History in the Making author in focus: Michelle Staff

Michelle Staff is the author of “‘Herstory’ and Biography: Recovering the forgotten woman’s voice”, recently published in Volume 5, Number 1 if History in the Making.

Michelle has shared her writing process and her plans for future research, and her experience of the peer review process.

What historical period would you like to visit?

There are so many interesting times and places I would love to time travel to, but if I had to choose one historical period to visit I would definitely go for the early years of the twentieth century in Britain. I’m studying women’s suffrage at the moment so it would be really interesting to be able to see all the protests, demonstrations and controversies first hand, to really get a sense of what this whole movement was actually like for women at the time.

How do you juggle your studies and the rest of your life?

I think it’s so important to have a really good balance between studies and other aspects of life, particularly as you don’t want to burn out in the process of getting your work done. I try to be really productive when I sit down to do my work – my best time is in the morning and early afternoon, so I get up and do as much as I can then, without distractions, and let myself unwind come the evening. I think that taking time out for other activities, whether that means part-time work, exercising or going out to see friends, ends up being more beneficial for your wellbeing and your studies than trying to sit at your desk 24/7. There’s no point staring a computer screen but achieving nothing, and sometimes a break might let you come back fresh and ready to work hard and produce your best work.

Why do you think the study of history is important?

I really think history is an important discipline. Even though it may at times seem quite removed from the present, in fact so many things that we study about the past have direct implications for or parallels with the issues of today, so it is certainly of relevance for us now. In a broader public context, narratives about the past are continually communicated and referred to – in museums, on television, in bookshops, in school curriculums, by politicians – and I think that historians need to have a central role in contributing to these stories in ways that try to truthfully represent people’s experiences in the past.

What did you learn from the peer review process?

I found the peer review process really helpful for refining my writing to improve both the style and clarity of my article. It’s always really useful to have someone else read over your work to tell you what’s working and what’s not. Editing your own writing can be really difficult, especially if it feels like the hundredth time you’re reading over it, so a fresh perspective is so useful. The peer review process allows you to reconsider your structure and approach, which is always a good thing.

What’s your writing process?

Writing and communicating stories is probably the part of history that I find the most interesting and rewarding. There always come a point in the research phase where I become so overwhelmed with masses of information that I find it really useful to put pen to paper to start to make sense of it all. I am a big fan of making plans before I write, as that process really starts to get ideas flowing and allows you to see where you are headed. The writing process itself then allows you to be more creative with how you present your ideas and, of course, involves lots and lots of rewriting, editing and re-editing.

Where would you like to take your research next?

I’m currently doing my Masters in the UK, working on women’s suffrage and feminist movements in the early twentieth century. I’d love to continue down this route of women’s and gender history, as there is so much more to explore. In particular I’d like to look at different people, issues and experiences from around the world related to this “first wave” of feminism.

Better the devil you know?: a millennial’s perspective on the Fujimori Legacy

The legacy of Alberto Fujimori is controversial. While he has numerous supporters across Peru and abroad such as our previous interviewee Ella Carkagis, among Peruvians born in the 1980s and 1990s in particular, opposition is common. In this profile, Alexis Castro Robles interviews Carkagis’ eldest daughter, Marianella, who gives us an insight into the ‘other side’ of Fujimori’s regime and also how she perceives Peru’s future now that Alberto Fujimori has received a ‘humanitarian pardon.’

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Alberto, Kenji and Keiko Fujimori (Image courtesy of ‘Peru 21’ newspaper) 

Marianella, although you were in your teenage years during the late 1990s, do you remember what politics was like at that time from your family and school?

At that time, everyone was afraid of everything. Our parents sent us to school with fear, because the terrorists chose targets randomly. I remember that the street lights blew up and that we stayed in the dark. There were always candles in my house. There were soldiers in the streets and curfews quite often. We could not leave the house after 7pm. I remember the terror that we felt walking past a car that looked suspicious in the street, because it could be a ‘coche bomba’ (car bomb). At school they taught us to be prepared at all times. We simulated emergency situations. They also taught us to shout a warning if we heard a very loud sound, because it could be a bomb.

Your mother was supportive of Fujimori’s measures in granting the military extensive powers to challenge ‘terror’ by arresting suspected rebels and trying them in secret military courts with few legal rights. What are your thoughts?

Terrorism was so bad in the 90s that the government had to declare war. We believed that there was a good side (the state) and a bad side (the terrorists) but we were wrong. The country was consumed by a witch hunt. Any man could say that his neighbor was a terrorist and without evidence the military could take him from his house in the early morning and ‘disappear’ him. Villagers were taken from their homes by soldiers and executed. They raped the women. The buses that went to the provinces were dangerous for this reason. We were terrorised both by the terrorists and by the military, who far from protecting us, took advantage of the power granted them to torture, rape and kill.

Do you believe Peruvians recognise the human rights violations committed by Fujimori and the military? If not, what impedes this recognition?

Fujimori was a showman. He went on national television with boots, helmet and carrying cement to every school he built. He appeared to help with everything, while also robbing his people and murdering us. He did many works to keep us quiet. His government was bloodthirsty. We Peruvians are so poor in education that we are not able to understand that “the lesser evil” is not good. “That he who steals but does work” is not good. We are not used to thinking about our neighbor. We think only of ourselves and our hunger. There are many people who know what Fujimori has done and do not care because they were “necessary deaths”. No death is necessary. Homicide is a crime.

What do you think about the mass forced sterilisation that affected around 300 000 Indigenous Peruvian women, many of them without anaesthesia, in the late 1990s?

It was simply inhumane. There are people like my mother who say it was necessary. Machismo did not allow women to make the decision to no longer have children and many thanked the government for having sterilised them. But many women without children and very young were also sterilised, without anaesthetics and without knowing what was being done to them. They were treated like cows. When my mum says it was necessary, I answer: What if it had been your daughter? What if it had been me? She remains silent. Those people who were mistreated could be any of us and we should all repudiate a fact as execrable as that. The solution was and is in education for all. Machismo exists because there is no education.

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Peruvian women march against Keiko Fujimori, drawing attention to women’s rights, Keiko’s political ties with her father and her questionable human rights stance. (Image courtesy of ‘Diario UNO’ newspaper)

Fujimori’s sterilisation of women was highlighted by opponents during the presidential campaign of Alberto Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko. For example 30 000 protesters in Lima expressed their discontent in April 2016. Do you think these protesters feared a possible return to her father’s dynasty? 

Yes indeed. The same people who were with [Alberto] Fujimori, are also on the side of Fujimori’s daughter. Her government would be a terrible blow against democracy.

Do you think the protests were a response of the Peruvian Left? Or just those who supported for the current Peruvian President, Pedro Pablo Kucyznski (‘PPK’)?

‘PPK’ won the elections thanks to Keiko Fujimori. He won because we were against her winning. He did not win on his own merit. The PPK government is another mistake to avoid the greater evil. He is a president who has done nothing for us like so many others. Our streets are infested with criminals.

Lastly, Alberto Fujimori has received the ‘humanitarian pardon’ for his ailing health by Kuczynski in December 2017. What do you think about this decision?

‘PPK’ sold our country when he pardoned Fujimori. He did not care about the hundreds of mothers who still cry for their unborn children. Nor the disappeared parents who could not raise their children. Not even the hundreds of women who were harmed and mistreated by the regime. Kuczynski was on the verge of losing the presidency for a fujimorista coup d’etat. He betrayed every Peruvian by pardoning him.

Alexis Castro Robles

Call for papers

It’s that time of the year again! History in the Making are looking for papers for our next issue. It doesn’t matter if you’re an undergraduate, postgraduate, or somewhere in the middle. If you have an essay, thesis extract, or a submission prepared just for us, we’re interested in looking at it!

Check out this page to find out how to submit.

Submissions close 30 April 2018.

Fond Memories of a Dictator: The Fujimori Legacy in Peruvian History

Latin American history and politics has taken an interesting turn of late. On 24 December 2017, the current Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski granted an official ‘humanitarian pardon’ to former President Alberto Fujimori, whilst new Chilean President Sebastian Piñera only today declared his Cabinet, including members who have links to the Pinochet regime. 

In this blog post, Alexis Castro Robles interviews  Ella Carkagis, a nurse assistant living in Sydney since 2011, who supports Fujimori’s actions. In both Peru and abroad, Fujimori’s legacy attracts both praise and criticism, most notably his actions in ending the 1980-1997 terror of the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) for the people of Peru. He is criticised for having achieved this at the cost of breaching human rights which led him being sentenced to twenty-five years in prison in 2009.  

What were your experiences during the era of terror in Peru? Did you agree with Fujimori’s measure to overcome this by granting the military extensive powers to arrest suspected rebels and try them in secret military courts with few legal rights?

During the 1980s and most of the 1990s, I was always scared to leave my house and, like everyone I knew, there was always the thought of whether you would come back alive.  I lived in a time where if you saw a package in the street, you thought it was a bomb, where electric light towers would continuously blow up and you had to stay in the dark.  No one in the world would like to live in constant fear and terror of dying anytime.  During this time, I was also at university and, as many of us lost numerous semesters, we had to dedicate ourselves to throw stones in the street burn tires and challenge the police for a better education and end corruption.  Fujimori himself once entered my university to drill the students in the courtyard, hoisting our national flag, making us place our hands on our chests and singing the national anthem.  He told us that we were students whose duty was to study for our country and parents.

I agree with Fujimori’s measure as he made sure to capture the leaders of the Shining Path and MRTA, who together caused the deaths of over 60,000 people.  While Fujimori was accused of killing nine La Cantuta University students, I believe that as a president of Peru, if nine killed hundreds of people, I would have also avoided further deaths by killing these students.  Why defending the rights of nine people? What about the rights of thousands and thousands of people killed by terrorism in Peru during the 80s and 90s?

What about the mass forced sterilisation that affected around 300 000 Indigenous Peruvian women, many of them without anaesthesia, by the Fujimori regime in the late 1990s? Do you think it was an act of abuse and genocide?

At that time, I was a school teacher in a very impoverished area of Peru’s capital city, Lima. I know for a fact that some of my students’ mothers underwent these sterilisations since they already had too many children, their economic situation was critical, and they even told me they were grateful for it.  I agree to sterilise women with numerous children who are in extreme poverty without the possibility of giving a good quality of life to their children who could end up begging in the street and have to prostitute themselves under bridges.

Do you think his program has improved the lives of Indigenous women?

I believe there has been progress for Indigenous Peruvian women, but it should be sustained.   I have travelled around Peru in the 2000s and I have seen great progress for these women in the main provincial cities, but we still need to reach more remote villages where populations live in towns that border other countries and poverty is rampant.

How has the Fujimori regime influenced geographical regions in the 1990s?

Fujimori ordered highways and roads not only in Lima but in more remote and poor provinces like Ilo, Abancay and Ayacucho.  He also facilitated medical centres and schools across the nation, including one in front of my house.  That is why those in the provinces favour Fujimori.  In the 2016 presidential elections for instance, you can see people in the poor provinces such as Ayacucho voted for Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko in contrast to the vote in Lima.

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Map depicting votes for the second round of the 2016 Peruvian Presidential Elections by Province (Image via Wikipedia). Pedro Pablo Kuczynski won the election with a runoff breakdown of 50.12% against Keiko Fujimori’s 49.88%. 

If Keiko Fujimori received support in the last elections, why do you think over 30,000 protesters across Lima expressed their discontent during her campaign in April 2016? Do you think they were fearing a possible return to her father’s dynasty? 

The majority of these protesters were university students who are too young to remember what people like me suffered during the era of terrorism in Peru and what Fujimori achieved in the 1990s.  All these young people who have no memory of our dark past are part of the Peruvian Left today and hate Fujimori for the death of nine terrorist students from La Cantuta University.  They voted for the current Peruvian President, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (‘PPK’).

I do think that it was fear motivating the Peruvian Left who found in university students a willing bastion but voting for ‘PPK’ was a serious error.   And of course, the Left understood Fujimori’s crime in killing innocent people.  Terrorism will not return if the Fujimoristas again have power.

Now that Alberto Fujimori has received the ‘humanitarian pardon’ for his ailing health by Kuczynski, are you grateful for this decision? Or do you think it was an act of convenience from Kuczynski as Fujimori’s son, Kenji, helped him to survive a bid of impeachment?

Fujimori deserved the pardon for having been for me and much of the population the best president that Peru had.  ‘PPK’ was dishonest and he should have pardoned him earlier, not at the precise moment that his position was at risk.

Alexis Castro Robles

 Alexis is a final year BA student at UNSW aiming to do Honours in 2019, focusing in topics relating to Latin American History and subaltern studies.

History in the Making author in focus: Joanna Molloy

Joanna Molloy is the author of “How does the film ‘Dresden- The Inferno’ reconstruct life in Dresden and represent the trauma suffered by victims of the 1945 Dresden bombing,” recently published in Volume 5, Number 1 of History in the Making. 

Here, Joanna reflects on the context behind her article, her future reading plans, and on what she views as key contributions and contributors to the field of History.

What’s your favourite history book?

One of my favourite history books is Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘Interesting Times – A Twentieth-Century Life’. Hobsbawm lived in Vienna in the 1920s, witnessed the rise of Nationalist Socialism in Berlin in the early 1930s, arrived in England in 1933 and went on to study history at Cambridge. In this book he discussed world events and forces such as Fascism, Communism and the Cold War by drawing on, and combining his personal experiences of the twentieth-century with his interpretations as an academic historian.

Who is a historian you admire and why?

I also like Mary Fulbrook’s extensive writings on Germany in the twentieth-century, and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in particular. She uses a wide range of sources and approaches; combining state records, cultural artifacts and oral histories. Her writing is clear and measured, and she sees GDR society in its complexity, rather than framing the GDR with Cold War ideology.

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New issue: Volume Five Number One

History in the Making has a new issue: Volume Five Number One. This new issue continues the journal’s strong record of publishing outstanding work by history students.

This issue focusses on twentieth century European history, with insights from Swatilekha AhmedRebecca Cordony and Joanna Molloy. We also emphasise the role of women in history, most prominently in Michelle Staff’s talented examination of women’s biography.