Words on the page!

I am happy to report that at long last I have actually started writing my thesis! I never though I would be so excited to say those words. That has been an area of research that has surprised me. While I have obviously written research papers throughout my college career, the depth and breadth of research required before sitting down to write parts of my thesis has been a bit unexpected. I have been working to adjust both my expectations and my speed of researching and making decisions over what should and should not be included. It is sometimes difficult to spend hours working only to have pages of notes and no work “done” on the chapter. However, I am realizing that this is the work sometimes and is extremely necessary.

This past month I have been researching (and researching and researching) to develop the theoretical background of my work. My work is based in the critical theory of memory studies, largely influenced by Elizabeth Jelin, and her work on the labors of memory. Essentially, these theories boil down to the idea that memory is a process enacted by social actors and affected by the present. Thus nothing is ever truly a ‘recollection’ but rather a ‘reconstruction.’ Part of the labors of memory is that actors (such as governments) work to establish an ‘official memory’ or ‘master narrative’ that should reign supreme over alternative narratives. I am tying this theory to works by education scholars to present the idea that schools (particularly through history education) are sites of contestation and transmission of these narratives. Since education is infused with ideas about nationalism and national identity, these narratives are powerful tools for creating a social context for students.

In Guatemala these ideas are incredibly significant! After the conflicto armado, there has been no clear reconciliation or acceptance, so the master narrative that is established will set the stage for how Guatemalan students see themselves, their nation and their national history. I will dive into this idea mostly through schoolwork but also through the creation of everyday, collective histories that are established through family and routine.

It is exciting and overwhelming to look towards the future. I will work on grounding my theoretical chapter in examples and then move on to my literature review of Guatemala. I need to get through these sections relatively quickly so I can move to the meat of my thesis, which comes through the analysis of the primary sources I collected this summer. Here’s hoping that having this promise in print will help hold me to it!

This evening, I spoke to a group of students considering writing a senior honors thesis next year on behalf of the History honor society. I had gone to the session as an interested student last year, so it was a neat opportunity to think back on what the last year has brought me, and what writing an honors thesis has meant to me. I was surprised to find what an impact it has had! It sounds scary to tell someone who is just beginning the process, but writing a thesis has changed the way I think, analyze and see my classes and the world. All that from just the first chapter! I am grateful for the chance to step back and recognize how incredible the process of writing a thesis has been- from my adventures (and misadventures!) this summer in Guatemala to the hours spent in Swem the past few months, I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of my time as an Honors Fellow throws my way.

Hasta la próxima vez,



  1. Hi Brenna, memory studies sounds really fascinating and like a great paradigm through which to study post-war Guatemala! Do you think you’ll do investigations into other countries, i.e., will your paper have a comparative aspect? Obviously there are so many countries where schools are a site of nation-building and memory contestation.