Whispers in the Archive: Rumor and Gossip as Primary Sources

AHA Session 237
Conference on Latin American History 45
Sunday, January 4, 2015: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Nassau Suite A (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Lauren (Robin) Derby, University of California, Los Angeles
Lynn A. Hunt, University of California, Los Angeles

Session Abstract

This panel focuses on backstage forms of private speech such as innuendo, hearsay and slander and the role they have played in shaping historical events; it thus addresses Luise White’s call for “an expansion of historical epistemologies to include rumor and gossip.”  The panel makes the case for highlighting the particular meaning, impact and genre of private forms of orality and their role in altering the course of historical episodes; it also considers how private forms of knowledge have changed in meaning when they become public, and thus shift discursive context. The panelists draw upon a range of interdisciplinary methodologies, bringing archival records into dialogue with literary texts, ethnographic fieldwork, crime writing, and the role of bazaar gossip in fomenting urban revolt, rumor panics, and political critique.  Ranging from eighteenth-century India, eighteenth and nineteenth-century China, and twentieth-century Argentina and the Caribbean, these cases elucidate the social networks, discursive history and precise impact played by fugitive speech forms in the unfolding of historical events on the ground. Two of the papers consider the role of gossip in shaping the public meaning of sexual scandals, and one considers the particular salience of rumor as a means of accessing subaltern consciousness in the context of the Caribbean, a region forged like no other in the shadow of colonial biopower.

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