In Paper Cadavers, an inside account of the astonishing discovery and rescue of Guatemala's secret police archives, Kirsten Weld probes the politics of memory, the wages of the Cold War, and the stakes of historical knowledge production. After Guatemala's bloody thirty-six years of civil war (1960–1996), silence and impunity reigned. That is, until 2005, when human rights investigators stumbled on the archives of the country's National Police, which, at 75 million pages, proved to be the largest trove of secret state records ever found in Latin America.
The unearthing of the archives renewed fierce debates about history, memory, and justice. In Paper Cadavers, Weld explores Guatemala's struggles to manage this avalanche of evidence of past war crimes, providing a firsthand look at how postwar justice activists worked to reconfigure terror archives into implements of social change. Tracing the history of the police files as they were transformed from weapons of counterinsurgency into tools for post-conflict reckoning, Weld sheds light on the country's fraught transition from war to an uneasy peace, reflecting on how societies forget and remember political violence.
Kirsten Weld is Assistant Professor of History at Harvard University.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations ix
Introduction: The Power of Archival Thinking 1
Part I Explosions at the Archives 27
Chapter 1 Excavating Babylon 29
Chapter 2 Archival Culture, State Secrets, and the Archive Wars 50
Chapter 3 How the Guerrillero Became an Archivist 69
Part II Archives and Counterinsurgency in Cold War Guatemala
Chapter 4 Building Counterinsurgency Archives 91
Chapter 5 Recycling the National Police in War, Peace, and Post-Peace 119
Part III Archives and Social Reconstruction in Postwar Guatemala
Chapter 6 Revolutionary Lives in the Archives 153
Chapter 7 Archives and the Next Generation(s) 183
Part IV Pasts Present and the Future Imperfect
Chapter 8 Changing the Law of What Can Be Said, and Done 213
Chapter 9 Conclusion: The Possibilities and Limitations of Archival Thinking 236
What People are Saying About This
"Kirsten Weld's book is a tremendous achievement, chronicling the improbable, stunning, and heroic recovery of a lost archive of repression in Guatemala while recounting the story of a society trying to save itself. If the police files are the cold, bureaucratic residue of the counterinsurgent state, Weld's tale glows with the lives, loss, hopes, and fierce political commitment of the archivist-activists who dared to defy their country’s history of terror and dream of justice. Brilliant."
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