Recent accounting for disease in the aftermath of the Spanish civil war has been contained within study of hunger in the early 1940s. Historians have cited the typhus epidemic which hit Spain between 1939 and 1945 as an example demonstrating a causal link between widespread semi-starvation and disease. Though important, the focus on hunger risks losing sight of other vital elements in the onset and transmission of typhus, however, as well as the way the epidemic’s progress sheds light on the broader social history of the war and its aftermath.
By paying close attention to epidemiological records, this article argues that the direct causes of typhus and its vertiginous spread were primarily ideological and spatial. It shows first how the war’s victors used the language of political and bacterial contagion to claim spuriously that the wartime Republic was responsible for the epidemic. It then demonstrates how intense confinement on a huge scale of those linked to the Republic was at the root of the disease. Transmission depended on this mass imprisonment and on the increased circulation of families to support those in captivity. Finally, typhus influenced the social imagination of the Franco regime and its anxiety about hygiene, prisons and control of the urban poor.
Richards, M. (in press). 'Imagining contagion: Epidemic, prisons, and Franco Spain’s politics of space, 1936-45'. European History Quarterly,