Yale’s archives influence the narrative of new exhibit ‘Empire and Resistance’ tracing U.S. and Central America links

Relying on materials from Yale Library’s diverse special collections Nancy Escalante, a PhD student in American Studies, has curated an exhibit that traces the long, contentious history that links the United States and the seven countries of Central America. Titled ‘Empire and Resistance — Transisthmian Views of Central America’ the exhibit in the Hanke Gallery of Sterling Memorial Library has many themes—activism and solidarity, movement and travel, forced migration, and religion. But the thread that runs through these themes is the idea of connection, of community, “beyond national boundaries and across centuries.”

Escalante has engaged in deep thinking about where archival materials come from and the narratives they create. “Sometimes we take for granted that these materials had a life before they became encapsulated in the archive. I have to be intentional to realize that the archives I am interpreting are also mediated, not only by the archivist, but by the person who donated the archive—how they organized it, the type of things they collected, what they want to leave in, what they want to leave out. All these things influence the type of narratives that I can tell,” she said.

“When I wrote my proposal for Empire and Resistance, I had a sense of the type of narrative that I wanted out of the exhibition. But when I came into contact with the sources, I had to be flexible about my narrative changing, because of what these sources were telling me. With the exhibitions I had done before coming to Yale, I started with secondary-source research or a paper in which an exhibition was supplementary. This exhibition was about going into the archives to see what I could find and then developing the argument.”


To read more more about the exhibit, visit the Yale Library website