The Hope of Our Nation: Youth, Propaganda, and Gendered Power Plays in Peronist Argentina, 1946-1955
by Tom Brinkerhoffd
Thesis Advisor: Professor Rebekah Pite
Q: When did you start thinking about your thesis?
A: I began thinking about potential thesis topics during the first semester of my junior year. Originally, I had hoped to write on the way Neoliberal politics of the 1990’s affected marginalized segments of the Argentine population and why many of these people voted for President Carlos Menem (1989-1999) despite the fact that his policies were not beneficial to their wellbeing. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough accessible primary sources, so I spent the interim break thinking of new options.
Q: How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?
A: Over the interim break I became fascinated with children’s magazines printed by the Argentine government between 1946 and 1955. I wanted to read more about this phenomenon, but was surprised to find very little scholarship existed. I thought this would make a fascinating thesis topic, so I talked with my adviser, Professor Rebekah Pite, and she helped me work with the Skillman Library to purchase some of these magazines for my research, since no library in the United States owned any copies.
Q: Did your adviser explain the structure of a thesis project to you?
A: Yes, Professor Pite did a fantastic job laying out all of the requirements and expectations. From the very beginning, the two of us were always on the same page and there was never any confusion. Professor Sanborn created an information packet for thesis students in the History Department, which provided a useful timeline. Between the summer of my junior and senior year I created a syllabus for the fall semester with due dates for drafts and a reading list. Professor Pite then reviewed my timeline and reading lists over the summer to make sure the readings were pertinent and my goals realistic.
Q: Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?
A: Yes, over the summer I wrote a substantial historiographical review essay (about 25 pages) on scholarship written on youth, gender, and propaganda during the Peronist era, 1946-1955. I had written a number of historiographical review essays before. History 206 does a wonderful job teaching students the practice of historiography and I had additional practice writing these essays in seminars I took with Professor Pite and Professor Rosen.
Q: Do you remember receiving correspondence from the library about your honors thesis?
A: Yes, I received emails at the end of my junior year that detailed all of the library’s resources and the types of help reference librarians could provide. I was lucky in the sense that I had worked as an Excel Scholar during my junior year, so I was familiar with the library’s resources, such as Interlibrary Loan, and how incredibly helpful the librarians were. Before I left campus for the summer I scheduled a meeting with Lijuan Xu and we reviewed different databases and resources that the library had. Lijuan was very generous with her time and always went out of her way to help me with my research.
Q: What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?
A: Given that my project was a relatively unexplored topic, gaining access to sources was the most difficult part. The library purchased over thirty children’s magazines printed by the Peronist government in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, which were critical to my research. In an effort to acquire even more material and conduct oral histories with former Peronist youth, I used my yearly earnings as an Excel Scholar to fund a summer research trip to Argentina.
Q: What was most rewarding about your thesis project?
A: Conducting oral histories was definitely the most rewarding aspect of my thesis project. If I had just relied on the magazines, I would have been able to analyze government discourse, but I would not have been able to get at the voices of the actors that I truly wished to study. Performing my own oral histories allowed me to think deeper about issues of collective memory and the ways in which memory competes against other forms of discourse, be it political, cultural, economic, etc.
Q: What assistance did your adviser/department offer you throughout the course of the year?
A: Professor Pite was an invaluable resource. She went above and beyond the call of duty, consistently reading multiple drafts of each chapter and discussing different conceptual and theoretical concepts with me. The History Department was also wonderful. Everyone offered me different pieces of advice and encouragement along the way, especially Professor Fix who graciously listened to me talk about my thesis before and after his seminar in the fall semester. The Spanish Department was equally as wonderful. Professor Rojo, one of my readers, was a tremendous resource to discuss theoretical issues with, especially those that pertained to propaganda, sexuality, oral history, and translation.
Q: Did you meet with librarians in the course of conducting your research? How many times and what stages of your research?
A: Yes, I met with Lijuan at the end of my junior year and several times during the first semester of my senior year. The reference librarians do such a fantastic job in class library sessions and individual meetings that, I believe, it allows you to find sources and navigate different databases on your own with ease.
Q: What other kinds of support did you rely on throughout the year to accomplish your thesis (parents, friends, etc.)?
A: I am probably most indebted to my family, especially my parents, for supporting me throughout my thesis, particularly when I first informed them that I wanted to spend part of the summer researching in Argentina. My friends were also an invaluable source of support and I appreciate their patience as I enthusiastically discussed new findings and ideas. The History and Spanish Departments were also equally as helpful. I am also grateful that I was able to get valuable feedback from other members of the History Club and from other honors thesis students.
Q: Were you able to get all the research materials you wanted for your project?
A: That is a great question and I suspect my answer will be different than most. The short answer is yes, but I had to travel to Argentina in order to do so. The library’s willingness to purchase many Peronist children’s magazines was also vitally important to my ability to pursue this project. I also benefited from the generosity of the interlibrary loan department, which offered to help me track down hard to find secondary sources.
Q: Would you do anything differently if you went through the process again?
A: There were many interesting stories and cartoons in the magazines that I wish I had the time and space to discuss. Unfortunately, I had to make difficult decisions at times with respect to what information was the most pertinent to my project, despite much of it being so fascinating. Hopefully I will be able to continue working more with these sources in graduate school.
Q: What advise would you offer other honors thesis students, especially in your department?
A: Work early and work often. The summer between junior and senior year is an important period and it is imperative to work hard during that time to have success with a thesis. I read most of my secondary literature over the summer (over 80 pieces of scholarship), as well as wrote a historiographical review essay and a project proposal. I also designed a syllabus for the fall semester over the summer, which made the first semester run smoothly. While an honors thesis is one of the hardest tasks an undergraduate can undertake, it is also by far one of the most rewarding. The project will improve your writing, researching, and speaking abilities, but it will also cause you to think more deeply about the world and your place within it—a skill that will prove critical both on and off College Hill.