skip to content

Andrew Tillman

Andrew completed his PhD in 2013. He was supervised by Dr Charles Jones. His thesis looked at history and historians as a microcosm of extreme political polarization in contemporary Venezuela. It began by looking at Hugo Chávez as a man in command of history, albeit a partisan version of it.  Focusing on his manipulation of the cult of Bolívar, the thesis argued that the past for Chávez was “a moral memory palace” pedagogically serviceable to the Bolivarian Revolution.  Next, the thesis turned to how professional historians were both inspired and alarmed by Chávez’s vision of the past and, in the process, divided into two ideologically polarized camps.  Beginning with the “cultural caudillos” of the state-sponsored Centro Nacional de Historia, the thesis offered a history of sociability, revealing that these leaders were friends, colleagues, and/or disciples of the leading figures of professional revisionist history prior to the Bolivarian Revolution.  While official history need not be court history, this study showed that the cultural caudillos engaged in “active forgetting,” unleashing a narrative assault upon their former epistemological community, which had become anti-chavista, so as to serve their comandante but not the Venezuelan people as a whole.  Then, the thesis analyzed the politics of historians against the regime. It traced how leading historians developed a more nuanced and balanced national historiography during the second half of the twentieth century only to “actively forget” their past and deploy a hyper-partisan civilization-versus-barbarism narrative to explain the era of Hugo Chávez.  Abandoning their commitment to complexity, these historians became an echo chamber of the more intransigent elements of the opposition, for they did not examine reality with “a steadfast gaze” but rather obscured the world through a type of “self-anesthesia.”  The thesis concluded with a brief discussion on the value of epistemological humility in the context of polarized politics.