Photo of UC Davis history graduate student Renzo Aroni interviewing a Peruvian peasant.
UC Davis history doctoral student Renzo Aroni, right, conducts an oral history interview with Antonio Quispe, 78, who led his Peruvian village in a rebellion against Shining Path guerrillas in July 1992. That uprising had deadly repercussions for villagers in Huamanquiquia, in Peru’s Ayacucho region, who previously sided with the guerillas. Aroni was the first to document Quispe's story, interviewing him in his native Quechua. (Photo courtesy Renzo Aroni)

Graduate Student Receives Mellon Fellowship for Oral History Research in Peru

History graduate student Renzo Aroni has been awarded a Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship to document a 1992 massacre of 18 peasants by the Maoist Shining Path in Peru.

As part of his doctoral research, Aroni is interviewing survivors and some perpetrators of the slaughter in the village of Huamanquiquia in the Ayacucho region where the Shining Path waged its 1980–99 guerrilla war against the Peruvian government.

Prestigious award supports a year of research

UC Davis history grad student Renzo Aroni with two village women in traditional dress
Aroni sits with two women in Huamanquiquia, where he is conducting oral history interviews. Sofía Pillaca, left, lost two family members to violence in Peru’s long guerrilla war. Her husband disappeared in August 1984 when the Peruvian Army killed peasants for sympathizing with the Shining Path. Her son was killed by the Maoist guerrillas in 1992, after villagers turned against the rebels. Aroni said Pillaca gave her testimony for first time to Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2002. (Photo courtesy Renzo Aroni)

He is among 70 fellows selected by the international nonprofit Social Science Research Council from a total of 988 graduate student applicants at universities nationwide. This year’s awardees represent 32 universities and 15 disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.

The fellowship awards, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will average about $21,000 to support travel, housing and other expenses during nine to 12 months of research between July 2018 and December 2019; final award amounts will depend on research budgets that fellows submit to the program.

Memorializing peasants' stories of a 'people's war'

Aroni, who was born in Lima and grew up in Ayacucho during the Shining Path’s so-called “people’s war,” is conducting his interviews in Spanish and his native Quechua with village leaders, widows, former guerrilla militants, and peasant supporters of Shining Path in Huamanquiquia.

The people of the village had initially sympathized with the Shining Path, leading the Peruvian army to kill at least 30 indigenous peasants in August 1984, Aroni said. But by 1992, the villagers had shifted to active opposing Shining Path, killing some of its members. In retribution, the Shining Path killed the 18 men. Aroni said:

“My dissertation explores a previously undocumented story of shifting alliances, of retributive violence, and of memorialization of the 1992 event through the experiences and first-hand accounts of massacre survivors and former guerrillas."

An experienced researcher on Peru's 'horrible years'

Aroni has done field work in the region before. During his undergraduate studies in history at Peru’s National University of San Marcos, he wrote his thesis on the last massacre of the Shining Path in Ayacucho. His anthropology master’s degree thesis at the National Autonomous University of Mexico focused on how social and historical memories of violence find creative or artistic expression in contemporary Peru. 

Before starting graduate studies at UC 
Davis, Aroni contributed to research projects on human rights, missing persons and historical memory. He has worked with the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission Archive, the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team, and the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion Museum in Lima. 

“The SSRC fellowship will allow me to deepen my work and produce a detailed portrait of the how indigenous people experienced and influenced these horrible years.”

— Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science


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