Theses Doctoral

The Unofficial Archive: A Critique of Archival Culture in the Dominican Republic, 1865-1927

Muniz, Wendy V.

My dissertation delineates the Dominican intelligentsia’s collecting of unofficial archives from the local bourgeoisie’s emergence after the Restoration of independence from Spain in 1865 through the Dominican State’s consolidation as a sovereign entity in the 1920s. By unofficial archives bourgeois actors meant, from foundational writer Manuel de Jesús Galván and first national historian José Gabriel García to scholars Pedro Henríquez Ureña and Abigaíl Mejía, private or nonofficial repositories, real or metaphoric, containing anything from personal belongings and printed works to unclaimed ruins. In dialogue with Walter Benjamin, Michel-Rolph Trouillot and Pierre Bourdieu, I show how in the Dominican context the use of authorized and state knowledge lagged behind that of informal, object-based knowledge. In doing so, “The Unofficial Archive” questions traditional understandings of the archive in intellectual history—Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault—as well as in Performance, Caribbean, and Latin American studies, reassessing the foundational role that a lack of records played in postcolonial archives during nation-building.
Chapter one introduces my reading of “archives.” Because Foucault and Derrida consider physical files and intellectual ideas separately, I contend that their methods account insufficiently for postcolonial archives, where material records and ideas are inextricably intertwined. To trace how the materiality of archives produce national habits and traditions the second chapter centers on the 1877 discovery of Christopher Columbus’s relics. As my close reading of historical works such as historian Emiliano Tejera’s Los restos de Colón en Santo Domingo (1878) shows, this recognition prompted supporters of the relics’ authenticity to create a national narrative describing the pillage and loss of the country’s archives, and to popularize this narrative through reproductions in print, visual, and architectural media like the 1898 Columbus Mausoleum in Santo Domingo’s Cathedral. In my third chapter, I examine how prominent bourgeois actors such as the Sociedad Amigos del País used the tradition about the missing archives to legitimize a national literature and historiography leading nation-building by creating unofficial archives in fiction, nonfiction, and printed ephemera. I read García’s Compendio de la historia de Santo Domingo (1867-1906) together with Galván’s Enriquillo: leyenda histórica dominicana, 1503-1533 (1882) as unofficial archives that meditate upon what it meant to the Dominican nation that its archives remained wanting. My fourth chapter analyzes the nationalization of colonial ruins as unofficial archives by the intellectual bourgeoisie as a means for the group to continue gaining power and to fight U.S. imperialism from the post-Restoration through the U.S. military intervention (1916-1924). I focus on the anti-colonial origins of a national archaeology in the work of Alejandro Llenas Julia, Pedro Henríquez Ureña’s philosophical writings on the ruin in Horas de Estudio (1910), and the use of the edifices by intellectuals such as Max Henríquez Ureña to stir an international cultural debate during the occupation in order to defend the country’s right to sovereignty. I conclude with the government’s gradual appropriation and display of unofficial archives during the 1927 inauguration of the National Museum as described in press articles by Abigail Mejía, which resulted in a political iconography that I call a “bric-à-brac” that officially stages the national archives as half-finished. Under this official lens, a new generation of intellectuals used the lack of records to sustain the hispanicist rule of Rafael L. Trujillo (1930-1961) on the idea that he would be the one to protect the nation’s heritage.
This dissertation brings together historical and material culture studies from a hemispheric point of view and bridges critical Caribbean and Latin American studies. From a Caribbean perspective, the project challenges Archival Studies to consider non-Western forms of archive emerging out of colonial contexts that remain unaddressed in scholarship about the origin of modern state archives in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “The Unofficial Archive” brings new insights into transnational debates on cultural heritage, its corruption and plunder, and into the social aftermath of colonial governance and state coercion. It urges scholars to address the long-term effects that conflicts over the inalienability of historical treasures have had in former colonies and Empires, and to ponder the role that advances in technology have had in the democratization of the past and the shaping of race and gender identities from modern times to the present. Ultimately, this research reveals how individual citizens who were ignored by or disagreed with official politics used unconfirmed knowledge and information networks to prevail upon officialdom on matters concerning human rights, universal truth, and the meaning of nationhood.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Alonso, Carlos J.
Horn, Maja
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 20, 2017