Tessa Boeykens

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Ghent University
Biography and/or project


I am a doctoral researcher at the Department of History at the University of Ghent(Research Group Meta and Public History). My research is entitled “When times collide”: A meta-historical analysis of history and memory in post-war Guatemala. My current project builds upon previous ethnographical field research.

Dealing with a violent past is one of the bigger political issues of our time and all over the world a wide range of strategies or ‘transitional justice mechanisms’ are being developed to deal with historical injustice and conflict (Huyse, 2008). Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala was shattered by an internal armed conflict that resulted in the death of 200,000 people, including genocide against the indigenous Mayan population (CEH, 1999). My research is based on an extensive case study of post-war Guatemala and situates itself in the fields of memory studies and transitional justice. I aim at testing a meta-historical conceptual framework empirically by introducing time concepts in transitional justice. Firstly, I focus on time concepts and regimes of historicity (Hartog 2005) to investigate different ways of dealing with the conflict and analyze their political implications. Therefore I examine practices and discourses of remembrance of different actors. Secondly, I focus on transitional justice practices as viewed by indigenous survivor communities. Operationally, I take as a starting point the practice of exhumations. I claim that a better understanding of historical time and visions of memory can improve the local and cultural sensitivity of this transitional strategy because it takes the survivor’s needs into account. The developing field of transitional justice places academic historiography in a challenging position and puts its social relevance under scrutiny. I therefore also focus on the ethical responsibilities of 21st century historians to contemporary society.

This project is part of a larger comparatively oriented research project about transitional justice discourse and practice in Latin America, which also include case-studies about Brazil and Peru.

I work under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Berber Bevernage, and am part of the INTH team. I am funded by the FWO (Research Foundation Flanders).