SILENCING THE PAST: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

SILENCING THE PAST: Power and the Production of History

Email this review


Rehearsing a well-worn theory about the indivisibility of power from human discourse, the author views history through a distinctly postmodern lens. The social construction of reality is now a fully entrenched if not fully accepted part of academic discourse. We know things not as they are, but as they seem to be. We are always both participants and observers, actors and narrators in the experience of history. These are the familiar rubrics of Trouillot's (Anthropology/John Hopkins Univ.) study of the creation of history. It traces two significant events of the Western world, the Haitian revolution and Columbus's voyage in 1492, scanning their histories for the long-buried facts that never made it into the dominant narrative of each event. Trouillot's work shows how facts that reveal the internal strife among the rebel slaves during the Haitian revolution have been neatly elided; how history has reinscribed the Americans as victors at the Alamo, ignoring the successes of the Mexicans; how Columbus's landing in the New World has eclipsed all other major events of 1492. Trouillot applies his general thesis about the manufactured nature of history well, but the thesis itself is uninspired. The book ultimately retraces thoroughly trodden ground and gives only nodding mention to the serious scholars who have done better work on the topic of subjective history. Trouillot also includes a rather strange set of personal meditations apparently aimed at filling the baffling silence that history as objective truth leaves in the minds of his students. But as compelling as the notion of history as subjective reality may be, it does not free one to make argument from anecdote. Voices a theory of history that is not as silent as the author assumes.

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 1995
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Beacon