Combining digital and in-person archival research is optimal for historical scholarship, yet there are many reasons why this balance cannot always be achieved. The work/life gender inequity in academia has already made research time precarious for many; the COVID-19 pandemic made it nearly impossible. As a reflection on doing Iberian History in a time of crisis, this article provides a starting point for digital scholarship in the field of 20th Century Iberian History via a case study. In dialogue with Lara Putnam’s article “The Transnational and the Text-Searchable,” the limitations of a purely “digital turn” in historical research became apparent as the author researched a Spanish Mauthausen concentration camp survivor during the coronavirus pandemic in Madrid in the Spring of 2020.
This article focuses on the history from 1941 to 1944 of one of the orphanages created for three thousand young Spaniards evacuated in 1937 and 1938 from war-torn Spain to the USSR. It examines the relationship between Spaniards at the orphanage, both children and adults, with their Soviet counterparts at that facility and in the surrounding community. It also measures the extent of a Soviet commitment to the well-being of its young guests and the revolutionary cause abroad. Finally, this article’s close observation of a Spanish institution compels, if ironically, an assessment of the loci and practice of political power at the USSR’s center and periphery. This work is based on memoirs, interviews, and abundant archival records produced by and about the orphanage.