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Materialisation, memory and representations of the past in the exhumation of Republican mass graves from the Spanish Civil War

Renshaw, L.M.; (2009) Materialisation, memory and representations of the past in the exhumation of Republican mass graves from the Spanish Civil War. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis is based on an ethnographic study of the process of exhumation, identification and reburial of the human remains of Republican civilians killed during the Spanish Civil War and buried in mass graves located in two rural communities in the Burgos province of Castile Leon, Spain. This ethnography is based on participant-observation as an archaeologist in the exhumation process, informant interviews with participants in the exhumation, as well as an analysis of material culture in these field sites. There are estimated to be thirty thousand Republican civilian victims of political killings buried in mass graves throughout Spain. The wider context of this thesis is the resurgence of public awareness and debate of the Republican experience of political repression during Spain‟s Civil War and subsequent dictatorship. This repression engendered a condition of atomization amongst the relatives of Republican victims, accompanied by state prohibitions on Republican mourning and commemoration. This condition of atomisation remained unchallenged during Spain's democratic transition, a period of political consensus characterised as the 'pact of silence'. This thesis contends that the radical rupture in the 'pact of silence' observable in Spanish society since 2000 is attributable in large part to an orchestrated campaign across Spain to exhume the bodies and personal possessions contained within the mass graves from the Civil War, and the subsequent processes of scientific identification and the return of bodies to communities for commemorative acts of reburial, which this thesis argues should be understood as a sequence of radical shifts in the way the way the past is materialised. To enable a more detailed understanding of how this rupture has been produced, this thesis follows the exhumation process in two communities, identifying a series of shifts in the material register within in which the dead Republicans, as well as the traumatic events surrounding their deaths, are materialised. Different forms of materialising the past in my field sites were identified before, during and after exhumation. An analysis of these shifts in material register entail a consideration of a broad range of material: the imagined and remembered objects that recur in informants‟ narratives on the past; photographs and personal possessions from the dead; the bodies of the dead; the personal possessions retrieved from the mass grave; and the material culture that accompanies the reburial and commemoration of these bodies. The potentially divergent roles of the relatives of the dead, expert practitioners and pro-exhumation campaigners are identified. Shifts in material register are viewed as opportunities for divergent representations of the dead and of the traumatic past to be made and contested by these different participants. The question of how far these representations of the dead foster new affective bonds between the living and dead, and may form the basis for new collective identities amongst the living is assessed.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Materialisation, memory and representations of the past in the exhumation of Republican mass graves from the Spanish Civil War
Language:English
Additional information:Authorisation for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Anthropology

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