Culture & History Digital Journal, Vol 3, No 2 (2014)

Mass graves gone missing: Producing knowledge in a world of absence


https://doi.org/10.3989/chdj.2014.022

Lee Douglas
Department of Anthropology, New York University, United States

Abstract


On May 1st, 2014 members of the historical memory team from the Aranzadi Sciences Society arrived in Oropesa de Toledo. The objective: to locate two mass graves containing the remains of Republicans killed in the weeks after Franco’s troops entered the town in 1936. Despite evidence regarding the mass graves’ existence, they were never found. Drawing on empirical, ethnographic data collected in the town of Oropesa in the months following this “unsuccessful” exhumation, this paper narrates the curious story of two graves that have “gone missing.” It considers the intellectual labor exerted to produce historical knowledge in a context where municipal archives remain inaccessible and family histories are marked by silence and dis-information. The author suggests that the absence of information –the dearth of historical, narrative evidence– regarding the lives of the defeated makes the production of historical and forensic knowledge a complicated affair. It tracks how kin-based knowledge and scarce archival documents are gathered and animated in order to make exhumations possible. Considering the forms of knowledge that are needed in order to engage techno-scientific expertise in meaningful ways, the paper attends to the important role that kin-based knowledge and seemingly “unimportant” documents play in processes of historical enunciation.

Keywords


Techno-scientific expertise; kin-based knowledge; archival records; forensic science; social memory; Spanish Civil War; Francoism

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