Do we have a moral duty to confront injustices committed by our society in the past? I think we do.

Isabel Cuñado

Aspects of human life are best captured by art, according to Isabel Cuñado, who studies some of the most turbulent times in Spain’s history, including its civil war, Francoism and the most recent economic crisis.

For Cuñado, literature "doesn’t have an agenda. … It speaks from the voice of the individual."

Cuñado and her students approach Spain’s 20th-century fascism and democracy in her Literature of the Spanish Civil War seminar through the narratives of witnesses and their descendants. They learn to appreciate the role of memory in understanding the present.

The students "are very interested in trying to understand how fascism comes about and how a democracy turns into fascism," Cuñado says. By looking at the repression of rights and authoritarianism in texts "we can see the connections."

Cuñado’s students also develop critical-thinking skills by analyzing the texts and through active discussions. Research projects enable them to bring a specific academic pursuit or another major to their work for an interdisciplinary approach.

Most of Cuñado’s own scholarship over the last 15 years has focused on ethics and contemporary novelists who are writing from the viewpoint of the victims or the perspectives of the children and grandchildren of survivors of the Spanish Civil War.

In her work, Cuñado examines the "representation of specters and ghosts and sees how these representations are repressed trauma. It makes us confront the silent past.

"Do we have a moral duty to confront injustices committed by our society in the past?" she asks. "I think we do. … It’s impossible to understand Spain today without looking back at the Spanish Civil War and what happened with Franco."

With a commitment to confronting past injustices, Cuñado, in her scholarship and courses, seeks to repair or provide "posthumous justice for victims who were silenced for decades."

Posted Sept. 22, 2017