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The Politics of Memory

International Studies Conference on the Politics of Memory Program

March 12-13, 2015

University of Kentucky


March 12

5:30-7:30 pm


Presentation of the documentary “The Word in the Woods” by Jeffrey Gould (Indiana University), followed by a discussion.

During the early 1970s, hundreds of peasants in a remote, backward region of El Salvador, decided to emulate the early Christian communities. Inspired by Liberation Theology, they worked the land together, studied the Bible, and strove to improve their impoverished communities. Their numbers grew into the thousands. By 1980, the National Guard staged scorched earth operations to rid the area of those same people. La Palabra en el Bosque (the Word in the Woods) narrates these events through its surviving witnesses. 

Jeffrey L. Gould is the James H. Rudy Professor of History at Indiana University. From 1995-2008, he was Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. His most recent book is To Rise in Darkness: Revolution, Repression, and Memory in El Salvador, 1920-32 (co authored with Aldo Lauria), Duke University Press, 2008.  Previously he published To Lead as Equals: Rural Protest and Political Consciousness in Chinandega, Nicaragua, 1912-1979 UNC Press, 1990; El Mito de Nicaragua Mestiza y la Resistencia Indígena Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica, 1997; and To Die in This Way: Nicaraguan Indian Communities and the Myth of Mestizaje, 1880-1965  Duke University Press, 1998. He is co-author of The Twentieth Century: A Retrospective (Westview 2002) He is also co editor of Memorias de Mestizaje: la política cultural en América Central desde 1900. The latter book derived from an NEH collaborative project that he co directed with Charles Hale and Darío Euraque. Gould co-directed and co-produced "Scars of Memory: El Salvador, 1932." (Icarus, 2003), a documentary film (Award of Merit, LASA). He has completed another documentary film, titled, La Palabra en el Bosque (2012) that deals with Christian Base Communities in Morazán, El Salvador during the 1970s (also with Carlos Henríquez Consalvi). In 2002, he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship. He was a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton for 2012-2013.


March 13

9:00-11:00 am

Panel on the Spanish Civil War

Chair Ana Rueda

Discussant Susan Larsons


Pedro Piedras Monroy, Valladolid University, “Francoist Repression, Memory and its Writing in Nowadays Spain.”

Since the 1990s, there has been a huge change in the perspectives on Francoist repression in the Civil War and the postwar years, undoubtedly connected with the irruption of memory in the arena of the study of the past. Several factors explain the emergence of that silenced trauma, suddenly put at the core of the political debate, at least up to 2007. Nowadays and probably in connection with the global economic crisis the analyses of that issue have come to a kind of standby condition. The process of reinterpreting this part of the Spanish past seems in any case to ask for a redefinition and a re-adaptation of the textual frames in which this terrible past is going to be told. It seems to ask for something like a new textual memory.

Sharing the double condition of observer of the past and member of a repressed family, I will talk about the misconceptions in the use of memory and the deficits of the historical narratives on repression in the last 20 years, and I will try to offer some reference points to address the difficult task of writing efficiently about Spanish wounded memories.

Pedro Piedras Monroy (1968) is Ph. D. in Geography and History at Santiago de Compostela University (Spain). He has developed research in philosophy and theory of history. He has worked as professor for Contemporary History of India and Pedagogy of History at Valladolid University (Spain). The last fifteen years he has been involved in studies of memory of the repression during the Civil War and Francoism. His most recent books are Genealogía de la Historia (Genealogy of History, with JC Bermejo Barrera, Madrid, 1999), Max Weber y la Crisis de las Ciencias Sociales, (Max Weber and the Crisis of Social Sciences, Madrid, 2004), Max Weber y la India (Max Weber and India, Valladolid, 2005), La arrative de la estética (The Resistance of Aesthetics, with Manuel Sierra, León, 2011) and La arra del olvido. Memoria y presencia de la arrative (Harvest of Oblivion. Memory and Presence of Repression, Madrid, 2012). Nowadays he also works as a translator and is preparing another book about politics of memory. 

Elena Cueto Asín, Bowdoin College

 “Guernica/Guernica or the Journey into Consciousness of War and National Heritage”

This presentation looks at the ways in which Guernica becomes a theme in literature and film for representing and recalling the memory of the Spanish Civil War. It explores how the topic develops as a symbol of the horrors of war outside of Spain, and then becomes assimilated there as landmark event, only after the country transitions to democracy and the Picasso painting that bears the name of the bombed town is installed in Madrid. It then analyses the symbiotic relation that binds the historical episode and the famous work of art in the collective consciousness and constitutes an artifact that is instrumental to come to terms with a violent past while retaining value as cultural asset.

Elena Cueto Asín is Associate Professor of Spanish at Bowdoin College. She has published articles on modern Spanish literature, film and television, and the books Autos para siluetas de Valle-Inclán (Mirabel 2005) y Reconciliaciones en escena. El teatro de la Guerra Civil (Orto 2008). She is also co-editor of Historias de la pequeña pantalla. Representaciones históricas en la arrative de la España democrática (Iberoamericana 2009).  She is currently working on a book that looks at representations of the Spanish Civil War in literature and film through the theme of Guernica.   

Carmen Moreno-Nuño, University of Kentucky, “Traces of the Spanish Civil War: The Spectacle of García Lorca’s Missing Corpse”

My talk focuses on the memory of the Spanish Civil War, which has become a central topic in Spain in twenty-first century, generating a very heated public debate. Taking as a point of departure a concept of memory that conceives of it as a contested site, I develop an analysis of the press (440 articles) released around the failed opening of poet Federico García Lorca’s grave in 2009-10. García Lorca’s death, with epitomizes the horror of Fascism, is one of the most intriguing mysteries of 20th and 21st century Spain. The failed opening of his alleged grave illustrates how memory has become a site of contestation, as the meaning of the missing corpse is displaced by a new discourse that turns the opening of the grave into a spectacle, constraining and encapsulating the elusive myriad of meanings that surround Lorca’s dead body into a simplified, and politically non-threatening, discursive construction.

Carmen Moreno-Nuño (PhD, University of Minnesota, 2000; MA, University of Minnesota, 1995; BA, Universidad de Granada, 1992) is author of Las huellas de la Guerra Civil: Mito y trauma en la arrative de la España democrática (Libertarias Universidad, 2006), and co-editor of the volume Armed Resistance: Cultural Representations of the Anti-Francoist Guerrilla (HIOL, Minnesota UP, 2012). She is currently writing a manuscript that historicizes memory in Spain. She has published articles on immigration, postmodernity, feminist writing, cinema, painting, television, comic-strips, and the Spanish Civil War. She teaches Spanish literature and cultural studies at the Hispanic Studies Department at the University of Kentucky.


Panel on the Gulag


Chair Cynthia Ruder

Commentator Karen Petrone


Deborah Kaple, Princeton University, “Some Thoughts on Memoir and Historical Memory of Stalin’s Gulag”

Memoirs and diaries are invaluable tools for understanding a historical period. The problem is how to assess these memories, personal reconstructions of past events, and in the case of the Soviet Gulag, the recall of deeds that have come to be judged as evil. Can the voice of persons involved in crimes help us to understand the nature of that crime? As the translator of Fyodor Mochulsky’s memoir (published as the book Gulag Boss) I have had to grapple with these questions, and more. Did he remember things correctly, is he telling the truth and could he be, even unconsciously, telling a different story? Mochulsky’s document, of course, is not a straightforward historical narrative of what actually happened at his Gulag camp. It is difficult to assess him, for he is neither a denier nor a contrite memoirist. However, in his very telling of these years in the camp as a boss, he provides a valuable look at the very context that normalized criminal behavior, while painting himself in a good light. The color of the light he chooses, what he chooses to emphasize and how he tells his story is illuminating. These conscious or unconscious mistruths tell us, perhaps, more than he intended about his role personally, the workings of the Gulag administration and the real meaning of the pervasive Soviet mentality in the Stalin years.

Deborah Kaple teaches in the Sociology Department at Princeton University. She is the author of Dream of a Red Factory: High Stalinism in China (OUP), and Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir (OUP). Her most recent work is as Guest Editor of a special issue on China and the USSR for the journal Modern China Studies, “The Forgotten Decade: A Retrospective Look at the 1950s.”

Kathleen E. Smith, Georgetown University, ““Commemorating Stalin’s Victims in Putin’s Russia”

Gorbachev’s glasnost unleashed a flood of popular efforts to uncover the history of repression in the USSR.  In the late 1980s, interest in Stalin’s purges sparked a nationwide movement to reclaim the stories of victims of the purges and to proclaim their innocence.   In October 1991 as communist rule unraveled the Russian legislature created a new holiday—the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression.  Two decades later an increasingly authoritarian and aggressively patriotic Russian state continues to include this holiday in its commemorative calendar, but celebrations have varied with time and across the region.  My paper will look at how the Day of Remembrance has been marked over the last decade with special attention to civic vs. official roles in shaping public commemorations.

Kathleen (Kelly) E. Smith is Visiting Professor of Post-Communist Studies in the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. A specialist in Russia and Eastern Europe, she received her PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley.  She has published two books on the intersection of politics and history—Remembering Stalin’s Victims: Popular Memory and the End of the USSR and Mythmaking in the New Russia: Politics and Memory in the Yeltsin Era.  Dr. Smith is currently writing a social, political and cultural history of the year 1956 in Russia.

Jehanne M. Gheith, Duke University, Memory, “Trauma, and Bereavement in Gulag Survivors”

This paper will explore the intersection of memory, trauma and bereavement in the personal narratives of Gulag survivors.  I will discuss how survivors grapple with and process their memories as a reflection of their own experiences and vis-à-vis the political context in which their incarceration occurred.  The “voice” of the survivor often reveals not only elements of personal experience, but his or her relationship to the power structure that imprisoned them.

Jehanne Gheith Associate Professor in the Slavic & Eurasian Studies Department at Duke University, where she is the director of International Comparative Studies.  Her current book-length project, “A Dog Named Stalin:  Memory, Trauma, and the Gulag,” is based on her interviews with Gulag survivors.  Her critically-acclaimed book Gulag Voices:  Oral Histories of Soviet Incarceration and Exile, co-authored with Katherine R. Jolluck, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2011.  She co-facilitates bereavement groups and has a Masters of Social Work with a focus on bereavement as a way to further explore connections between bereavement and narration.

Panel On Latin America

3:00-5:00 pm

Chair Carlos De La Torre


Luis Roniger, Wake Forest University, “Confronting the Authoritarian Past:

Brazil in a Southern Cone Comparative Perspective”

Luis Roniger is Reynolds Professor of Latin American Studies & of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University; and a professor emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A comparative political sociologist, his work focuses on the interface between politics, society and public culture. He has published over 160 academic articles and 19 books. Among his books are Patrons, Clients and Friends (Cambridge University Press, 1984, co-written with Shmuel N Eisenstadt); The Legacy of Human-Rights Violations in the Southern Cone (Oxford University Press, 1999, in Spanish and Portuguese 2004, 2005, with Mario Sznajder); The Politics of Exile in Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2009, with Sznajder); Transnational Politics in Central America (University Press of Florida, 2011); Exile and the Politics of Exclusion in the Americas (Sussex Academic Press, 2012, co-edited with James N Green and Pablo Yankelevich); La política del destierro y el exilio en América Latina (Fondo de Cultura Económica 2013, with Mario Sznajder); Shifting Frontiers of Citizenship: The Latin American Experience (Brill 2013, co-edited with Sznajder and Carlos Forment); Tres estudios sobre el exilio:  Condición humana, experiencia histórica y significación política (Universidad de Puebla y EDAF, 2014, with Arturo Aguirre and Antolín Sánchez Cuervo); and Destierro y exilio en América Latina: Nuevos estudios y aproximaciones teóricas (Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires - EUDEBA, also in 2014).

Abstract: This paper explores the path followed by Brazil in confronting its authoritarian past and the legacy of human rights violations of the military dictatorship, analyzing it within the comparative background of Southern Cone experiences. In this context, it suggests that the Brazilian path of transitional justice has differed from other cases, by being less intense than Argentina and by following a different sequence than Chile and other cases worldwide. The specific path of transitional justice followed has had important implications both for legal accountability and for the politics of memory and oblivion in Brazil. 

Lindsay DuBois, Dalhousie University, “What came before:  Memory, silence and Argentina in the 1970s”

Work on memory in Argentina tends to focus on the last dictatorship (1976-1982). Yet neither the Proceso, as it is often known, nor the memory of it, can be understood without attending to what came before.   I have been reminded of this truism time and again during field research in urban Argentina.  This paper considers the relation between memories of the dictatorship era and those of the almost revolutionary early 1970s.  It does so from three vantage points, the early 1990s, the early 2000s and the present moment.  I comment on the first two moments based on ethnographic research with working class Argentines.  Given the muting of the early 1970s in popular memory, the current moment is rather surprising.  I thus conclude by reflecting on this more recent turn of events.

Lindsay DuBois is Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.  She conducts ethnographic research on the relationship between culture, history and political economy in Argentina. This work includes The Politics of the Past in an Argentine Working Class Neighbourhood (University of Toronto Press 2005) about the lasting impact of repression and neoliberal restructuring on everyday life.  More recently she has worked on activist pensioners in Buenos Aires addressing issues of memory in “Memory and Narrative” in The Companion to Urban Anthropology (Wiley-Blackwell 2014) and “The Romance of reminiscence: Problems posed in life histories with activist pensioners in Argentina,” in Remembering Mass Violence (University of Toronto 2013).

Daniel James, Indiana University, “Requiem para un frigorifico”: Deindustrialization and the Politics of Memory in an Argentine Meatpacking Community.

This paper engages with the issues of deindustrialization and the production of local discourses of memory in the Argentine city of Berisso. It focuses on the production and showing of an audio-visual production called, “Requiem para un frigorifico”. Produced by a local poet and a local photographer the audio visual show marked a crucial benchmark through which the community would later negotiate issues of historical heritage, local memory work and a sense of its own history. Particular attention is paid to the themes of mourning, nostalgia and the role of the visual archive.

Daniel James is the Bernardo Mendel Professor of Latin American History, Indiana University. He was educated at Oxford University and the London School of Economics. He taught at Yale University and Duke University before moving to Indiana University in 1999. He is Co-Director of the Center for the Study of History and Memory at Indiana University. His research interests have focused on the cultural, social and labor history of the Southern Cone. He is currently working on a study of the meatpacking community of Berisso, Argentina with his Argentine colleague Mirta Zaida Lobato

Sebastián Carassai, Indiana University, The First Memory: Notes about Marshall Meyer’s Correspondence On the Argentina During the Post- Dictatorship.

The American Rabbi Marshall Meyer was a leading figure of Argentina’s Jewish community and a pioneer advocate of human rights during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983). He arrived in Argentina in 1959 and during the twenty-five years he spent in the country he founded the Bet El Community, the Majshavot magazine, the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary and the Higher Institute of Religious Studies. Unlike other Argentine Jewish associations, Bet El received complaints from relatives of disappeared people during the seventies. In the early 1980s, Meyer founded, with the journalist Herman Schiller, the Jewish Movement for Human Rights, and in 1983 he was the only foreigner invited by President Raúl Alfonsín to join the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP). Finally, in 1984, he left Argentina and, from the United States, he continued to correspond with several Argentine and foreign individuals.  In this paper, I analyze that correspondence in order to reconstruct the memories of the recent past that emerge from the letters as well as the assessments they contain of the contemporary political situation related to that past.

Sebastián Carassai is Research Associate at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a member of the Center of Intellectual History in the National University of Quilmes, teaches Political Theory in the Sociology Department of the University of Buenos Aires, and leads a collective research project about Civil Society and State in the Argentinean recent past supported by the Department of Science and Technic of the University of Buenos Aires. His recent work on political theory and Argentine cultural history has been published in the Journal of Latin American Studies, the Journal of Latin American Cultural StudiesThe Americas, the Journal for Cultural Research, Desarrollo Económico, and América Latina Hoy, among others. He has contributed chapters to several books published in Argentina and Chile. 




Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 5:30pm to 9:30pm
W.T. Young Library Auditorium


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