Prólogo Autores
Historizar el pasado vivo en América latina, initially launched in 2007, is again accessible as part of the Centro de Derechos Humanos, Universidad Alberto Hurtado.

This e-publication originated in 2003 at ILAS-Institute of Latin American Studies (today CLACS-Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies), University of London. A workshop brought together scholars who were beginning to write a new kind of contemporary history in Latin American countries that returned to democratic rule after living under dictatorships or through sustained internal armed conflict. They discussed the distinctive challenges of addressing recent events that remained in the memories of many, by historians that lived through them, in a context in which their dramatic character made them an enduring moral problem for the national conscience. Argentina, Chile and Peru were examined in depth by multiple authors. More broadly, Historizar el pasado vivo aimed to draw the attention of the historical profession and the international community of Latin Americanists to an exciting intellectual development taking place in the region.

Coup in Chile 1973. Bombing of La Moneda.Today la historia reciente is a dynamic field throughout the region. Fifty years after the coup that established a long military dictatorship in Chile, 40 years since the end of the harsh military rule of the Proceso from 1976 to 1983 in Argentina, and 20 years after the Peruvian Truth commission’s report on the internal armed conflict (1980-2000) which produced 70 000 deaths — Historizar el pasado vivo is a testimony to the creative, pioneering beginnings of the field. It offers a rich source of perspectives on the conceptual categories of memory and truth and it presents the historiographical debates in other countries facing their own recent pasts.
Truth and Memory: Writing the History of our Own Times Anne Pérotin-Dumon   
On the 11th of September 2003, the President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, would reopen the Morandé Door of the presidential palace, La Moneda. It was through this door on the day of the military coup in 1973, the palace in flames, that Salvador Allende’s dead body was carried. For 30 years the door, plastered over and painted, was invisible in the palace wall bordering Morandé Street on the east side of the palace — literally disappeared. The reopening in 2003 was an emblematic moment in Chile’s public, official re-encounter with its living past.

In this opening chapter, “Verdad y memoria: escribir la historia de nuestro tiempo”, Anne Pérotin-Dumon presents a variety of perspectives on the challenge of “historicizing” dramatic events that weigh on the national conscience by a first generation of historians that have lived through and occasionally been actors in them.
It begins considering the concepts “truth” and “memory” that are part of the foundation of the discipline of History — and were also, significantly, integral to the human rights movements in Latin America. It goes on to discuss 19th-century national histories in the Americas and Europe, noting precedents for “recent history” before it was decided late in the century that impartiality — the goal of historical method — was impossible when analyzing recent events. It concludes by examining countries that experienced the Second World War or national fascist regimes, in which the demand for “memory” in the 1960s led to a new kind of history — German Zeitgeschichte, French histoire du temps présent, and Spanish historia reciente..
Argentina: The Last Cycle of Political Violence
In his thorough analytical overview of the available literature, “Political Violence in Twentieth Century Argentina: a Critical Review of the Literature” (Spanish version), Luis Alberto Romero situates the brutality of the Process within the longer trajectory of political violence in Argentina during the second half of the 20th century. “Usually,” he writes, “the illegal and clandestine repression carried out by the State between 1976 and 1983 during the recent military dictatorship, the self-proclaimed Process of National Reorganization […] (“the Process”), is the central event in Argentina’s political violence in the 20th century. In my view, this episode is inseparable from the immediately prior period between 1969 and 1976, in which the use of political violence became normal and, in a certain way, accepted by much of society. […] One must examine the processes […] through which this violent normality was constituted, particularly what occurred at the end of the Peronist government in 1955…” Mobilization and Politicization: Lawyers in Buenos Aires between 1968 and 1973” (Spanish version) by Mauricio Chama, demonstrates how a generally conservative profession took part in the cultural modernization and political radicalization that swept Argentine society in the 1960s. A whole generation within the urban middle classes saw their professions less as affirmations of their social status and more as the means to change society. The author reconstructs the path traveled by young lawyers of the Argentine capital in the years prior to the Proceso which led them to conceive their vocation as a revolutionary commitment. ►►►
Chile: The Roads of History and Memory
September 11, 1973 in La Legua Shantytown of Santiago, Chile” (Spanish version) is the first in situ reconstruction of a dramatic day in this “popular” (low-income) neighborhood of Santiago. Historian Mario Garcés transports us far from the iconic theater of the military coup — the presidential palace of La Moneda — to the periphery of the city and one of working class barrios that grew up between 1930 – 1970 near the industrial plants. The squatters and workers of La Legua remind us of all the protagonists of the change that took form in Chile throughout the decades of the sixties and seventies — and suffered most from repression during the dictatorship. This sector has largely been absent from accounts of the recent past; Garcés makes them part of our historical knowledge. La Legua is not, however, a neighborhood just like all others. People who remember tell us that something happened there that fateful day. In Chile the victims of the dictatorship and their families found assistance from organizations created by the churches. Elizabeth Lira’s “Testimony of Traumatic Political Experiences: Therapy and Denuncia (1973-1980)” (Spanish version) describes the work of the Fundación de Ayuda Social de las Iglesias Cristianas (FASIC, in its Spanish acronym), created by Chile’s Protestant churches. This humanitarian response in perilous conditions exposes the brutalities inflicted by the regime and their enduring psychological wounds — but at the same time constitutes a demonstration of human courage, resilience and hope. Her account also contributes to 20th century Chilean medical history in showing how clinical practices developed during the dictatorship led to new knowledge about trauma, particularly its effect on memory. (It is worth noting that for many years Chileans, like their Argentine colleagues, have shared their experience and knowledge with colleagues in repressive regimes elsewhere in the world where they were (unhappily!) useful for victims there). ►►►
Perú: investigar veinte años de violencia reciente
The cataclysm suffered by Peru between 1980 and 2000, more than a decade of violence perpetrated by brutal terrorist movements and the military, principally in rural Quechua-speaking areas of the high Andes, resulted in large devastating migrations and some 70,000 dead and missing, and the disintegration of a fragile, often repressive democracy that ended in eight years of arbitrary and autocratic rule. These twenty years revived the question that has troubled Peru’s historical consciousness since the beginnings of the 20th century – are we a nation? ►►► Carlos Iván Degregori has produced a distinguished corpus of research on how Andean societies reacted to change – demanding explanations from the State, organizing to access its benefits, denouncing its indifference. All these themes appear in his study of a dramatic episode, “Why Did Shining Path Appear in Ayacucho? The Development of Education and the Generation of ’69 in Ayacucho and Huanta” (Spanish version), which focuses on a four-month strike in 1969 by students, parents, and teachers in the two main cities of this Andean department and their surrounding in opposition to Lima’s plan to eliminate free education. This “Andean May” of June 1969 had intriguing aspects, among them, the political effectiveness of the Maoists at San Cristóbal de Huamanga National University (UNSCH) and the appearance, among others, of professor Abimael Guzmán, who had taught there since 1964. In “Thought, Praxis, and Political Foundations of the Sendero Luminoso Movement, (1964-1983)” (Spanish version), Nelson Manrique attempts to explain the political formation that the Shining path aimed to impart by examining its political thought, actions, and adherents. His study encompasses its first 20 years, from the rise of its Maoist nucleus and leader in Ayacucho in 1964 to the moment that, with the army’s arrival in the Andean region, it turned its violence against the peasant communities of its “guerrilla zones”.
Truth, Justice and Memory
“Truth, justice and memory”: these were the watchwords of the historical movements of human rights and family organizations of the victims in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and other Latin American countries. With them they sought, as Juan Méndez puts it, “the elucidation of events that have been deliberately kept in the dark, the valorization of truth over lies, and the recognition that the victims of the abuse of power deserve that their suffering to be remembered.” Truth, justice and memory also refer, in different ways, to moral principles, public institutions and concepts in the social sciences and historical research. We have asked specialists in three disciplines that relate to the study of recent history to situate the importance and significance of these terms in their fields of expertise. ►►► In “History and Memory: The Writing of History and the Representation of the Past” (Spanish version), Paul Ricoeur takes up history and memory as two ways of representing the past – one through scholarly reconstitution and the other through remembrance. How can one be sure that history has been true to what happened? The historian, to be sure, promises the reader a true account. But how can he or she keep the promise? What in fact makes his or her story different from fiction? The historian, Ricœur argues, inherits this problem from memory: “if the remembrance is an image, how is it not confused with fantasy, fiction or hallucination?” Ricœur addresses the dilemma by turning to the Western philosophical tradition on memory. During the 1970s and 1980s in Western societies, the word “memory” took on a new meaning, beyond mental function and remembrance. In “Maurice Halbwachs and the Sociology of Memory” (Spanish version), Marie-Claire Lavabre begins her analysis by asking why this new notion of memory emerged. Though vague, she argues, memory captures the parts of the past that people find meaningful today but which historical knowledge does not account for. She then considers a consequence of this recent vogue for memory: the rediscovery of the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs and his notion of collective memory, developed in the 1920s and following decades. But Halbwachs’ very popularity led to distortions of his incomplete but quite original ideas.
The Living Past: Parallel Cases and Precedents
“There weren’t many of us working on Vichy France and World War II, and that made us feel like we were embarking on an adventure and a mission,” recalls Henry Rousso at the beginning of “The Trajectory of a Historian of the Present, 1975-2000” (Spanish version). But in the 1970s, “Vichy” would reappear on the front pages in the media and shake public opinion. “I tried […] to understand what that presence meant and to place myself as a historian and a citizen facing these permanent reappearances of the past. What had been a digression became the central question: the survival of Vichy in French consciousness.”

The political and economic history of the Vichy regime was the author’s initial terrain. Intrigued by how the past of Vichy became present after 40 years, Rousso then redirected his research toward collective memory of the era. “Vichy” came to include the period of World War II but also its subsequent traces in French consciousness or, as Rousso put it, “Vichy after Vichy”; that is, the evolution of recollections and representations of Vichy throughout several decades .
The atomic bomb the American pilots of the Enola Gay dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, with another dropped on Nagasaki on the 9th, led to the Japan’s unconditional surrender and with this, the end of World War II. The different ways this violent, decisive event has been recounted and how these conflict with historical knowledge is the topic of “Three Narratives of our Humanity: the Atomic Bomb in US-Japanese Memory” (Spanish version) by John Dower.

The Enola Gay reappeared and freshly restored, in 1995 at the Air and Space Museum, was meant to be the centerpiece of an exhibit that would allow the public to consider the significance of the end of the war in the Pacific in light of current historical scholarship and the diverse opinions expressed over the previous half century. In the process of preparing the exhibit, the Smithsonian was subjected to a withering fire of criticism from veterans’ associations and conservative members of Congres. ►►►
Recent History and Social Responsibility
Beyond teaching and research, some historians and other specialists of the recent past took on new responsibilities beyond academia, from participating in truth commissions and testifying in judicial processes to taking part in post-conflict community projects addressing the needs of victims to helping construct institutions of historical memory. Closer to historians’ classic concerns, they helped rewrite new teaching manuals, produce other pedagogical materials and led training workshops for history teachers…

The political circumstances that affected the work of our four authors in this section – in Guatemala, Chile, Northern Ireland, and Peru – were different but their articles also reflect broader currents developed in Europe and the Americas about the public uses of historical knowledge and the social responsibility of historians. ►►►
In “The Experience of a Historian on the Guatemalan Commission of Historical Clarification” (Spanish version), Arturo Taracena Arriola describes his research assisted by a team of social scientists and field-researchers that were part of Guatemala’s effort to establish a bedrock of historical truth about more than three decades of political violence – a huge undertaking by the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH, the Spanish acronym) over nearly three years between 1997 and 1999. The report of Taracena’s team, “Causes and Origins of Internal Armed Confrontation,” was published in the first volume of Guatemala: memoria del silencio (Guatemala: Memory of Silence, 1999). “It seemed to me that in that context I could and should accept the challenge of participating as both a professional and as a citizen. I [don’t] want to hide the difficulties of carrying out this work [as a professional] given my own past as an activist which conditioned and [still] conditions my interpretation of the events,” writes Taracena. A gender perspective was not included in the initial mandate for the investigations of the Peruvian truth commission (Spanish acronym CVR), 2001–2003, but half-way into the project, its members decided to incorporate it. A member of the judicial team, Julissa Mantilla was in charge of the new policy area. Her article, “Without Women’s Truth, History will be Incomplete” (Spanish version), describes the objectives of including a gender dimension and how it affected commission findings. One of the tools she produced was a new guide to train the teams working in the field. She also made sure that all information for the public would be available to the Quechua–speaking (and often illiterate) victims. “It was necessary to demonstrate that a gender focus would make it possible to obtain a greater wealth of information in our research, that it is a working analytical tool, not just a burden or imposition,” Mantilla indicates.
Archives for a Recent and Violent Past: Argentina, Chile, Peru
It is often believed that historians of the recent past are forced to rely heavily on the a posteriori testimonies of actors, rather than on documentary evidence produced at the time. This common assumption is belied by the articles by Federico Guillermo Lorenz, “Archives on Repression and Memory in Argentina” (Spanish version); Jennifer Herbst with Patricia Huenuqueo, “Archives to Study the Recent Past in Chile” (Spanish version); and Ruth Elena Borja Santa Cruz, “Archives on Human Rights in Peru” (Spanish version). In the three countries dynamic movements for recent archives produced visible results. They stemmed from the recognition that such archives contain memories and proof of what happened in countries that suffered political violence. Special efforts were made to protect and classify what came to be called “human rights archives” — carried out by organizations of victims and their families and by national and international human rights organizations. Finally, this period witnessed the creation of what might be called “memory and archive centers” to gather and protect archives and carry out public education about the recent past. ►►►
Site map in a table
Tabla contenido The contents page presents the site’s organization and provides an overview for each section.

To access all Spanish texts, go to the Spanish contents page.
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