Learning to Be a Citizen: Literacy Campaigns in the Argentine Army, 1910–30

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:50 PM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Nicolas Sillitti, Indiana University
Since it was implemented in 1901, mandatory military service played a decisive role in the nationalizing project of the country’s elites. Apart from turning youngsters into “respectable” men, life in the barracks was expected to integrate into the national community the heterogeneous sectors of Argentine society. In the view of conscription’s advocates, the Army would contribute to “modernization” of the country by extending medical care and alphabetization to the rural poor and the children of the immigrants that were arriving in large numbers by that time. In short, the barracks would become a sort of citizen’s “factory”; a privileged site of the creation of the “Argentine men”.

Every year, as part of the incorporation to the service, a variety of medical practices were performed upon the conscripts’ bodies. These interventions provided the state with a whole set of biopolitical information that helped shape distinctions between “fit” and “unfit” citizens. These notions were clearly informed by ideas of race and class. Military inspectors usually stressed the recruits’ “Indian”, “Criollo” or “European” origin in their explanations of poverty and health problems. In this paper, I aim to historicize the debates over health and hygiene within the Army in order to delve into the production of racialized images of the Argentine population in the first decades of the twentieth century. I will rely mainly on the Sanitary Military Review, the works of Santiago Peralta (an anthropologist that later became the Director of Immigration under Juan Domingo Peron’s rule) and photographs from the military archive.