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The Public History of a Concentration Camp: Historical Tales of Tragedy and Hope at the National Stadium of Chile


On September 11, 1973, forces of evil converted the National Stadium of Chile into a concentration camp. That day, the nation's military and security forces overthrew the constitutionally elected government of President Salvador Allende Gossens. For the next fifty-eight days thousands of Chileans and hundreds of foreigners experienced violations of human dignity, physical integrity, and political consciousness. The stadium became the physical and figurative starting point for seventeen years of state-sponsored terrorism under the regime of Augusto Pinochet. Today, though, this is hardly a secret, as stories of the stadium-as-concentration camp have circulated since 1973 to the present in testimonies and memoirs, truth commissions and international reports, newspaper and media accounts, documentaries and movies, and ephemeral commemorations and permanent memorials. At different times, in different ways, and for different reasons, former stadium prisoners, human rights activists, journalists, judges, state officials, and scholars have sounded off, sometimes in a complementary fashion, other times to clash. Despite the volumes of searchable material (books, memoirs, testimonies) and less tangible but equally telling commemorative events (vigils, theater productions, public art) that continue at the stadium, no single work has attempted to synthesize, organize, and analyze this historic corpus.

The Public History of a Concentration Camp: Historical Tales of Tragedy and Hope at the National Stadium of Chile does this and, in doing so, contributes to the stadium camp's history in unique ways. A public history lens provides fresh perspectives on the production of historic work at and memories of the National Stadium-as-concentratin camp over forty years (1973-2013). Its focus on popularly constructed narratives' interaction with official silences and versions demonstrates both how and why stadium stakeholders--especially from the residual--have constructed the tales of tragedy and hope. As it focuses on this popular historical work The Public History of a Concentration Camp has focused, too, on the formative power of the specific place in the formation of public memory. Rather than begin with selected processes or events and look for places where they unfolded and happened, this study gains insight from joining public and popular practitioners who begin at a specific place and ask: what happened here? The unique public and place-based approach also joins recent conversations concerning historic sites of conscience not only in Chile but worldwide. Framing the popular historical work at the stadium generally and its complicated human rights museum `National Stadium, National Memory' specifically against the backdrop of the sites of memory in Chile offers context for local interpretation of human rights as much as the reciprocal relationship between these organic understandings and international conventions. The Public History of a Concentration: Historical Tales of Tragedy and Hope at the National Stadium of Chile continues this important historical trajectory in the form of a scholarly monograph, only made possible through the popular work that has preceded it.

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