Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program


Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 4-25-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Bret D Gustafson


This dissertation examines historical memory and the politics of knowledge in Guatemala. Memory activists and Maya intellectuals demand recognition of the truth of their historical narratives. Their practices of knowledge production are rooted in uncovering perspectives that were previously silenced, especially the experiences of indigenous communities. By building on extensive networks and new technologies, these actors have reconfigured the constraints of epistemic authority in Guatemala. Moreover, their alternative interpretations of the past have led to new identities in the present, including the (re)emergence of a trans-local, pan-linguistic Maya identity. The rapid spread of these processes reflects the resonance that new historical narratives have for diverse groups, following centuries of structural exclusion from the Guatemalan national community. I investigate two sets of questions about memory activism and epistemic authority. First, I interrogate local meanings ofmemoria históricaand ask why it came to inspire activism in the post-conflict era. For most of Guatemala's past, official historical narratives have focused on a European heritage that rings hollow to the majority of people. However, memory is never static; it functions less as a `burden of tradition' and more like a 'reserve of alterity,' as the proliferation of new subject positions in Guatemala illustrates. Second, I investigate how the inclusion of previously subjugated knowledges has shifted public discussions of concepts such as citizenship, justice, history, and the national imaginary. I draw on participation in urban activist events and interviews with historical revisionists to identify the strategies underlying their memory activism. I ask how memory activism overlaps and interacts with indigenous rights movements: how do both strains of activism challenge the racist and colonial character of Guatemalan national identity? One of their common goals is the inclusion of Maya experiences and perspectives. In addition to the role that Maya survivors playeden masseas witnesses of violence during the armed conflict, individual Maya leaders have led campaigns and authored texts that address social problems in Guatemala. I ask whether this process can be extended to imagine "a more truly pluralist Guatemala."


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