Past Awardee

Spanish Civil War Print Culture

Jordana Mendelson
Jordana Mendelson

College: Fine and Applied Arts
Award year: 2006-2007

"Spanish Civil War Print Culture" is a multi-phase project that brings together scholarly research, exhibition practices, and digital innovation. In its first phase, the project entails research, preservation, digitization, and cataloguing of a select group of Spanish Civil War (SCW) materials from the UIUC Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The second phase includes the creation of a searchable database embedded within an interactive web environment that will draw upon expertise of faculty and graduate students in CHASS/NCSA, GLIS, and Art & Design to produce a new form of humanities research that is at once grounded in the materials and questions of historic archives and open to the innovations and challenges of new models for collaboration, data mining, and visualization. The project brings with it an opportunity to explore the translation of older forms of communication (print culture) into new media, and with that will open discussion about the possibilities of building a digital interface that would allow for changing (and perhaps unexpected) research and exhibition practices. The collection of SCW materials at UIUC includes over 100 periodicals and 135 posters, plus hundreds of pamphlets, postcards, photographs, and books; it is one of only a handful of collections outside of Spain to which researchers in the United States have access. International interest in the Spanish Civil War cuts across several disciplines (including history, literature, art history) and is often grounded in the war's material and visual traces. SCW ephemera are visual, textual, political, historical, and never neutral. The challenge is to research and discover the means through which innovative software might be used to place multi-dimensional visual documents into a web environment so that they may be flexibly worked into research contexts that are historically complex and dynamic. The design of the interface itself has to encourage and allow for multiple points of entry and continuous evolving content. This proposal forms part of an international exhibition and research project on "Magazines and War: 1936-1939" planned for Madrid's Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (MNCARS) in 2007. The incorporation of digitized versions of SCW magazines (and related ephemera) in the exhibition is a critical innovation in museum practice that answers some of the criticisms of bringing print culture (in all of its formats) into the museum. The problem: How does one enable interaction with an artifact that is fragile, rare, and subject to deterioration when handled? The challenge is both practical and conceptual when dealing with media, like magazines, that were meant to be touched. Can the digital realm re-activate for the viewer at least some of the experience of interactivity present in historical media? What happens during this process of translation from one media (print) to another (digital)? What impact does this have for our historical understanding of print culture, and how does digital technology change the way we think about our research subject? In other words, how does technology impact the very contours of humanities research when that research is grounded in the study of historical modes of communication?