(Note: Color photographs of posters and other artifacts are available; black-and-white copies of some original photos are available as well.) Sixty-five years ago in a unified effort to defeat the fascist alliance formed by General Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini, volunteers from over 50 countries joined to defend the Republican government in Spain. Among these were nearly 3,000 Americans, mostly political radicals and anti-fascists, who made up the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive (ALBA), recently acquired by New York University with the help of a private donor, is the most comprehensive historical archive documenting the involvement of North American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. To be housed in the NYU Tamiment Library, ALBA comprises the personal papers of the veterans of the conflict and documents not only the wartime experiences of the volunteers but also the story of their lives, from their cultural and political backgrounds to the remarkable contributions they made in the decades that followed the Spanish Civil War.
The archive, comprising over 400 linear feet of material, contains more than 5,000 black-and-white photographs, at least 10,000 pages of letters written home by American volunteers, 200 full-color Spanish Civil War posters, 50 cartons of film and videotapes, more than 100 audiotapes, and artifacts such as uniforms, badges and Brigade volunteer Bill Bailey’s rifle. There is also correspondence from people throughout the world who were involved in the continuing anti-fascist struggle, including Albert Einstein, Lillian Hellman, and Langston Hughes, among others.
Carol Mandel, dean of the NYU Libraries, said, “We are delighted that we have been able to acquire the ALBA collection. At NYU it will be heavily used by a wide range of departments and programs and by international scholars visiting New York City.”
Dr. John Brademas, president emeritus of NYU, said, “That this significant collection of materials should be at NYU, where our King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center has become the leading place in the United States for the study of modern Spain, is most appropriate.” Dr. Brademas, president of the Foundation established in Madrid to support the Center, is author of a book on the history of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain from the mid-1920s through the first year of the Spanish Civil War.
Dean Mandel pointed out that the Abraham Lincoln Brigade also is linked to the City of New York. “For most of the volunteers, New York was the port of exit, and the city became a focal point for activities in support of the volunteers and of the republican government in Spain,” she said. “More than 10% of the volunteers were New Yorkers, including several who studied at NYU.”
Plans during the first year of NYU’s ownership of ALBA include creating a database inventory of the entire collection, re-housing uncatalogued materials in acid-free boxes and folders, and developing a detailed, multi-year proposal for processing and preserving the collection.
Peter Carroll, chair of ALBA’s Board of Governors and author of The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, said, “The decision to transfer our entire Spanish Civil War archive holdings to NYU is the most important decision we’ve made in the 22-year history of our organization. It had previously been housed at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. The move to NYU assures that the ever-growing archive will be processed by professional librarians and made available to more researchers and readers than ever before.”
The Tamiment Library at NYU, which documents the history of the American left, is housed on the 10th floor of the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library and Study Center, the university’s central library. Tamiment Library’s holdings include some 25,000 books, 6,000 periodical titles, more than 300 manuscript collections (reflecting all tendencies of the left and both national and local trade-union records, as well as feminist, anti-war, anti-racist, and environmental movements); 3,500 hours of audio tape; and about one million pamphlets, leaflets and clippings, and related collections of posters, graphics, videos and artifacts.