On Silence and History

  • Topouzova L
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How to write a silenced history is the broad question that frames this essay. It explores the methodological challenges of working with a purged archive and fragmented oral histories while telling the little-known story of the Bulgarian gulag and its aftermath. Weaving together the personal and the historical, the essay unfolds the silences that constitute the experience of state repression during the Communist era and the trauma that lingers to this day in the lives of survivors and society. To write a history of the Communist camp past in the capitalist present requires scholars to overcome intellectual frameworks deeply mired in triumphalist Cold War rhetoric. The historical methodology laid out here suggests that doing so demands of us to embrace the imperfect evidence that we have at our disposal: disjointed testimonies and purged documents. Instead of trying to make them cohere into a linear historical narrative, the essay proposes that we leave the gaps open and let the silences speak. In grappling with the limit of the archival record and faded memories, the essay also reflects on the multiplicity of the lived experience of twentieth-century Eastern European Communism and its contradicting realities, emancipatory and repressive at once.




Topouzova, L. (2021). On Silence and History. The American Historical Review, 126(2), 685–699. https://doi.org/10.1093/ahr/rhab191

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