Two Students Win 2012 George Watt Memorial Essay Award

January 4, 2013

George Watt in Spain. (The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 011; ALBA Photo number:11_0186s. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.)

ALBA’s George Watt Memorial Essay Prizes are awarded each year to a graduate student and an undergraduate student who have written an outstanding essay or thesis chapter about any aspect of the Spanish Civil War, the global political or cultural struggles against fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, or the lifetime histories and contributions of Americans who fought in support of the Spanish Republic. The award was established 11 years ago to honor Lincoln vet George Watt (1914-1994), a writer and lifelong activist central to the creation of ALBA.

Watt’s distinguished action in war continued after Spain. Shot down over Belgium in 1943, Watt lost two of his crew but survived thanks to the support of the Comet Line, an underground organization active in Belgium and France. With the help of the Comet Line, Watt crossed from France into Spain and, eventually, back to England. During this journey Watt faced great personal risk to his life because he was Jewish. Each year, as ALBA grants the George Watt Prize, we are reminded of Watt’s stirring example of committed anti-fascism and work for social justice.

The jury, consisting of Josh Goode (Claremont Graduate University), Soledad Fox (Williams College), Fraser Ottanelli (University of Southern Florida), and Gina Herrmann (University of Oregon) received 18 submissions; eight essays from graduate students and 10 from undergraduates. The jury happily notes the international profile represented by student authors, and this year continued the trend of strong essays received from Spain. The submissions covered a wide variety of themes, including diplomacy during the early years of the Franco regime, the novel La voz dormida about women political prisoners in Franco’s penitentiary system, the role of the Republican mint and currency production during the war, disaffection within the Nationalist ranks, and Francoist symbolism in monuments in the region of Cáceres.

The winner for the undergraduate category, Reid Palmer, is a student at Oberlin College. Palmer submitted an impressive piece titled, “A Peculiar Fate: American Press Coverage of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade” (abstract; full essay). The winner from the graduate category is Matthew Poggi, of the University of Toronto. Poggi’s paper, based on his Master Thesis, is “Saving Memories: Canadian Veterans of the Spanish Civil War and their Pursuit of Government Recognition” (abstract; full essay).  The jury also conferred two honorable mentions. At the graduate level, Francisco Leira Castiñeira, from Galicia, Spain who wrote about how the Franco regime monitored soldiers suspected of disaffection with the war (read an abstract here). Among undergraduates was Minda Jerde of Pacific Lutheran University who wrote on the role of Moroccan troops in the Civil War (read an abstract here).

Gina Herrmann is an associate professor of Spanish at the University of Oregon and chairs ALBA’s Watt Prize Committee.