Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Government and Politics A level: Catalonia and Spain - the State we're in

Residential course in Catalan nationalism and Spanish democracy


The course has been designed by John Barrass using Barcelona as a base to explore the ideologies of socialism, fascism, anarchism and nationalism that fuelled the Spanish Civil War. It aims to develop a greater understanding in and enthusiasm for the study of politics and supports the Edexcel syllabus for Advanced GCE in Government and Politics. Its key elements are applicable to other examination board courses and examinations in these disciplines. The course combines classroom teaching, audio-visual support and site visits.

John Barrass

John Barrass is an expert on Spanish politics and Catalan Nationalism. He is particularly interested in the cultural and political means by which Catalonia defines its own identity. His enthusiasm, knowledge, humour and provocative delivery bring Government and Politics to life and provide a course that is wide-ranging, thought-provoking and accessible.

John served a London apprenticeship at Haymarket Publishing in the eighties, and ran the newspaper Barcelona Business for six years. His freelance work includes pieces for the Sunday Telegraph, the BBC, various Spanish radio stations and the Institut d'Estudis Catalans.

The Spanish Civil War

General Franco's fascist troops invaded Spain in July 1936 in order to overthrow the democratically elected Republican government headed by the Popular Front, composed of liberal democrats, socialists, anarchists, trade unionists, communists and secularists.

The country was basically divided into those fighting for the government (Republicans), and those fighting against the government (Nationalists). The Nationalists were represented by the landed elite, Fascists, the urban bourgeoisie, the Roman Catholic Church, and other conservative sectors.

The number of war deaths is estimated at between 500,000 and 1,000,000. Many of those casualties were the result of brutal mass executions perpetrated by both sides.

DAY 1. Nationalism, Nation State, Economy and Politics

This day includes site visits in Barcelona and explores:
  • the origins of Catalan national identity, language and culture;
  • the development of modern Catalanism;
  • industrialisation and Catalanism;
  • Catalanism in the 21st Century;
  • Spanish and Catalan political, civil and judicial institutions;
  • politics of Catalonia;
  • the difference between cultural and political nationalism;
  • tensions between Catalonia and Spain.
Key concepts include:
  • Nationalism;
  • Nation, nation-state, racialism, patriotism and national self-determination.

SITE VISITS: Spanish and Catalan institutions, Barcelona Cathedral, its chapels dedicated to patron saints of artisans' guilds; the Church of Pi, its sheltering of clandestine trade unions and a focus of the recent immigrants' hunger strike; Caixa Catalunya, police headquarters, Palau de la Música, Plaça Sant Jaume Generalitat and Ajuntament (town hall).

OPTIONAL VISIT: Museum of Catalan History.


DAY 2. Anarchism in Barcelona

Barcelona represents the one occasion in history when the anarchist movement has controlled a great city. Its experience during the Spanish Civil War is used as a vehicle to explore the concepts of anarchism, nationalism, socialism and fascism. The Spanish Civil War, a war fought for ideology, presents the world's best example of anarchism as a large scale political force.

This day includes site visits in Barcelona and explores:

  • anarchist ideas and history;
  • the impact of the Spanish Civil War within the city of Barcelona;
  • George Orwell's Spanish Civil War experience in Barcelona.


Shrapnel façade, Felip Neri, Barcelona
Felip Neri, Barcelona

SITE VISITS: George Orwell's sniper post on Las Ramblas, shrapnel façade of Felip Neri, Liceu Opera House (anarchist bomb), Central Post Office, CCOO and UGT union headquarters, Foment de Treball patronal and the fortress of Montjuïc.

OPTIONAL VISITS: air raid shelter on Avinguda Paral.lel. Palau Güell townhouse (before the industrial barons took refuge from their employees up in the hills).



DAY 3. Battle of the Ebro and the Spanish Civil War museum

Corbera d'Ebre (Long Road Sixth Form College)
Corbera d'Ebre (Long Road Sixth Form College)

The battle of the Ebro was one of the most decisive engagements of the Spanish Civil War. This day includes a visit to Corbera d'Ebre, the old town bombarded and preserved as a monument, and to the Civil War museum in Gandesa where a wide range of resources help explore the conflicts between the ideologies. Optional visits can be made to a series of Ebro battle trenches and the site of the strategic river crossing by Republican troops at Miravet.


“This was our first Politics trip and we had a really good time. All the arrangements ran like clockwork and the students were enthralled by John's breadth of knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject. They learnt a great deal that is directly relevant to the A2 syllabus”

Philippe Harari, Long Road Sixth Form College July 2007