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Getting to know the UA Democracy Archive

Translated by Irene Nieva Moratalla
Alicante, 12 November 2020. By María Asunción Soria Pastor

Do we know exactly what it means to live in a democratic society? What is our duty as heirs to the new system? What is the importance of preserving the heritage and culture of our land? As a student of History at the University of Alicante, who writes this article intends to share one of the outstanding cultural and university extension projects of the UA with the university community and society in general: The Democracy Archive.

The Democracy Archive was set up in 2004 and is an initiative of the Office of the Vice President for Culture, Sports and Languages of the University of Alicante. Its main objective is to collect written, graphic, and sound documents from prominent people or entities in the world of politics, culture, and economy in Alicante, specially from the end of the Franco regime to the present. The aim is to ensure the conservation of the documentary memory of the Spanish transition to democracy and its consolidation in Alicante and, through the processes of cataloguing and digitalisation, make it accessible to specialists and the public. The Democracy Archive also aims to stimulate knowledge of the history of Spain through informative actions and publications, contributing to the strengthening of a civic and democratic collective memory. It is a project open to the participation of citizens, which is nourished by donations of archives and publications. 

For example, during this academic year 2020-2021, the Democracy Archive has been working on creating a project related to the women's history during the Spanish transition to democracy in order to highlight their roles in that era. This project will be carried out by lecturer Mónica Moreno Seco and has also been included in the calls for applications for Cultural Heritage grants and subsidies to enable research to be carried out in Archives abroad on Spanish exiled in North Africa during the Spanish Civil War, especially those who settled in Algeria, which was a French colony. After the independence of Spain, the archives and information were distributed in several archives of France (former mother country), especially in the South, in the zone of Provence, where the Democracy Archive staff want to go and investigate.

On 14 December, the Democracy Archive will hold its annual event to recognise the work and generosity of those who have made donations. This year, the event will focus on paying tribute to Enrique Cerdán Tato, writer, literary critic, professor, journalist, and chronicler of his hometown, Alicante, where an exhibition in the Multipurpose Hall of the University of Alicante Museum (MUA) will be dedicated from that day onwards.

Getting to know the Democracy Archive

Among the functions carried out by the Democracy Archive are the management, organisation, conservation, and access to documentation that may be used for study, research, or even the dissemination of culture and heritage to a non-academic public, based on values of quality, respect for current legislation, and service to the university community and society. 

The Democracy Archive is mainly made up of written, graphic, sound, and audio-visual testimonies on the efforts made in politics, culture, economy, and citizens' movements to recover the freedoms lost since Franco's victory in 1936 and on the development of these same activities in recent times, following the transition from dictatorship to democracy. The subject matter of the documentation gathered is very broad and that relating to political parties, trade unions, elections, neighbourhood movements, feminism, cultural associations, etc, can be highlighted. In terms of chronological coverage, documentation from the period of the transition to democracy (1975-1982) predominates, but the Archive also has documentation of the Spanish Second Republic and the Civil War, the Franco-s regime, and the 1980s and 1990s of the 20th century.

As for the human team of the Archive, it is made up of staff from the UA General Archive and an Advisory Council composed mainly of a president, a coordinator, and several members in charge of areas such as the preparation of publications, exhibitions, and the bulletin. Most of the members of the Advisory Council are graduates in History. Therefore, they have had an academic background specifically related to the field of work and research, which they are in contact with.

The Democracy Archive is located in the General Archive, in the basement of the University of Alicante Main Library.

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The most relevant projects include:

 

A collection built up by donations

Firstly, the documentation held in the Archive has been provided over the years through altruistic donations to contribute to the enrichment of the heritage of Spanish democratic history in general terms, and in particular in the province of Alicante. 

Secondly, it is necessary to mention the diversity of the profiles of the donors who are divided into various groups: individuals, institutions both in the private and public spheres, associations, local governments, and even municipal archives.

Among the long list of donors we can highlight Pinoso local government, the municipal archives of Denia and Alcoy, the Association of Aviators of the Republic (ADAR), the Alicante Civic Commission for the Recovery of the Historical Memory, and lecturers from the University of Alicante, among others.

Among the objects that I was able to see during my visit to the Archive, the ones that most caught my attention were the publications of the personal diaries of Eliseo Gómez Serrano and Ángel Pascual Devesa, both politicians belonging to the Alicante bourgeoisie who recounted in first person the events of the Spanish Civil War and how it influenced Alicante society. I also found it interesting an old printing machine, given by a citizen, which was used to create left-wing propaganda for later dissemination, a prohibited activity at the time carried out clandestinely, although sometimes the authors were discovered through the stains left by the printing ink. So, it was important to wear old clothes or clothes that would be thrown away later to avoid being discovered.

Access to the collection and collaborations

The Archive provides all interested persons with information on the available documentary collections and holdings through consultation by some means, whether on the Internet, in person, by telephone, or via email. Therefore, the Archive is not only aimed at an academic audience, such as students of History and researchers but also at 'democratising' access so that anyone can directly access the documentary heritage. If you are interested in visiting the Democracy Archive, check opening hours on the website.

The Democracy Archive has collaborated with several TV programmes in providing material for the production of audio-visual content, mainly series and documentaries. In 2013, it collaborated with the contribution of documentation to the mythical series Cuéntame como pasó in its episode 258, entitled 'Como debe ser', we can see, in minute 12:00, the propaganda posters of the Democratic and Social Centre (CDS), a moderate and centrist ideology Spanish political party led by Adolfo Suárez which ran in the 1982 elections. As we can see in the second image, in the final credits of the episode, the producer of the series thanks the Democracy Archive for its documentary contribution.

On 18 February 2020, the Valencian channel À Punt Mèdia  broadcasted an episode of the series 'La memoria rescatada'  which delves into the forgotten memory of citizens through home cinema. The Democracy Archive collaborated in the production of that episode by lending copies of certain moving archives, with the prior permission of their authors.

An award-winning career

18th Maisonnave Award to the Democracy Archive Advisory Council (2019)

The University of Alicante will grant the 19th Maisonnave Award, which bears the name of the first democratically elected Mayor of Alicante and is given annually to a person or entity that has stood out for the defence of education, culture, or civic values in the city of Alicante. 

The prize was awarded to the Democracy Archive Advisory Council "for the intense activity carried out over the last 15 years to collect, organise, and disseminate the documentary memory of the struggle for democracy, specially in the province of Alicante and also throughout Spain."

Distinction for the Defence of Constitutional Rights (2019) awarded by Valencia Region Government

Valencia Region Government, through its spokesperson and Vice-President Mónica Oltra, awarded this prize to the University of Alicante Democracy Archive on its 15th anniversary in recognition of its work and dedication to the memory of the transition to democracy and the beginning of the democratic period in Alicante.

The Vice-President stressed that these collections ensure "the conservation of the documentary memory of the transition to democracy and its consolidation in Alicante counties, since, through the processes of cataloguing and digitalisation, it is accessible to specialists and the general public.

Through these honorary acts, the hard work carried out day after day by the University of Alicante Democracy Archive has been publicly recognised, in addition to its work in disseminating information so that it can more easily reach a wide variety of audiences.

From the beginning, the aim has been to carry out several dissemination tasks to make the Democracy Archive known to a varied public, both in terms of academic levels and ages, in order to encourage the population's interest in the historical heritage it has to offer.

Dissemination among university community and population 

Among these tasks, we can highlight the visits of teachers and students with the aim of attracting the interest of students from different educational areas such as Upper Secondary Education, History, Humanities, and Education degrees, and even the Lifelong Learning Programme. The dissemination provided by the UA University Venues in the province of Alicante is also valued. Their main task is to hold lectures, seminars, talks, and presentations for all those who want to access knowledge but cannot go to the university, which makes it easier to reach a wider audience with the knowledge of the historical heritage provided by the Democracy Archive. Moreover, the Archive encourages the publication of articles aimed at scientists and the general public. The website became operational in 2005 and statistics show a steady increase over the years. By way of example, the data collected over the last few years are provided. In relation to social networks, Facebook is the one that most uses the Archive to disseminate its activities.

In terms of the opportunities offered, both the General Archive and the UA Democracy Archive are gradually trying to encourage contact between university students of different levels (undergraduate, Master's, and PhD degrees) related to History and Humanities, through internships, either through academic internships or research assistantship. The aim is to create greater academic and curricular development for students, as well as to help the Archive in its work of cultural and heritage promotion.  

Nowadays, as a result of the current situation, staff are encouraging the public to make their enquiries by telephone or via email and only to come to the Archive to collect those documents that cannot be provided digitally.

On 14 December, the Democracy Archive will hold its annual event to recognise the work and generosity of those who have made donations. This year, the event will focus on paying tribute to Enrique Cerdán Tato, writer, literary critic, professor, journalist, and chronicler of his hometown, Alicante, and to which an exhibition in the Multipurpose Hall of the University of Alicante Museum (MUA) will be dedicated from that day onwards.

From the Office for Culture and Languages Promotion and specially from the VEU magazine we wish them luck with their goals and that they may have a long career both academically and professionally.

 

The author of this article together with the staff of the UA Democracy Archive.

 

 

VEU - Cultural Magazine of the University of Alicante


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