CFP: Rumors, Falsified Documents, and other Interpretative Challenges in the Latin American Archive

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Call for Papers: Rumors, Falsified Documents, and other Interpretative Challenges in the Latin American Archive


Historians have become ever more sophisticated in parsing the lapses in and falsifications of oral testimony. But how should we analyze rumors that entered the written record? Many of us must work with archives that have been tampered with, falsified, or contain unsubstantiated accusations, often without recourse to more reliable sources on the same subjects. In this context, historians face the challenge of how to analyze information that we now know to be untrue. Rumors-- that vaccines actually sterilized poor people in Mexico, that white travelers in Central America were in search of babies to snatch for organ trafficking, that colonizers in the Guatemalan jungle were building "little Cubas"--may not have been verified but had real historical impact. Hearsay not only sparked panic and protests but also led to epistemological conflicts in the press and government agencies, as writers sought to distinguish eyewitness account from rumor. How, then, should we as historians utilize these types of problematic sources to provide well-founded interpretations of the past?


Building upon the work of Kathryn Burns, Lauren Derby, Michel Trouillot, Tanalís Padilla, Louise Walker, and Kirsten Weld, (among others), this workshop will examine the question of falsified or unreliable records, especially rumor, to illuminate larger questions of historical methodology, problematic sources, and ethical interpretation. Participants will submit and discuss pre-circulated papers of 6-7,000 words and receive feedback from invited discussants. We intend for this conference to serve as a launching pad for a special journal issue.


If you are interested in participating, please send a CV and a 750-word paper abstract that includes a discussion of the sources by February 1 to We are looking for other papers that offer empirical case studies to provide methodological insights into writing history with documents steeped in rumors and falsification. Abstracts and conference papers can be written in either English, Portuguese, or Spanish.


We expect to send notifications regarding acceptance by mid-February. Participant manuscripts are due April 26, 2019. The workshop will be held in New York City at Columbia University on May 17 and 18, 2019. Lodging and travel expenses will be covered for all participants.