Trouillot round up

The posts below stem from a quick in class exercise after reading the first third of Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past. We’re grappling with this book this week because it suggests how history is produced and the variety and extent of history’s production and reception in public. Trouillot’s thoughts on what and how history is constituted are clear (or, as you see from student reactions, perhaps less clear than we might like,) but we’re also thinking together this week about the practical implications of this text for the public historian on a day-to-day basis.

A Response to Trouillot

One of the most striking aspects from chapter one of Trouillot’s Silencing the Past is the partition of the concept of history into two categories — the facts of the matter and the narrative that coincides with those facts. Often there is a discrepancy between the facts and the narrative, leading to controversy surrounding the actual events. Trouillot also explains the impact of narratives themselves, and states that one of the functions of a collectivity in a society is to distinguish between the accepted narrative and the fictitious. Trouillot places an emphasis on the role of power in the distillation of a historical narrative and outlines why historical theories such as positivism and constructivism are flawed in their viewpoints.

Responding to Trouillot

First and foremost trouillot’s writing was a bit of a slog but an at least fairly straight forward slog until his side track into what almost seems like a rant on constructionists and the Holocaust which in terms of his argument is still valid, but doesn’t quite fit the narrative structure that had up until that point been laid down. From what I gathered his argument is mostly that in history there are two sides to the story, what happened and what people think happened.

Less Visible Than Gunfire

Reaction to Trouillot’s Silencing the Past:

In reading Trouillot’s preface and second chapter of his book Silencing the Past I was confronted with questions. Questions of my own and questions that Trouillot himself often posses at the end of a topic.

  •  Brash analysis, “talking about dead Indians” p 9
  • The man who survived the Alamo, focus on the historical event and not with the origin of historical memory. Yet is concerned with the modern efforts to face these memories as with Davy.
  • Exclusion of one’s history that not have memory of.


Power and Production of History Reaction

Trouillot, the author of Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History, looks at the different ways in which cultures and individuals have grappled with history. Trouillot asks the reader to examine the different interpretations of history by attempting to nail down what a “fact” truly is and how elusive that definition is. I found Trouillot’s example of how the stories and narratives can change base on the way in which the listener interprets the question very fascinating to ponder.

Trouillot Breakdown

As promised, this was a heavy reading. Not heavy in the sense of the volume of material, but rather the density of the work and the way in which it is written. In this piece, Trouillot is pondering ideas of history, its truthfulness, and the differences that abound from the narrative taught by two conflicting factions of historians. His case study of sorts centers around the Alamo, a story that is known, at least in part, to most of us in the Americas. It is through the lens of both positivist and constructivist views of history that the author examines the events that took place at the Alamo. The author questions the truthfulness of the narrative, much like a constructivist historian, but his goal is to bring about truth not polluted by social historical contexts, and to explore the differences between the two practices of history, their limitations and expand the narrative in an accurate manner. He draws attention to the biases that enter into the historical context

Trouillot and Public History: A Defense

In this reading of Trouillot (my 6th I think–that’s less bragging than me admitting how this text rewards and demands repeated readings,) I thought a lot about what Trouillot would think about public history. He certainly talks about history and the public, and at some points even talks about professional public historical practice. But I think he’s most concerned with an expansive definition of what public history is and how we might use it to conceptualize our experience in the world.

In general, I think Trouillot is a necessary manual for the public historian who is interested not only in the big picture of thinking about how history is made, conceived, and interpreted, but also as an example of the way in which history enters into quotidian life on a daily basis. I’m still thinking about how that works practically.


That much of the past, even the past which is preserved in records, gets “silenced” , gets passed over or pushed to the background.  the book is the story of how history is produced and how thi selective “silencing occurs.

History is a story about power, a story about those who won.

I am confused about the positivism vs. constructivist viewpoint.

Roundup of Alabama monument news

Above is a map of the location of our state’s soon to be newest memorial to the Confederacy. I’m also including a few articles here about the fight over monuments in Alabama right now, which might help give us better localized context both to the present debate and to the ongoing historical struggle over the meaning of these monuments. In particular, pay attention to the location of this new monument (you can zoom in and out on the map above, get directions to various places, etc.) How does this differ from the  historical placement of these monuments? What does the spatial location of this monument suggest about the intended meaning and purpose of this new monument?