In Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995), the Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot lists “four crucial moments” at which silences “enter the process of historical production” (26):
1. “the moment of fact creation (the making of sources)”;
2. “the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives)”;
3. “the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives)”; and
4. “the moment ofretrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance)”.
Trouillot’s position is in opposition both to those who consider it possible to neatly distinguish real history from our knowledge of history (i.e. “realists”) and those who believe the two are hopelessly bound up together (i.e. “constructivists”). Focusing on what historical production does rather than the “abstract concern for the nature of history”, Trouillot notes:
“what history is changes with time and place or, better said, history reveals itself only through the production of specific narratives. What matters most are the process and conditions of production of such narratives. Only a focus on that process can uncover the ways in which the two sides of historicity intertwine in a particular context. Only through that overlap can we discover the differential exercise of power that makes some narratives possible and silences others.” (25)
So Trouillot’s purpose in listing the crucial moments at which silences enter the making of history starts to become apparent. According to him, we must broaden the scope of our understanding of the way in which history is made, by considering all of history-making’s actors, all of its processes, not just the professional historian or academia. Most importantly, for Truoillot, “participants in any event may enter into the production of a narrative about that event before the historian as such reaches the scene.” We like to tell stories about ourselves. Applying this critical viewpoint to participants in a media-saturated world, it must be acknowledged that an academic study of the media and its participants is already limited by the stories they tell others and also tell themselves. Trouillot provides a concrete example:
“How much do narratives of the end of the cold war fit into a prepackaged history of capitalism in knightly armor? William Lewis [in “Telling America’s Story: Narrative Form and the Reagan Presidency,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 73 (1987): 280-302] suggests that one of Ronald Reagan’s political strengths was his capacity to inscribe his presidency into a prepackaged narrative about the United States.”
And as a result…
“professional historians alone do not set the narrative framework into which their stories fit. Most often, someone else has already entered the scene and set the cycle of silences.” (26)
Feminist scholar Christine Cynn makes a similar point in her discussion of Haiti’s “Raboteau Trial”, which involved some remarkable testimony from two massacre survivors, Rosiane Profil and Deborah Charles (“Nou Mande Jistis! (We Demand Justice!): Reconstituting Community and Victimhood in Raboteau, Haiti” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 36 (2008)). She concludes:
“I close by reiterating the importance of attending to sites of knowledge and history that do not register in the official record … I would argue that these events only emphasize the importance of thinking through the effects of how forms of gendering are strategically deployed or elided in attempts to obtain justice both in and outside the courtroom.”
A recent New Zealand example can be found in a blog by producer/DJ, Peter Wadams, better known as “P-Money”. If you were trying to build up biographical notes from what he shares on his blog, you might find, for example, that P-Money is close to his family (“we do like to celebrate our Christmas by spending time together, exchanging gifts and eating a lot of food. This year I’m off to the beach to kick it with my sister and the fam and do more of the same”), he has “rallied together” with other New Zealand entertainers to support tsunami relief for Samoa, and he displayed his sensitive side talking about the death of those he had felt close to.
But you won’t read any advice P-Money offered to young teenage boys on scoring girls. You won’t read why P-Money’s suggests that “high school age dudes” should attend his concert, because the crowd is likely to be “overwhelmingly filled with screaming teenage girls”. And you won’t read his advice to these “high school age dudes” to “just tell the girls that you know P-Money and you’re in bro!”
That’s because he deleted those comments. Yet could he delete the effects of his comments on those “high school age dudes” he was addressing? I don’t think so.
This is P-Money’s original post from March 3, 2009, which Tumeke! noted on November 27, 2009:
And this is how it looks now:
Historical accounts cannot merely restrict themselves to paraphrasing the available historical sources, but must also consider the traces of its silences, the people (often the marginalized, often women) whom history tends to silence, and the reasons history’s actors have narrated their lives in one way but not another.