Being able to criss-cross the globe on the strength of the Internet has made it possible to engage with creative ideas, conversations, and experiences which otherwise would be beyond our reach—and at times, even beyond our imagination. On The Same Page will bring to the reader of Torchlight, a combination of textual-audio-visual curated content, about and around libraries and bookish love.
Las Misiones Pedagógicas
Imagine borrowing a book from a library and finding card in it, which reads:
When you finish your work wash your hands and take the book you have requested. Find a quiet spot and read. You’ll always remember these moments with pleasure. Then put the book away carefully until you can continue reading. Make sure that you when you return the book after reading it, it is as clean as when it was given to you. People will think well of a village where books are read a lot and kept clean and in good condition.
Such was the genteelness with which books were introduced in Spain’s villages as part of Las Misiones Pedagógicas or the Educational Missions between 1931-36. Armed with books, radios, gramophones, projectors, and paintings, as many as 700 intellectuals, artists, writers, university students and primary school teachers set out on a lofty mission. Under the leadership of an aging university professor, Manuel Bartolome Cossío, they were determined to share the cultural bounty that had been the privilege solely of city-dwellers; it was time to take it to their rural brethren who had been unjustly deprived and isolated from such riches and progress for over a century because of a conservative aristocracy.
The ‘missionaries’ organised music and theatre performances, movie screenings, art exhibitions—and set up libraries. The library service was the most important activity of the Educational Missions, on which about 60% of the budget was spent. Books were bought and loaded onto lorries and for villages that could not be reached by car, they were even transported on horses. “The missionaries organised public lectures of ballads and poems during their visits and left in every village school a collection of about 100 books, which should satisfy the interests of adults and children who nearly did not read any books before” (Roith, p.106).
Perhaps libraries have never been so symbolic of a nation’s cultural revival as those set up by the Educational Missions of the Second Spanish Republic (1931-36). In 1937, when the Educational Missions was dissolved due to the war, 5522 libraries had been set up with a stock totaling around six million books. Although held up as an instrument of social transformation, the library service was also seen as one of the most controversial activities of the Educational Missions. In the Asturias region, where most libraries had been set up, a revolution broke out in 1934, justifying the fears of the conservatives. Soon after the civil war broke out, the military junta called upon all authorities to “re-collect and destroy all books with a socialist or communist character which could be found in school libraries.”
Interviews of those who experienced the educational missions firsthand, interspersed with captivating footage of rural Spain in this English subtitled documentary directed by Gonzalio Tapia, draw us effortlessly into one of the culturally momentous periods of the country.