Humanities research event to explore trauma, historical erasure

A public Brock research event will centre the voices and stories of survivors of the military dictatorship that governed Argentina from 1976 to 1983.

“Storytelling, Erasure, and Trauma: Survivor Testimonies of the Argentinean Dictatorship (1976-1983),” which takes place in Sankey Chamber on Thursday, Feb. 29, will focus on the lived experiences of four Argentine guest speakers who experienced devastating personal loss.

These testimonies will be filmed at the event, laying the foundation for a future book chronicling the stories of children of survivors and the disappeared.

Associate Professor of Hispanic and Latin American Studies Cristina Santos says that many people are not aware that more than 30,000 Argentines were illegally taken to clandestine detention, torture and extermination sites throughout the country during that time.

“We need to reinsert these missing voices back into history and reflect as a society on the patterns that we see globally,” she says.

The event is part of a larger research project led by Santos and Adriana Spahr, a retired Associate Professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alta. The project, “(Re)appearing the Desaparecidos: Mural Art and Intergenerational Trauma of the Argentinean Dictatorship (1976-1983)” was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Insight Grant, which is funded by the Government of Canada, in 2020.

“Our contribution to this field of study is unique as we are looking at second and third generations; this is no longer a matter of intergenerational trauma, but multi-generational trauma,” Santos said.

This event builds on work Santos and her research team have done to break through cycles of historical erasure, including spearheading efforts to have the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory — Former Clandestine Center of Detention, Torture and Extermination in Buenos Aires designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Santos wrote a letter of request, signed by faculty members from across the University, to UNESCO in 2021. She received word in December that they had been successful.

“The designation in 2023 marked 40 years since the last year of the dictatorship, which is timely,” Santos says. “Memorialization sites are vital to maintain memories and counteract cycles of erasure.”

Elizabeth Vlossak, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Humanities, says that international collaboration in humanities research connects people across borders and generations.

“Dr. Santos’ work not only revives voices that may otherwise disappear, but it also helps people today to arrive at a more sensitive and nuanced understanding of the past and even their own present,” Vlossak says.

Santos is encouraging the Brock community and wider public to attend, hoping to reach an audience beyond the University.

“I hope the key takeaway is not an answer, but a question: ‘Why is history repeating itself, and why are humans not learning from the past?’” Santos said.

Those interested in attending are advised that speakers will share personal stories of kidnapping, torture, sexual assault and other traumatic and possibly triggering experiences.

To register to attend, visit ExperienceBU.

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