Accepted Paper:

Engaging Archival Sources to Interrogate the Colonial Past: a Case Study from Cold War Puerto Rico   

Authors:

Katherine McCaffrey (Montclair State University)
Bonnie Donohue (School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation describes a productive collaboration to transform archival material into a visually powerful and critically engaging examination of colonial history. The archival documents themselves become not only a source, but also the subject of display, and a way of interrogating colonial power.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation describes a productive collaboration between a photographer and a cultural anthropologist to transform archival material into a visually powerful and critically engaging examination of colonial history. Our exhibition, "Killing Mapepe: Sex and Death in Cold War Vieques" unpacks the 1953 killing of a Puerto Rican civilian by U.S. servicemen who, fresh from combat in the Korean War, instigated a violent brawl near a military base on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. Despite courts-martial prosecutions, there were no convictions, creating a bitter cultural memory in Vieques. Utilizing military archives as material and visual sources, we revive attention to this unresolved crime and the broader problem of military perpetrated violence against civilians.

Our presentation is a case study of how photography, history, and ethnography can fuel new inspirations for enlivening archival material and communicating the relevance of the past to a broad public. We discuss our approach to transforming dry bureaucratic data into an emotionally compelling and multi-faceted historical narrative. Photographs, interviews, text and video combine with raw testimony from the courts-martial investigations to shape the narrative structure of the exhibition. Thus the archival documents themselves become not only a source, but also the subject of display, and a way of interrogating colonial power.

We will consider the impact of exhibiting this show in Vieques and elsewhere, where we initiated uncomfortable conversations about sexual exploitation and racially fueled violence that are often silenced when discussing the U.S. military.

Panel P05
Reviving the archives as pictorial histories