autonomous communities and private entities. The lack of a state-sponsored exhumation of mass graves after the dictatorship has created a void in collective memory. I argue that the disinterment process acts as a catalyst for the rebuilding of suppressed or unexplored sentiments silenced by a fascist dictatorship and, later, through the transition to a democratic government. The large corpus of digital and social media on the Web pertaining to the recuperation of historical memory demonstrates how present-day Spaniards continue to grapple with events stemming from the dictatorship. Digital media and its various modes of dissemination encourage the constant updating of information and provides producers of digital materials and users of social networking sites (“Facebook,” “Twitter,” “YouTube,” “Flickr”) the means to constantly renew conversations about the recuperation efforts. By cyclically publishing digital texts online that show the rituals and commemorations pertaining to the ongoing reburials, contemporary Spaniards keep the physical sites of memory alive by broadcasting the repeated rituals of exhumation and inhumation as the identification of remains continue. Blogging, website building, and participating in social media circles generates local and regional online communities centered around memorial rites. Digital productions (photographs, videos, social networks) allow communities of survivors—both physical and virtual communities—to highlight the process of locating the disappeared. The consideration of different genres and modes of representation surface a pattern of ritualistic practices that advances from the search for the missing, to the exhumation process, leading to the reburials and culminating in commemorations honoring the victims. The array of multimedia elements containing rituals of reburial and commemoration disseminated through the Web give a polyphonic voice to community efforts. Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—also referred to as digital mapping platforms—lend the ability to layer a variety of multimedia elements onto a digital cartographic interface. Thick mapping efforts convert a purely geographic space into a place by imbuing the topography with memories and histories. This presentation will also discuss how “Virtual Cartographies” ( layers data acquired from the Spanish Ministry of Justice of mass grave locations alongside a robust collection of multimedia texts directly related to specific gravesites in order to give depth to spaces of mourning and share ritualistic practices. The deep layering of multimedia elements lends insights into the histories surrounding the topography. By inscribing gravesite locations with the testimonies, videos, narratives, articles, radio program, social network groups, etc. about the exhumations, “Virtual Cartographies” contributes a thick map that provides a framework for analyzing the exhumations and mourning rituals.


Digital Frontiers Session: Data Mediation


Spanish Civil War, historical memory, dictatorships, digital media, social media, geographic information systems, virtual cartographies


Perla Kurtz, W. (2019). The recuperation of historical memory in the Iberian Peninsula: Social media as resistance. [Conference presentation]. Digital Frontiers Annual Conference, Austin, TX, United States.


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