On March 24, 1976, a military junta seized control of Argentina and over the next seven years sanctioned the kidnapping and torture of thousands of Argentine citizens, with estimates ranging from 9,000 to over 30,000 individuals (Bouvard 31, Sabato 5). The question of how to tell their story continues to be the subject of public debate. This photo was taken at a march on the 28th anniversary of the military coup. The banners have pictures of some of the disappeared or Los Desaparecidos. This photo appears courtesy of Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo.
History is not a single, linear truth, but rather a collage of memories, experiences and interpretations. It is the job of the historian to explore the past from many perspectives and to consider the complexities that have not only triggered an historical episode but have also shaped its memory.
In Latin American studies one of the ways that the need for multiplicity of perspectives has manifested itself is Subaltern Studies. Subalterns are groups of people who exist outside of a society’s hegemonic system, often because of poverty or ethnic discrimination (Rodriguez, "From Representation to Recognition" The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader, 5 ). Traditionally, they have been misrepresented, if not excluded altogether from academic research and study, which is conducted by intellectuals who themselves are generally a part of the dominant hegemonic system (Latin American Subaltern Studies Group 119).
Subaltern Studies seeks to engage the subaltern as an ally and participant in the academic process through modified research methodologies that describe the subject on its own terms, instead of recasting it as the “other” of the dominant culture. This means that academics must both modify their own methodologies and perspective to allow for the differences between their hegemonically centered view and that of their subjects and seek to establish new relationships between themselves and the subaltern populations that they are studying (Latin American Subaltern Studies Group 121).
This project was inspired in part by the ideas behind Subaltern Studies. While the population discussed on this site, Los Desaparecidos of Argentina, has not been traditionally associated with the word subaltern, it is a group that was politically and socially excluded by a hegemonic system when a military dictatorship controlled Argentina from 1976-1983. When the junta fell, the question of how to unearth and understand their story arose. Much of their story was purposefully not documented by the government and the events that they experienced, namely, extreme physical and psychological torture, lie far outside of the normal human frame of reference.
One strategy to improve our understanding of this period is through the use of testimonio. Testimonio is a genre of literature that retells historical events using literary elements such as dialogue, poetry and metaphors from an eyewitness perspective. Many of Los Desaparecidos recorded their experiences in testimonio form after the fall of the junta.
Testimonio blends two traditionally distinct academic disciplines, history and literature, to help relay historical experiences. This site asks how historians might engage the literary-based format of testimonio to help illuminate this period of history and better understand what Los Desaparecidos experienced. As with subaltern studies, the use of testimonio requires historians to shift their own methodologies outside of traditional disciplinary boundaries (that dividing history and literature) in order to understand the subject at hand, Los Desaparaecidos, on their own terms.