Pearce Edwards

Pearce Edwards, 2019 Global Research Scholar

Research ProjectArgentine Military Dictatorship

Research Location: Argentina

Majors: Political Science

My summer 2019 pre-dissertation research brought me to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The topic of my project which led me there is the role and effects of the Catholic episcopacy during Argentina’s last dictatorship (1976-1983). During the Proceso, as it’s euphemistically known in the country, up to 30,000 people were victims of enforced disappearances and killings by the military regime. The country’s Catholic bishops ranged from supporting and endorsing the dictatorship’s campaign against opponents to publicly condemning the brutal repression.

Numerous accounts of the period describe anecdotally the activities of different bishops. However, to my knowledge, no prior research in the social sciences has attempted to (a) systematically document the activities of all 84 bishops active during the 1976-1983 period, and (b) quantify the effect, if any, these bishops’ actions had on the regime’s repression.

Perhaps one reason why no prior research has addressed these questions is because of the difficulty of accessing information on bishops from this period, especially the less vocal ones. My research in Buenos Aires took me to three different archival sources to gather this information: the Archive of National Memory (ANM), the Haroldo Conti Library, and the archive of the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS). Each of these archives provided a wealth of information on the activities of the church, allowing me to gather the data necessary to answer the questions my project poses:

  • In the Archive of National Memory (ANM) I gathered data primarily from 20th-century press sources and post-dictatorship government reports, as well as a handful of documents related to correspondence between bishops and members of the public. The archive also allowed me to transcribe portions of testimonials from victims of repression, as the documents themselves are not for public circulation.
  • In the Haroldo Conti Library, also a public institution, I found the most information on the Movement of Third World Priests (MSTM). This group was a lightning rod of debate among bishops. Primary source documents from the MSTM and the Catholic hierarchy gave me a window into the thoughts and actions of the bishops from the 1960s onward.
  • At the Center for Social and Legal Studies (CELS), a non-governmental human rights organization, I gathered information on the activities of human rights organizations during the dictatorship, the connections between these organizations and the church, as well as human rights reports produced by CELS.

Researching in both governmental and non-governmental archives increased confidence in my findings. The content of government archives, and which documents in them are accessible to the public, is a political question. By comparing and cross-referencing findings from the ANM and Conti Library with those from CELS, I formed a reliable measurement of bishops’ activities during Argentina’s last dictatorship.

The Halle Graduate Global Fellows program has been invaluable. As I turn toward developing my dissertation project, this in-country research experience will greatly improve the scholarly contribution of the finished product.