As the Spanish Civil War raged between 1936-1939, struggles between competing ideologies played out on the streets as well as in the trenches. As much of Europe prepared for another global war, the military and social clashes in Spain served a dress rehearsal for potent new tools of propaganda as well as deadly new weapons and tactics. Spanish political factions: fascist, communist, anarchist, republican, nationalist, and socialist – all sought support from the Spanish people as well as allies abroad.
In this lesson, students learn to pose a series of structured questions, including the central question, “How does one side in a conflict, through visual media, persuade people of the justness of their cause?”
Students use the Primary Source Analysis tool from the Library of Congress to evaluate vibrantly colored Spanish Civil War posters and present their findings to their class. Some posters played on fears. Others appealed to an ideal of a brighter future. The posters quickly made their way out of Spain, into the rest of Europe and through the world. Sensitivity is required since some posters display blood, weapons, and potentially upsetting imagery, including victims of bombings, the Nazi swastika, and Soviet hammer and sickle.
Students will pay close attention to symbols on posters and infer the intended audience of the artist. Later, students will use the posters to grapple with open questions, such as, “How do these posters compare to images we see today?” For extension, students can create and share their own propaganda posters. Classes may continue the exploration of ideology and propaganda into study of World War II and the Cold War.
Building on a joint workshop between the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) and the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program of the Collaborative for Educational Services, this lesson relies on the large collection of Spanish Civil War propaganda posters at Library of Congress. There are over 120 posters in the collection. Full-scale versions of many of these posters are available online from the University of California San Diego, making this an outstanding exploration for teaching inquiry with primary sources.