Archival Exploration in Buenos Aires

Greetings from Buenos Aires!

I am currently finishing six weeks of research in Buenos Aires where I came thanks to a CLACS’ grant.

My research focuses on the social experience of conscription in Argentina during the first half of twentieth century. Mandatory military service was established in 1901 for every twenty-year-old men and abolished in 1994 after the murder of a conscripted committed by army officers in the province of Nequen. Although the Armed Forces have had a relevant role in Latin American countries, there are not many studies about how was daily life in the barracks experienced in the XXth century by common (male) citizens who were called every year to pay their “tribute of blood” to the nation. My aim is to reconstruct different dimensions of that experience. In order to do so, I explore the state’s view, this is, discourses and practices about military service in Congress and political speeches and the popular images of the conscript in newspapers, songs, theatre plays and movies.

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Throughout these weeks I have visited many archives where I have found a lot of information about this that was previously unknown for me. I am happy to say that after this summer research I return to Bloomington full of new material very valuable for the development of my investigation. At the Archivo Intermedio I got the chance to read military trials and proceedings against conscripts and soldiers carried out by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. These sources will help me provide a detailed and colorful picture the social relationships in the garrisons These proceedings involved dense descriptions of habits and everyday activities as well as offer a vivid image of the army as a field of sociability. In this particular aspect it was very clear how notions of manhood, honor and citizenship arouse in the various conflicts occurred within the barracks.

At the beginning of the century, the army was not only conceived as a national defense institution; it was also meant to integrate a heterogeneous population: natives and immigrants were the main target of the elites nationalizing project. The teaching of the official language and the spreading of a patriotic sentiment among the subaltern were some of the military service main goals. I’ ve found important traces of this social role in a wide array of libraries and archives. My visits to the Archivo General del Ejercito and Biblioteca del Estado Mayor General del Ejercito were fruitful and productive. Also, the Revista de Sanidad Militar, located at the Biblioteca de la Facultad de Medicina was extremely helpful in terms of recovering the links between the hygienist theories and the uses of eugenic methods in the incorporation of conscripts. Military service definitely served as a great source of biopolitic knowledge for the State. Apart from distinguishing “fit” from “unfit” citizens, the medical examinations conducted to the new cohort of soldiers every year provided the authorities with information about the population’s health. During the 20’s and 30’s many racist readings which warned about an alleged “degeneration” of Argentine society were based on the scientific production of these data.

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Together with all these sources I was also able to find other materials such as an impressive amount of images that are stored at the digital section of the Archivo General de la Nacion.

Buenos Aires is my hometown so it was a singular experience to come back as a researcher and just for a few weeks. Although the city is not new for me, I came to look at it in new ways. Besides, after an Indiana winter, the “cold” of Buenos Aires in July (hardly below 40 Fahrenheit) didn’t feel as bad as it used to.


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Nicolas Sillitti is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of History with a CLACS minor


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