Mediating Memory: Mass Grave Recovery and Digital Culture in the Iberian Peninsula

Mediating Memory: Mass Grave Recovery and Digital Culture in the Iberian Peninsula

Volume 43 Issue 1

Author(s): Wendy Perla Kurtz

Recommended Citation:

Kurtz, Wendy Perla (2018) “Mediating Memory: Mass Grave Recovery and Digital Culture in the Iberian Peninsula,” Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies: Vol. 43 : Iss. 1 , Article 9.



The large corpus of digital and social media on the Web pertaining to the recuperation of historical memory demonstrates how present-day Spaniards continue to grapple with events stemming from the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. In an ever-connected world, there is, not surprisingly, a wave of media inundating the Spanish public that focuses on the recovery of victims from mass graves in the Iberian Peninsula. Digital media and its various modes of dissemination encourage the constant updating of information and provides producers of digital materials and users of social networking sites the means to constantly renew conversations about the recuperation efforts. By cyclically publishing digital texts online that show the rituals and commemorations pertaining to the ongoing reburials, contemporary Spaniards keep the physical sites of memory alive by broadcasting the repeated rituals of exhumation and inhumation as the identification of remains continues. Blogging, website building, and participating in social media circles generates local and regional online communities centered around memorial rites. This article studies the types of media being produced regarding the recuperation of mass graves (photographs, videos, social network site data), how that media is disseminated to contemporary audiences through weblogs, and social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr), and analyzes the performative rituals of searching and reburial, as represented in digital texts. Digital productions allow families and communities of survivors—both physical and virtual communities—to highlight the process of locating the disappeared. The consideration of different genres and modes of representation surface a pattern of ritualistic practices that advances from the search for the missing, to the exhumation process, leading to the reburials and culminating in commemorations honoring the victims.

The array of multimedia elements containing rituals of reburial and commemoration disseminated through the Web give a polyphonic voice to community efforts. Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—also referred to as digital mapping platforms—lends the ability to layer a variety of multimedia elements onto a digital cartographic interface. Thick mapping efforts convert a purely geographic space into a place by imbuing the topography with memories and histories. This article will also discuss how Virtual Cartographies layers data acquired from the Spanish Ministry of Justice of mass grave locations alongside a robust collection of multimedia texts directly related to specific gravesites in order to give depth to spaces of mourning and share various ritualistic practices. The deep layering of multimedia elements lends insights into the histories surrounding the topography. In the case of the exhumations, a thick map that combines information about the geography with digital texts about the spaces, contextualizes the processes undertaken by individuals and communities around the disinterments. By inscribing gravesite locations with the testimonies, videos, narratives, articles, radio program, social network groups, etc. about the exhumations, Virtual Cartographies contributes a thick map that gives depth to spaces of mourning, while creating a framework for analyzing the exhumations and mourning rituals.

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