An Unfinished Struggle? The Guerrilla Legacy in the Cuban Revolution



Dr Anna Clayfield is Lecturer in Spanish and Hispano-American Studies in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Chester. A Faculty of Humanities Early Career Research Award enabled her to undertake field work in Cuba in March and April 2016. This research formed part of an on-going project which examines the ways in which the guerrilla insurrection of the 1950s has shaped the ideology of the Cuban Revolution since 1959.

From the moment the Cuban revolutionaries entered Havana in January 1959, the image of the guerrillero (guerrilla fighter) became instantly emblematic of the Cuban Revolution as a whole.  The leaders’ olive green uniforms were a very visible reminder of how the Revolution had been fought and won, while the somewhat unsystematic approach to building a revolutionary government pointed to a leadership that had little political experience beyond what it had learnt in the mountains.


Within a decade, however, the Revolution’s guerrilla roots had seemingly been forgotten, as it established closer ties with the Soviet Union and subsequently underwent a process of ‘institutionalisation’. Since then, many foreign observers have commented on the supposed ‘militarisation’ of the Cuban Revolution, citing as evidence the pervasive military presence on the island, particularly within the political leadership.  These observers argue that this ‘militarism’, and the increased level of authoritarianism that it implies, is key to understanding the longevity of the Cuban Revolution during the past six decades.


My current research, which has developed out of the doctoral project I completed at the University of Nottingham, challenges this notion of ‘militarisation’. While the prevalence of the Cuban military in Cuban politics and society is undeniable, I argue that the very term ‘militarism’ does not allow for a consideration of the guerrilla origins of the Cuban armed forces, nor the Revolution more broadly.  Moreover, it overlooks the signs and symbols that point to an on-going promotion of guerrilla struggle in revolutionary Cuba.


Drawing on extensive archival research in Cuba and the UK, I analyse the official discourse of the Revolution — as expressed in Cuban newspapers, magazines, speeches and history textbooks — at different stages in its trajectory to demonstrate that the idea and lived experience of guerrilla warfare has shaped the beliefs and values that have underpinned it since 1959. Together, these beliefs and values form part of a unique political culture in which the figure of the guerrillero is revered, and the guerrilla campaigns of the Cuban historical narrative are presented as unfinished struggles. It is the active cultivation of this political culture, I contend, rather than ‘militarisation’, which partly legitimises the long-standing presence of former guerrilleros in the revolutionary leadership, and has helped to garner the support of civilians for the revolutionary project.


My doctoral project focused largely on the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s in its analysis of the language of the Revolution; this focus revealed that the promotion of a guerrilla ethos is more pronounced when the Revolution experiences a process of consolidation and/or crisis. Currently, I am working to expand the scope of the study by examining official discourse since the year 2000, and particularly since Raúl Castro officially took power in 2008.  This new research aims to show that the legacy of the guerrilla insurrection of the 1950s is still readily discernible in the leadership’s rhetoric, despite the many economic and social changes that have occurred in recent years.

My recent trip to Cuba proved invaluable in sourcing material published since the year 2000, much of which was found at the National Library and the Institute of Literature and Linguistics in Havana, as well as in the capital’s plentiful bookshops. It also gave me the opportunity to document further the ubiquitous signs and symbols that evidence a continued veneration of the figure of the guerrillero in present-day Cuba.  The most famous example of such signs is the much-photographed silhouette of Cuba’s archetypal guerrilla, Che Guevara, in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, adjacent to which has been added more recently that of another famous guerrillero, Camilo Cienfuegos, seen below.

blog pic 1

Similar visual celebrations of Cuba’s guerrilla history permeate the island’s landscape, both urban and rural, in the form of billboards and statues, as well as slogans and images painted on walls in towns and cities.

The research discussed here has enabled me to gain a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of Cuban politics and society (moving beyond the often one-dimensional perspective offered in Western media), and, as such, has informed my teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. It has also been disseminated through a number of conference papers, and will be published in the form of a monograph by the University Press of Florida in 2017.

(Photographs courtesy of Ian Clayfield)


People and Objects in Late Medieval Dijon: Re-thinking the ‘Consumer Revolution’

Dr Katherine Wilson is Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Chester. Her research seeks to understand the relationship between social and cultural change, and shifting patterns in the use of material culture in the later Middle Ages. Here she writes about her current Faculty-funded research:

In July of 2016 I will be making a research trip to the city of Dijon, France funded by a faculty of arts early career award from the University of Chester. Today, Burgundy and Dijon are often cited for their fame regarding excellent wine and mustard. But in the later Middle Ages (c.1300-1500), Dijon was important as one of the administrative capitals of the dukes of Burgundy and their state, the Burgundian Netherlands. Created over the period 1384-1477, the Burgundian Netherlands became the most powerful state in Northern Europe, a political, economic and cultural leader that English and French rulers sought to emulate. A good career and living could be made out of working for the Burgundian administrative machine: perks included tax breaks, fiscal bonuses and gifts. Many individuals connected with the Burgundian household were based in Dijon during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is these people and their objects that my project will investigate.

The reason I wish to look at people and the objects they owned lies in that historians have identified and argued for a potential ‘consumer revolution’ in the Later Middle Ages. The period 1300-1500 was marked by spectacular growth in the manufacture and circulation of objects. Yet there are two problems still to be fully addressed by historians. The first, how far urban centers underpinned the drive for new objects, remains largely unexplored. The second problem lies in establishing exactly who purchased objects and why. Dijon provides a significant opportunity to re-evaluate the place of urban centres in the ‘consumer revolution’ as the town has unparalleled information on the biographies of medieval consumers and the urban residences where they performed and used their objects.

The archives of Dijon hold over 400 inventories for the period 1389-1550, documenting lists of objects and house layouts, several thousand notary documents relating to land, marriage and commercial transactions for 1310-1475 as well as tax records on households for 1409-1467. By beginning with the documents themselves, I will investigate the theatre for the use of object (urban residences and cityscape), actors and the historical circumstances within which they ‘consumed’ objects (individuals and their families) and urban elites who comprised the audiences for these objects (witnesses of inventories). I am interested in establishing whether the purchasing trends and patterns of the European ‘consumer revolution’ were driven by the desire of individuals to act and perform in urban theatres and by the uncertainties of their everyday lives and careers.

My interest in this area has developed from my doctoral and post-doctoral work undertaken at the Universities of Glasgow, Ghent, St Andrews and York, as well as at Chester. My doctoral work used household inventories and ducal accounts of expenditure to examine the manufacturing processes, manufacturers and uses of tapestry in the Burgundian dominions during the period 1300-1500. Much of my doctoral work took place in the archives of Dijon, which explains why I return again and again! This then led me to become interested in a wider range of material culture and the shifting patterns in its use across Europe. In particular, I enjoy building a picture of the biographies of individuals in this period and using this evidence to explain why people owned particular objects and to think about how their careers and backgrounds may have driven them to purchase and use objects in the way that they did. My work, and the sources I use form an important part of my teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The project has resulted in a number of publications and blogs, a selection of which you can find out more about here.

Books and Articles:

  1. A. Wilson and B. Lambert (eds.), Europe’s Rich Fabric. The Consumption, Commercialisation and Production of Luxury Textiles in Italy, the Low Countries and Neighbouring Territories (Fourteenth-Sixteenth Centuries) (Ashgate Early Modern Series, 2016).
  2. A. Wilson, ‘The household inventory as urban ‘theatre’ in late medieval Burgundy’, Social History 40: 3, August (2015), pp. 335-359. Open Access.


Social History, K. A. Wilson, ‘The household inventory as urban ‘theatre’ in late medieval Burgundy’



Sacred Landscapes? Aristocratic Estates & Spiritual Identities in Early Modern France

Dr Jennifer Hillman is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow 2013-17 and Lecturer in Early Modern History in the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Chester. In 2014-15, she was the recipient of a Faculty of Humanities Early Career Research Award which allowed her to carry out research on a case study related to, but distinct from, her postdoctoral project. This project was entitled

Sacred Landscapes? Aristocratic Estates & Spiritual Identities in Early Modern France


On 29 October 1656, the archbishop of Rouen carried out an episcopal visitation at the château de La Roche-Guyon. The purpose of his visitation was to verify the authenticity of the saintly relics preserved in a silver reliquary inside the chapel. Among the holy objects in the château was a relic recently translated from the nearby monastery of Saint-Nicaise at Meulan. The relic was a finger of the third-century noble virgin martyr Saint Pientia (or Pience). Pientia was converted to Christianity at La Roche-Guyon through the evangelizing of the missionary Saint Nicasius and his companions Scubiculus and Quirinus during their journeys along the Seine. During my doctoral research, I became interested in how and why this relic relocated to the chapel at the château during the mid-seventeenth century. In 2015, I devoted my Faculty Early Career Research Award to investigating the circumstances surrounding the relic translation.

In early modern France, the château de La Roche-Guyon (depicted above by Israël Silvestre) was situated on a commercial route between Paris and Rouen. In fact, the château still survives today and is open to visitors: The seventeenth-century proprietors of the château were Roger du Plessis and Jeanne de Schomberg – duke and duchess of Liancourt, and distinguished patrons of the Cistercian convent of Port-Royal. They were also practitioners of the severe, penitential strand of post-Tridentine Catholicism associated with Port-Royal and the ‘Jansenists.’


The duke and duchess procured the finger of Saint Pientia from a larger collection of relics at the Benedictine monastery of Saint Nicaise in Meulan, around 30 kilometres from the château. The other agent in the translation of the relic was Nicolas Davanne (d. 11 June 1660), superior of the monastery. Some twenty-six years prior to the translation of Pientia’s finger, he had published the first edition of his ‘Life’ of Nicasius and his companions, with a second edition appearing in 1643. Archival documents tell us that during the translation of Pientia’s finger bone to the château in 1656, Davanne’s histories were regarded as proof that Pientia was ‘former lady of La Roche-Guyon’ and companion of Nicasius ‘the first bishop of Rouen.’ The relic translation was thus about celebrating the local spiritual heritage of the château.


By researching the connections between the procuring of the relic of Saint Pientia for the chapel at the château and the writing of a local, sacred history, I was able to show that Davanne was working to raise the profile of the regional cults of saints like Pientia, which culminated in the placing of her relics in the chapel of the local seigneurs at La Roche-Guyon.

This research has allowed me to engage with a burgeoning historiography on saints, relics, sacred history and the sacralisation of the landscape in Counter-Reformation Europe. I presented my initial research questions at a workshop at the Victoria and Albert Museum in May 2015 and a more detailed discussion at the Ecclesiastical History Society conference in York, in July 2015. A paper on this research is forthcoming in the next issue of Studies in Church History, as “The Martyr in the Chapel: Relic Translation and Sacred History in the French Vexin.”








Welcome to the ECR Network Blog!

The ECR Network blog has been established to share some of the current research projects among ECRs in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Chester. ECRs in the Faculty come from the Departments of English, History & Archaeology, Modern Languages and Theology & Religious Studies.

Binks-Building[1] (Binks Building)

English Dept in snow[1] (Department of English)

The ECR Network was established in the Faculty to provide support for ECRs in their research and career development. Some ECR projects are also funded by annual Faculty of Humanities Early Career Awards.

Shortly, we will be posting research blogs, as well as reporting on ECR events hosted within the Faculty of Humanities.

We hope this will provide an interesting, interdisciplinary forum for sharing current research and ideas, as well as providing useful information on topics such as grant writing, research dissemination and publishing.