Historians at War: Cold War Influences on Anglo-American representations of the Spanish Civil War

Author: Darryl Burrowes

Burrowes, Darryl, 2017 Historians at War: Cold War Influences on Anglo-American representations of the Spanish Civil War, Flinders University, School of History and International Relations

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This thesis, entitled ‘Historians at War: Cold War influences on Anglo-American representations of the Spanish Civil War’, is an exploration of the way the political climate of a period influences the writing of history. In specific terms, it is an examination of the widely held view that the Cold War impacted on Spanish Civil War historiography. There is consensus among Anglo-American historians that the rabid anti-communist climate generated by the Cold War affected historical analysis of the Second Spanish Republic and Civil War, especially in the roles played by the Spanish Communist Party and the USSR. This is because historians accept that they do not live in a vacuum, and that they cannot detach themselves from the environment in which they write their history, no matter how hard they may try. The assertion that the Cold War affected Civil War historiography is seldom, however, illustrated with concrete examples. This thesis will address that shortcoming.

The primary aim of this thesis therefore is to test the validity of the premise that the writing of history is shaped by its political climate. This thesis does so in relation to the historiography of the Spanish Civil War, undertaking biographical case studies of four Anglo-American ‘writer-historians’, all of whom are widely accepted as having made major contributions to Civil War historiography. The case studies are biographical because this writer accepts as axiomatic that the history that is written cannot be detached from the moral compass, life values and expectations of the historians writing it, as well as the circumstances in which they research, write and publish.

To this end the thesis examines the life and work of George Orwell, Gerald Brenan, Burnett Bolloten, and Herbert Southworth. These four writer-historians became participants in the cultural politics of the Cold War. Their writing on the Spanish Civil War was either written, published, or was most influential during the Cold War years. Aspects of their works will be scrutinized, in conjunction with the biographical context in which it was written, to determine to what extent it was affected by the Cold War’s Zeitgeist. The biographical case studies will identify the writer-historians’ friendship and knowledge networks and determine their career aspirations. The thesis uses a plethora of primary sources including personal correspondence garnered from archives located in five countries, as well as interviews with friends and acquaintances of the four protagonists. Some of this correspondence has been made available for the first time.

A particular point of focus is the relationship between Southworth and Bolloten, both of whom were driven by a single-minded passion to promulgate their truth of the Spanish Civil War – a war to which both men dedicated the greater part of their long lives. For both, the search for truth led them down a path of meticulous and seemingly endless research, and participation in a very personal and acrimonious ‘history war’ with each other. The two men personify a deep historiographical divide in the interpretation of the role of the communists and the USSR in the Spanish Civil War – a divide which was oxygenated and nurtured by the politics of the Cold War.

Keywords: Spain, Spanish Civil War, Cold War, George Orwell, Gerald Brenan, Herbert Southworth, Burnett Bolloten, CIA, Congress of Cultural Freedom, Information Research Department.

Subject: History thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of History and International Relations
Supervisor: Professor Peter Monteath