A couple of years ago, at a gathering of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, Professor Paul Preston, describing George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, said: ‘It is not a bad book but the trouble is, it is the only book many people read on the Spanish Civil War’ or words to that effect. Pro. Preston suggested that ‘Homage to Catalonia’ was a book written about the Spanish War from the narrow perspective of someone who had only spent six or seven months involved in the conflict on a quiet front in the North of Spain – Aragon & Catalonia – and, that it left out much which the professional historian could now encompass supported, as he is, by the enriched ‘body of scholarship which has been published in Spanish, Catalan, English … since 1996’ (see Preface to Preston’s The Spanish Civil War [2006]). Is a modern history, written in a library by a professional historian such as that of Professor Preston’s, to be preferred to a first-hand account of the conflict written almost in the heat of battle, or shortly afterwards? Will not the professional historian and scholar’s account be more objective than that written by the former combatant and novelist? Is not the one clearly superior to the other? If not, how do we judge and value these differing contributions?

Brian Bamford is an ethno-methodologist/sociologist, who formerly worked as a maintenance electrician. He is at present Secretary of Tameside Trade Union Council and Secretary of Bury Unite the Union. He helped to edit the Tameside TUC booklet on the 75th Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War [3rd Edition], which will be on sale at the Bristol Bookfair.

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