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How the Spanish Civil War Became Europe’s Battlefield

Enhance your understanding of the volatile period between the World Wars with this eye-opening survey of total war in Spain from 1936-1939.
How the Spanish Civil War Became Europe’s Battlefield is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 30.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from More Analysis Needed Covers much material not readily available from other sources in English, but "how it became Europe's battlefield" needs more work. Lessons 22-24 show how biased and unreliable Nationalist and Catholic sources were, and should be viewed first. Economic analysis is limited. Lesson 2 opens with an anecdote of the King horrified at visiting an impoverished rural area, which would been a good start for analysis of economic inequality and entitled elites. The intense hatred of Republicans for the Catholic Church is not really explained- was it because the Church was the wealthiest and greediest landowner? a refuge for pedophiles? or? Everything seems equally plausible. The role of priests later in the same role as political commisars in the army and prison camps is later mentioned but not deeply explored. Atrocities, especially in Spanish possessions in Africa, are mentioned, but not the role of army officers, including Franco, who became Nationalist leaders. In spite of the title, European context is a bit lacking. A photo of the British cabinet does not explain that these were some of the wealthiest men in Britain, landowners terrified of any land redistribution, while only George Orwell is mentioned as counterpoint. Mentions of violations of the US Neutrality act are limited to oil companies, and it is not clear whether sales were for cash or on credit. The Nazi party was headquartered in Bavaria, the most Catholic part of Germany. (As I was finishing this review, evidence surfaced that German priests informed the Vatican of concentration camps in 1943, suggesting the Vatican was far better informed by its priests of events in Spain at the time than it admitted.) Three stars, needs more work on analysis and background. Beyond the intended scope of the course, it helped explain some of today's Basque and Catalan separatism.
Date published: 2024-06-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from "It's complicated...." To begin, allow me to address a couple of "housekeeping items". First, does the lecturer betray a "left of center" bias? Absolutely. Second, does the lecturer annoy with endless and needless hand gestures? Absolutely. That said, the first item does NOT render the presentation without value; one must simply keep the bias in mind when pondering questions or drawing any conclusions regarding the course of events described by this course of learnnig. As to the second item, well, one should just try to ignore them and focus on the presentation; it can be done. Much good information regarding this often under appreciated and under reported historical period IS provided. What makes the arriving at easy and/or thoughtful judgments regarding this course and its subject matter complicated and difficult is that both sides were allied with evil and heartless sponsors. Further, we, for the most part, know how things turned out under the Nationalists' victory and subsequent dictatorship. We do NOT know how things would have turned out if the Republican side, supported by Stalin and the world communist movement, had triumphed. Notwithstanding the program's shortcomings, there is still much value to be gained by "attending" this course of learning.
Date published: 2024-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, interesting, and timely I really enjoyed this course. The Spanish Civil War merits a full course, and Prof Radcliff delivers an excellent one. She's a terrific lecturer; I hope she does more TC courses. She covers all aspects of this tragic conflict, which was a pre-cursor to WW II.
Date published: 2024-04-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting I had very little detailed knowledge of this historic epoch in Spain before I started the course. I'd seen Picasso's Guernica painting, but unless you are a Picasso aficionado, it won't do anything to convey what went on in Spain at that time, and for that matter, in other parts of Europe. But I digress. The course is informative for a novice on the subject.
Date published: 2024-04-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Liberal View of the Spanish Revolution Professor Radcliff's Liberal Political Views permeated every lecture.
Date published: 2024-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superbly taught, appropriately nuanced! Professor Radcliff's clear and comprehensive presentation of this very complex civil war is a testimony to the finest qualities of the best teachers, and I commend her for it! As she comments during her course (and in her excellent history of Modern Spain which she authored and which I purchased after finishing this course), most of us in high school and college probably learned relatively little about Spain in general or this 20th century civil war in particular. That was certainly true for me. Spain was typically seen as both "in the periphery" of the most significant events of the 20th century as well as, in an even more biased sense, an embarrassing case of a rather "backward" country. This course will allow its purchasers to: 1) Better understand the complex background setting for what became the critical struggle that culminated in the civil war in the mid-1930s; 2) Appreciate how all efforts to "simply," characterize, or otherwise "label" one or both "sides" in this war all err by implying a "oneness" or "sameness" to people, causes, and ideas that definitely were not. 3) The frightful lesson that when some people decide that any "further talking," let along negotiating, is fruitless because "they" are simply wrong while "we" are clearly right only chaos and bloodshed are likely to soon follow. This is a lesson that we in today's United States would be wise to take to heart! 4) How the larger stand-off posture of the Western Great Powers, including the United States, not only made the fascist-backed Nationalist cause which came to be led by Franco more likely, but also contributed to the growing confidence of especially Hitler in his increasingly bold efforts to undo the Versailles Peace Treaty of WW I. 5) How the resulting drastic imbalance in the flow and quantity of weapons to the Nationalist and Republican sides that was overwhelmingly in the Nationalist's favor (because of the open support for fascist Germany and Italy) made it almost impossible from the start for the Republicans to have any real hope of maintaining the Republic. 6) How some aspects of what we consider to have been characteristics of the total war that was WW II actually were first applied, albeit on a smaller scale, in the Spanish Civil War, including the intentional bombing of civilians, the increasing sophistication of propaganda, and the deliberate tactic of sowing terror among the civil population. 7) How civil wars in particular quickly become so vicious and unforgiving as each side comes to consider the other as irredeemable! Professor Radcliff concludes her course by discussing how the long "memory wars" of the people, events, and causes of that Civil War continue to be fraught issues even in today's Spain, largely because the Nationalists refused any efforts at genuine reconciliation for decades and also because the only story about the war and its times allowed to be told -- in text books and in the media -- was that from the Nationalist perspective. This is an engrossing and sorrowful treatment of one of the nastier periods of a century which, as we know, had more than its share of them. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2024-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent job on a tough subject I thought that Professor Radcliffe did an excellent job on a very complicated subject. I had read some history of this civil war, and walked away shaking my head. I believe that she did a very balanced and detailed explanation of the causes and characters involved. More importantly, she was able to do this with a balanced, factual approach, rather than providing her personal opinions. This is rare in today's environment.
Date published: 2024-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of the war and its causes. This is a very engaging series that does an excellent job of covering the issues, events, and outcomes of the Spanish Civil War. The few negative reviews I've seen seem (to me) to reflect the fact that some right-wing Americans are certain to see themselves in the fascists of Spain and I can understand why they don't want to contemplate that very real similarity. My one complaint about this series--and it is one I have frequently with Great Courses these days--is the new fashion at GC to film the speaker from the side, leaving us--the viewer--with the feeling that we are standing in the wings just off stage while the lecturer is at center stage looking at people just out of our view. I have trouble deciding why it annoys me so very, very much, but I think it's same tension I feel when I'm listening to a one-sided mobile phone conversation (one of the most annoying experiences in the world). I can't see who she's looking at. She's certainly not looking at me, and I paid a heck of a lot of money for my ticket to this lecture! I won't take off a star, because the lecturer is the victim here, not the perpetrator, but if anyone at GC is listening--please, Please, PLEASE!! stop using this totally nonsensical and annoying camera angle!
Date published: 2024-02-12
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How the Spanish Civil War Became Europe’s Battlefield takes you to the front line and introduces you to the competing coalitions on each side to look at the issues of a perennially confounding military and social history. Not only did the Spanish Civil War foreshadow the global conflagration to come, but it also had its roots in the modern era’s central divides: urban versus rural, religion versus secularization, rich versus poor, progress versus tradition. Taught by Professor Pamela Radcliff of the University of California, San Diego, these 24 scintillating lectures survey the aspects of an endlessly multifaceted history.


Pamela B. Radcliff

The Spanish Civil War shared the same ideological fault line that fractured the first half of the 20th century. It represented a contest between left-wing revolution, liberal democracy, and authoritarianism or fascism.


University of California, San Diego

Pamela B. Radcliff is a Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego. She received her PhD in History from Columbia University. Her dissertation on the origins of the Spanish Civil War later became her first book, From Mobilization to Civil War. Her other books on Spanish history are Modern Spain: 1808 to the Present and Making Democratic Citizens in Spain. She also coedited Constructing Spanish Womanhood and has received teaching awards for undergraduate and graduate instruction.

By This Professor

How the Spanish Civil War Became Europe’s Battlefield
How the Spanish Civil War Became Europe’s Battlefield


The Spanish Civil War in a European Context

01: The Spanish Civil War in a European Context

Begin with an examination of the unique nature of the Spanish Civil War, within a context of European civil and world wars. Often overshadowed by World War II, Spain experienced a bloody and total war from 1936 to 1939—a prelude to the global violence on the horizon.

28 min
Two Spains? Long-Term Origins of War

02: Two Spains? Long-Term Origins of War

The long-term structural divisions that led to the Spanish Civil War give the appearance of two countries existing side by side. Here, explore the divides in Spanish geography, agriculture, economics, society, and religion. Consider how these divisions are more complex than a simple narrative of “Two Spains.”

29 min
The Second Republic: Short-Term Origins of War

03: The Second Republic: Short-Term Origins of War

Delve into the growing political polarization that occurred in Spain’s Second Republic era from 1931 to 1936. As power swung back and forth between the left and the right, neither side could gain clear majority support. This polarization, combined with the messy process of reform, transformed Spain into a powder keg.

33 min
The Opening Act: 1936’s Military Coup

04: The Opening Act: 1936’s Military Coup

By 1936, tensions between the conservative Monarchists and the liberal Republican government came to a head. General Francisco Franco and other military leaders attempted to overthrow the government. Although the coup attempt partially failed, it succeeded in enough places to launch a full-on civil war.

28 min
A Hot Summer: The War’s First Months

05: A Hot Summer: The War’s First Months

After the failed military coup, the summer of 1936 became the most violent and lawless period of the Spanish Civil War, with Nationalists and Republican coalitions committing atrocities against alleged enemies and civilians alike. From a national terror campaign to the desecration of churches and religious leaders, this time period saw great bloodshed.

31 min
The Two Sides: Nationalists and Republicans

06: The Two Sides: Nationalists and Republicans

Who were the combatants on each side of the civil war? In this lecture, you will survey the diversity of two coalitions: the Nationalists, Catholics, and fascists on one side and Popular Front republicans, socialists, anarchists, and even communists on the other side. Reflect on what political platforms held each coalition together.

29 min
Republican Revolution and Local Power

07: Republican Revolution and Local Power

Continue your study of the Republican side with a deep dive into the revolutionary workers’ groups and their goals. While the Nationalists were using guerilla tactics in an attempt to overthrow the government, decentralized Republican forces used local power to try to create a socialist workers utopia—to mixed results. Learn about the lofty goals and the destructive results from these efforts.

31 min
Rebuilding a Fractured Republican State

08: Rebuilding a Fractured Republican State

By the fall of 1936, the war entered a new phase as the Republican government attempted to centralize authority and create a more disciplined war effort, in a direct challenge to the local revolutionary groups. Review some of the key challenges on the left, including ideological divisions and regional power centers that were reluctant to cede their autonomy.

30 min
Francisco Franco Forms a Nationalist State

09: Francisco Franco Forms a Nationalist State

Shift your attention to the Nationalist side, which had consolidated authority under General Francisco Franco, “el caudillo” (“the leader”). Professor Radcliff introduces you to Franco and his military history, and then she walks through his gradual and unlikely ascent to power during the war. Finally, you will consider how Franco’s leadership compared with that of fascist leaders.

32 min
Women in the War: Workers, Nurses, Soldiers

10: Women in the War: Workers, Nurses, Soldiers

Wars may be fought over political ideology, but they involve everyday people. In this lecture, you will examine the critical role of women in the Spanish Civil War. On both sides of the conflict, women took up jobs in traditionally male industries and occupied novel public and private roles. Meet some of the women who made an impact in this war.

29 min
Western Powers Agree to Nonintervention

11: Western Powers Agree to Nonintervention

The Spanish Civil War was a local conflict on the margins of Europe, yet it had enormous repercussions on the international stage. In this lecture, you will learn about the degree to which foreign intervention (or non-intervention) affected the course of the war—and why so many western powers remained neutral.

28 min
The USSR and Mexico Aid the Republic

12: The USSR and Mexico Aid the Republic

Although many western powers remained neutral, the Republican government received support from the USSR and Mexico. To this day, scholars debate about the low quality of support the Soviets provided and how much it disadvantaged the Republican side. Professor Radcliff weighs this support against what the Nationalists received from fascist countries.

27 min
International Brigades Join the Civil War

13: International Brigades Join the Civil War

One of the most important features of the internationalization of the war was the thousands of volunteers in the international brigades that traveled to Spain to join the fight. These groups included Communist party members and others, all answering the call to take up an anti-fascist cause. The American volunteers were famously memorialized by Hemingway in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

28 min
The Fascist Powers Aid the Nationalists

14: The Fascist Powers Aid the Nationalists

International aid helped the Nationalists as much, if not more, than the Republicans. From loans and foreign aid to weapons and soldiers, learn about the support for the Nationalist cause from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Then, take a look at how Franco shifted course after it was clear the Axis powers would lose World War II.

27 min
Vatican and Church in Spain’s Religious War

15: Vatican and Church in Spain’s Religious War

In many ways, the Spanish Civil War was a religious war over the relationship between the state and Catholicism. Due to a combination of anti-clerical violence from extremists in the Republican coalition and a long affiliation with conservative politics, the Church found itself aligned with the Nationalists. Dive into the Vatican’s role in the war, active or otherwise.

28 min
The Propaganda War in a Divided Spain

16: The Propaganda War in a Divided Spain

Propaganda in the form of poetry, plays, paintings, and film played a powerful role in all wars of the 20th century. Here, Professor Radcliff looks at the international propaganda surrounding the Spanish Civil War—including Pablo Picasso’s famous masterpiece, Guernica.

30 min
Military Campaigns in the Spanish Civil War

17: Military Campaigns in the Spanish Civil War

The military history of the Spanish Civil War has always taken a back seat to the political drama, but it was on the battlefield that the Nationalists won and the Republicans lost the war. Although it is difficult to pinpoint an exact turning point, this lecture outlines the major battles and turning points of the war.

29 min
Guernica to Madrid: The Urban Battlefield

18: Guernica to Madrid: The Urban Battlefield

One of the major divides in the Spanish Civil War was between urban and rural cultures. This divide played out on the battlefield as well, with urban warfare, and particularly bombing of civilian populations, representing a novel aspect of the war. From Guernica to Madrid to Barcelona, discover the lessons from the war’s urban battlefields.

27 min
The War as Soldiers Experienced It

19: The War as Soldiers Experienced It

Here, Professor Radcliff turns from battles to the soldiers who fought them. Because neither side received mass enlistment for their cause, the Republican and Nationalist armies each relied on conscription—and suffered from low morale as the brutal war dragged on. Get an up-close look at the everyday experience of soldiers who fought and died in the war.

29 min
How the Nationalists Organized for Victory

20: How the Nationalists Organized for Victory

At the start of the war, the Nationalists were an ad hoc confederation of alliances. Over three years, they organized to create an institutional structure, stable financial resources, and a logistics operation that ultimately won the war. Learn about the Nationalist political structure as they formed a functional government.

28 min
How the Republic Organized for the Long War

21: How the Republic Organized for the Long War

While the Nationalists consolidated and expanded their political power, the Republican side struggled with internal divisions and an increasingly dire military situation. Watch as the Republican government lost its industrial and material advantages in what would become a pivotal moment in Spanish history.

30 min
Repression on the Two Sides

22: Repression on the Two Sides

The atrocities of the Spanish Civil War began with the bloody summer of 1936 and continued with the creation of concentration camps on both sides. While debates about the number of victims on each side continues today, most scholars agree the Nationalists were more brutally repressive—a fact that was hidden from the Spanish public for many years.

33 min
The New Regime and the Aftermath of the War

23: The New Regime and the Aftermath of the War

After three years of devastating violence, the formal conflict ended with General Franco capturing and disarming the Republican Army. The aftermath of the war included mass executions and arrests, as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees and ongoing guerilla warfare. Follow these refugees and reflect on the traumas of the post-war period.

28 min
The Spanish Memory Wars

24: The Spanish Memory Wars

The ghosts of the Spanish Civil War are still with us today—and are being debated as fiercely as ever. As you will learn in this final lecture, the war’s history remains a divisive topic in Spain, and beyond. The course concludes with an overview of the so-called “memory wars” and the competing narratives about Spain’s historical trajectory.

32 min