Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, History, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2007
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Yale University
Of Terror, Power, and the Archive: The Implications of Discovering Guatemala's National Police Records

My dissertation uses the recent unearthing of Guatemala's long-hidden National Police archives -- at 75 million pages, the largest secret state document discovery in Latin American history -- as an entry point into an examination of the country's postwar politics. I explore how the weak Guatemalan state, barely able to even provide basic survival necessities for much of its population, struggles to manage this unprecedented amount of evidence pertaining to its past abuses, and how popular narratives of the war years are adapted and reconstructed based on this windfall of new information. Concepts like "truth," "memory," and "reconciliation" are highly contested in postbellum Guatemala, and hence these police archives have the potential to destabilize the country's uneasy postwar status quo, wherein war survivors continue to protest the state's amnesiac attitude toward its brutal counterinsurgency efforts and its utter failure to prosecute war criminals. Moreover, existing attempts to grapple with the legacies of the 36-year armed conflict have predominantly focused on the military and the countryside, leaving the urban theatre of the war and the police's surgical, political repression profoundly understudied. I combine historical research on the police with participant observation and ethnographic analysis of the government's archival recovery project, a controversial and much-criticized effort to build publicly accessible archives from the heaps of moldy and disordered papers that currently fill the discovery site. Using a combination of historical and anthropological methods, my dissertation makes two main interventions: it takes some of the first steps toward writing the police and the capital city back into the history of Guatemala's civil war, and it also tracks how Guatemalans themselves fold this new knowledge afforded by the police archives into their local and national understandings of wartime, memory politics, and post-conflict transitions.