“My First Response, I Would Say It Was Counterfeit”: Contradiction and Meaning-Making in Oral History

Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:50 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Edward Brudney, Indiana University
The coup d’état that installed the military regime self-styled as the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (Process of National Reorganization) (1976-1983) ushered in a period of bloodshed unmatched in modern Argentine history. Scholarship since the 1980s has confronted the legacies and traumas of this repression, often using the tools of oral history to access perspectives and feelings frequently omitted from the historical record. At the same time, questions related to the everyday experiences of Argentines who were not directly impacted by state violence remain at the margins of historical inquiry. This paper interrogates the tensions and paradoxes produced by this specific conjuncture, drawing on a series of four long-form interviews conducted with a prominent former labor leader in 2015. Over the course of nearly eight hours of conversation, numerous inconsistencies regarding details and events surfaced. Rather than dismiss these as simply the failings of memory or see them as evidence of some (un)conscious underlying purpose, I argue that the contradictions between the subject’s and the historian’s interpretations have explicative and analytical value. Discrepancies between the documentary evidence and the subject’s testimony illuminate how we might better understand the consequences of violence on the life histories of those who did not suffer directly, but whose experiences were nonetheless conditioned by these circumstances. In addition, these disconnects highlight important methodological concerns that apply more broadly to historical practice and force us to confront how and why we privilege written over oral sources with respect to critical analysis.