How Hoover Archives Helped Me Better Understand The Current Catalan Independence Movement 

Monday, June 19, 2017

By Victoria Saenz


In September 2017, Catalonia will hold its final referendum on independence from Spain. This independence movement has drawn much attention because of the quickness with which its strength grew, with manifestations drawing over one million supporters multiple years in a row. After witnessing the 2015 manifestation, I became curious as to the origins of a movement that had seemingly gained such strength in just a few years. This is where my idea for my honors thesis, “From la Nova Cançó to Today: A Cross-Temporal Analysis of the Language in Catalan Popular Music,” came from. My focus began during the era of Franco’s dictatorship, when a musical movement known as la Nova Cançó emerged. With Franco’s attempt to eradicate any trace of Catalan culture, especially the language, music became the only way to salvage Catalan culture and collectively protest against the regime. Because Catalunya is once again attempting to find a government that is for its people, the music scene has begun to draw many parallels with la Nova Cançó, which is why I decided to research and compare the two periods. 



A fundamental part of my research was learning exactly when Catalan nationalism emerged and what it has meant throughout its existence, and the collection in the Hoover Library and Archives was a wonderful resource for this. Hoover’s collection largely focuses on war, revolution and ideological movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, and, with the Spanish Civil War, its causes and consequences, Catalonia’s history has much to teach in relation to this. While I was not expecting to find such a wealth of books and archives from Catalonia, I did, beginning with the foundational book for modern Catalan nationalism, La nacionalitat catalana (Catalan nationality) by Enric Prat de la Riba. Hoover had a 1934 edition and various other works on related topics from the 1930s and before.


What I found most interesting from the collection was Harry Milton’s collection of letters, newspaper clippings, and photos. Harry Milton was a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War and was also the man Hemingway referred to as “the American” in his book Homage to Catalonia. In this collection, there were not only letters from Trotsky to Milton, who was a dedicated Trotskyist, but also descriptions of how Milton had saved Hemingway’s life in Barcelona during his time volunteering in the war. Other surprising and wonderful finds were political posters from before the civil war as well as clandestine publications from all over Spain but especially from the Catalan-speaking regions. These publications ranged from well-made, foreign-produced books, such as Nous Horitzons, to handmade student pamphlets with noticeably lower quality. Through all of these findings, I was able to deepen my understanding of the current political and social situation in Catalonia and completely from my own campus! 


Victoria Saenz is an undergraduate double-majoring in Iberian and Latin American Cultures and International Relations. As an overtly curious traveler who's spent a summer in Brazil followed by a year abroad in Spain, in both Barcelona and Madrid, Victoria’s interests focus on the role of political states in creating and maintaining a meaningful cultural identity. She recently completed her honors thesis on the role of language in the Catalan popular music scene largely based on her field work in the music festival scene around Barcelona during the summer of 2016 as well as through Hoover's archives collection. After graduating, Victoria will be moving to Athens to volunteer with A Drop in the Ocean, and NGO that aims to provide direct aid to refugees. After Athens, she will move to Rio de Janeiro to complete a year of research as a Fulbright Scholar. Victoria can often be found making banana bread in Bob’s kitchen, asking strangers if she can pet their dogs, and hiding away in the archives of Hoover Tower.