Michel Rolph Trouillot (1949 2012) Haitian academic and Anthropologist, PhD John Hopkins (1985 ); taught Anthropology at the University of Chicago until his death in 2012. He published 5 monographs.
AIMS OF THE BOOK: HISTORY AND POWER ways in which the production of the historical narratives involves the uneven contribution of competing groups and individuals who have unequal access to the means of such historical narratives is as powerful as guns etc. xix (Consider, for example, the recent discussion about the Martin Luther King Memorial) prisoners of our pasts and the pernicious suggestion that
BEYOND DICHOTOMIES HUMAN BEINGS PARTICIPATE IN HISTORY BOTH AS ACTORS AND AS NARRATORS HISTORY A FUNDAMENTAL AMBIGUITY: THE FACT OF THE MATTER WHAT HAPPENED socio historical process & THE NARRATION OF FACTS story about that process Distinction between what happened and what is said to have happened not usually clear Importance of Context DICHOTOMY and we will keep returning to this point
TWO TYPES OF HISTORY or, at least, approximate truth. Within that viewpoint, power is (5). Beyond the dichtomony
BETWEEN TRUTH AND FICTION Rules: govern historical truth claims (6) certain events and narratives because it matters to them whether these events are true or false, whether these stories are Scholarship and political responsibility (12) to establish moral authority (Hayden White) 13
BOUNDARIES THAT MATTER pastness the past to be retrieved? How do we decide and how does the collectivity decide the events they claim to remember. Rather, their constitution as subjects goes
HISTORY IS NOT FIXED the past and the present are not separable and the problem with positivism is that it suggests that history is a fixed set of things that occurred in the past that we can get at through some transparent form of memory or language. (p. 15, also part of History is not fixed. Historical facts are not sitting and waiting to be found. History (what happened) exists only in relation to the present because we can only know and understand the past from the position in we currently are. Individual and collective memory are shaped by the politics and power relations of the present and the meaning of the past influenced by them.
THE TROUBLING QUESTION If slavery was more sadistic in the Brazil and the Caribbean, why does slavery matter more both symbolically and analytically in the US? (18) 1 how it ended: Civil War 2 History is produced in overlapping sites by a variety of narrators: Debates about weighted historical events : the Alamo, the Holocaust, US slavery involve ethnic and religious leaders, political appointees, journalists, and various civil society organizations as much as professional historians (19) History produced outside of Universities: The Panama Canal Museum will be an example of that. What we collect in dLoc is also another example of producing archiving that produce histories
PRESENT Trouillot part of a debate about history and we can see the contours of the debate by looking at 2 reviews in particular: Anthropologists appear more likely find work solid and useful Trouillot was an anthropologist anthropologist critique: that he should pay more attention to oral accounts/histories (Traditional) Historians are more likely to find his work inadequately based in evidence, lacking a strong argumentative structure, and creating silences of its own. Thus, Prominent historians of the Caribbean such as Franklin Knight and David Nicholls have been very critical Knight criticizes Trouillot for not being more of a traditional historian, ( for not considering in greater depth the history of history writing which goes back to Herodotus (and no doubt earlier), for disregarding prominent contemporary historians and historical organizations), and David Nicholls criticizes Trouillot for not identifying which positivist historians he is criticizing, for creating silences of his own by ignoring particular aspects of Haitian history, and for writing in a didactic fashion that shows a lack of respect for students/readers by talking down to them (p 724)
PRESENT CARIBBEANISTS By contrast, scholars in own field of anthropology have praised the book. Many Caribbean scholars (among them Verene Shepherd and Bridget Brereton whom we will read) have sought to provide a history for people whose stories have been excluded from the dominant version of history and who have not been able to leave their own accounts of the past in traditional archives. Winichakul argues that Trouillot furthers the debate of the role of historians ing
Sites of history learning and making Celebrations, site and museum visits, movies, national holidays, primary school books Academic history has weight (hegemony) but it is recent, fragile and limited (20) Again recall public debate and CHANGE around the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
THE PRODUCTION OF NARRATIVES Making the process of producing a narrative the object of study (22) Overlap between process and narrative (23) History as social process= peoples in 3 capacities 1 agents occupants of structural positions (class/status: workers, slaves, mothers) 2 actors in constant interface with context (time and space historical particulars) 3 subjects voices aware of their vocality to work and their objectives for not working ( i e striking (24)
HOW HISTORY WORKS: TRACKING POWER Power differentials that make some narratives possible and silences others 25 (26) Silences enter the process of historical production at 4 crucial moments: 1 Sources the moment of fact creation (making sources) 2 ARCHIVES the moment of fact assembly (making archives) 3 NARRATIVES the moment of fact retrieval (making narratives) 4 HISTORY the moment of retrospective significance (making history) Power is constitutive of the story not outside the story 28 9
INTERVENTION: BEYOND DICHOTOMY How does Trouillot go beyond the dichotomy between positivist and constructivist ideas of history? As William Roseberry explains, he does it by examining the historical process through which historical knowledge is produced : For Trouillot the really interesting problem is how histories as stories (that which is said to have happened) are constructed from or in relation to history as sociohistorical process (what happened). Power relations enter at each of the junctures[the making of sources, archives, narratives, and retrospective significance], rendering certain facts more real, recoverable, or memorable
ORAL HISTORIES AS KEY SOURCE Roseberry does offer 1 critique: Trouillot should pay more attention to oral history in the first two phases of making history the production of sources and archives. We should pay more attention to the lack of importance given oral accounts as opposed to written accounts: The relation between written and oral sources is, of course, a critical one in which power frequently comes into play as written sources are privileged erases most frequently occur, and it is also here that much creative and recuperative work is being done, gathering oral accounts and collecting Here we might consider Way of and its assertion of an vision and skepticism about official narratives
DISCIPLINARY DISAGREEMENTS ABOUT HISTORY Anthropologists such as William Roseberry and Thongchai Winichakul appear more likely find critique of historiography accurate and useful, while historians are more likely to find his work inadequately based in evidence, lacking a strong argumentative structure, and creating silences of its own. Trouillot's sources and his narrow dependence on narrative history to represent the varied fields Mention of such events might perhaps interfere with the legend which Trouillot manifestly wishes to perpetuate. produced book is excruciatingly patronising and self consciously didactic. It derives from his work as a university professor, but does he need to talk down to his students in
REACH THE LITERARY approach is consistent with much literary approach to history and this is indicated by the fact that the book, now nearly 20 years old, was just quoted by Edwidge Danticat as a must Edwidge Danticat replied: and on the past one also cannot fail with Michel Rolph Trouillot's "Silencing the Past" and Joan Dayan's magnificent "Haiti, History, and the Gods."
WORKS CITED Danticat Edwidge the Book: Edwidge Danticat International Herald Tribune (Aug. 10, 2013): News: Knight, Franklin. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. by Michel Rolph Trouillot Review The Hispanic American Historical Review Vol. 77, No. 3 (Aug., 1997), pp. 483 484 Nicholls,David Silencing the Past: Power and the Production ofHistory by Michel Rolph Trouillot;Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3, Brazil: History and Society (Oct., 1996), pp.721 724 Winichakul Thongchai Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel Rolph Trouillot Review The American Historical Review, Vol. 102, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 426 427