An essential piece of the history of Spain and of Spain-US relations can be found on the 10th floor of NYU’s main library, on Washington Square South. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA), housed within NYU’s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives on the 10th floor of NYU’s Bobst Library, is the most important collection of documents, images and artifacts in the world that chronicles the lives of the almost 3,000 American men and women who, between 1936 and 1939, volunteered to go to Spain to fight fascism.
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, or known as ALBA, is a non profit organization that was founded in 1979 by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and it’s “devoted to the preservation and dissemination of the history of the North American role in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and its aftermath.” as written perfectly on the organization’s website.
The “Abraham Lincoln Brigade” hadn’t been the name for an actual regiment of American soldiers volunteering for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War until after the veterans had returned home. In fact, the volunteers had been dispersed throughout different Republican regiments and forces while combating in Spain. As a sign of a unified front of activism and solidarity against Franco and fascism back home, the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade” as a term was born out of the collectiveness among all American veterans
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives are rich in unique material that can only be viewed in person, and thus, NYU’s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives has worked closely with ALBA to preserve them at all costs. For those who are interested in viewing, you are in luck because the Tamiment Library is open to the public!
Those who are not affiliated with NYU must ask at the Library Privileges window at Bobst Library’s lobby floor for a visitor’s pass in order to be granted access to the 10th floor where the ALBA collections are held. All researchers at the Tamiment Library are asked to create a Special Research Collections Account online at https://aeon.library.nyu.edu/logon. The Tamiment Library prefers that researchers request an appointment date through their account online before visiting the Archives in order to be guaranteed seating, but walk-in appointments are most certainly welcomed as well.
Click here for link to ALBA newsletter (Volunteer) and blog.
Click here for links to brief capsules of interviews with ALB veterans and supporters.
Produced by James D. Fernández, with assistance from Juan Salas and Beth Compa, and in collaboration with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) and NYU’s King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, this video (11 minutes, 2004) explores the contents of ALBA, and the public outreach initiatives that have been organized around the ALBA collections. The video and a written transcription of it are shown below for those interested.
James Fernandez: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive is the most important collection of documents and artifacts in the world, chronicling the lives of the almost 3,000 American men and women, who between 1936 and 1939, volunteered to go to Spain to fight fascism. The archive, known by its acronym, ALBA, was officially founded in 1979 by a group of Lincoln Brigade veterans, who wanted to make sure that their anti-fascist legacy would be made permanently available to scholars and activists. ALBA is also the name of an organization of scholars, educators, and activists devoted to preserving and transmitting the legacy embodied by the veterans and documented by the archive. The archive is housed at NYU’s Tamiment Library, a major collection of documents of the history of the American Left. NYU is also the home of the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, whose renowned institution promotes research, teaching, and dialogue about Spain and the Spanish-speaking world.
25 years ago, the founders of ALBA dreamed that the anti-fascist legacy of the Lincoln Brigade might be preserved and transmitted to future generations. Today, thanks to the alliance between an archive of an university and an activist organization, that dreamed is being realized.
Michael Nash: My name is Michael Nash, I’m the director of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University. Given the role that the Abraham Lincoln Brigade played on the American Left, beginning in the 1930s and going right through into almost the present, this is an important part of the history of the American Left
The components of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives include the so-called Moscow Microfilm, the administrative records of the Brigade, the individual archives of some 225 veterans, photographic collections, notable being the Harry Randolph photographs, and oral history collection, poster collection, and memorabilia collection. As you know, we got a relatively large grant for the humanities, which is allowing us to arrange the collection and describe it in a way that is going to be usable for historical research.
Jessica Weglein: I’m Jessica Weglein, I’m the project archivist for this project for the papers of ALBA. I’ve had a lot students coming in, and that’s undergraduate students, and in many instances, this is the first time they have handled archival material, so to have students coming in early on in their academic careers and really working with materials in this way and understanding how history gets written from the particular documents. I think it must be really gratifying for them and for me as an archivist. I feel that the work I’m doing is being put to productive use.
*Topics undertaken by students at ALBA
Guenevere Domdom: My topic is African American volunteers during the Spanish Civil War
Matt Crawford: Reading about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and reading about those captured during the conflict
Beth Compa: What were the major themes of Republican posters during the Spanish Civil War
Jason Silberberg: Jews in the Spanish Civil War
Nick Anderson: The battle of Jarama and Jinete
Alex Kayfman: Dr. Edwards Kenneth Barsley and Dr. Henry Northman Buffon
Jenn Robles: Non-communist volunteers and their motivations for going to Spain
Nick Walach: Songs from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
Zach Grendi: When we look at the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, I think it’s best to try to understand their full historical image.
Beth Compa: It’s sort of thrilling to know that these letters are the actual pages that were held by the soldiers, you know, 70 years ago. I like to think about the life of a single sheet of paper
Peter Carroll (Board Director): After the acquisition of the Moscow Archives, ALBA began to focus not so much on building the archives, but also on building educational programs. The first one that we engaged in was the exhibition of Spanish Civil War posters that had been brought back to the United States by the volunteers in the 1930s. “Shouts in The Wall” opened in New York City at the Buffon Gallery in April 1996, and then went to prove to be a six-year tour of the United States. That was our first big national project of using the archives as our reach for educational purposes. The success of that prompted us to support a photographic show, and this was curated by Carrie Nelson. It was called “Aura of the Cause”. It was opened in 1997, and it continues to tour, most recently in 2003. Then, we moved to other kinds of outreach educational projects, and we began to develop a website. We have very sophisticated teaching curricula on the website. We have teaching tools on the website involving the ALBA’s third museum show as well, which is called “They Still Draw Pictures”.
“They Still Draw Pictures” is an exhibition of artwork drawn by children during wartime. The core of the show is children from the Spanish Civil War, and we curated the show, and sent it travelling to about 5 or 6 museums around the country. Along the way, we produced a catalog to go with it. Tony Geist and myself were the two curators of the show. ALBA also edits The Volunteer, a quarterly journal of the Lincoln Brigade, and its publication first began in Spain in 1937 as an English-language publication, edited by volunteers themselves who later began publication in the United States in 1939, and it continued irregularly off and on, and now it comes out on a regularly quarterly basis.
ALBA has two memorial projects that continued very nicely. One is the George Watt Award, which is a student essay project. We give out $500 each year to a couple of students who submit papers at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and we have created the Bill Susman Memorial Lecture, in cooperation with the King Juan Carlos I Center at NYU. We’ve had all-star speakers, ranging from Bernard Knox to Baltasar Garzón and Gabriel Jackson, to the poet Philip Levine, the novelist E.L. Doctorow, and the storywriter, Grace Paley. These are distinguished people who commonly pay homage to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in their own way.
We have more researchers visiting the library than ever before. More students are taking courses related to the Spanish Civil War. It’s ironic that this comes at a moment when the veterans are really, slowly, disappearing, like old soldiers. The number of living veterans is probably around 75 now, but the number of students studying it are really escalating in unprecedented, and unthinkable numbers 25 years ago. I think that’s the main tribute and legacy of ALBA. This collection should be looked at, not as archival material or as objects, but as voices. What these letters contain are the voices of people. You can hear them, you can see them, and they live on and speak to us and they tell us about the experience of being a volunteer against fascism at a time when it was not very popular.
These people now become part of the voices that we preserve because we reproduce their poems. We have copies of their speeches,we have videotapes and audiotapes. The tradition that the Lincoln Brigade represents did not end in the 30s with the war in Spain, but it comes right through into the present in the 21st century
Moe Fishman: What is the lesson of the veterans of the Spanish Civil War? That’s activism.
Zach Grendi: They’re a unique and disappearing breed, and I think one of the really wonderful things that the archive can do is to keep their spirits alive.