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The search to justify the present by observing (and reconstructing) the past guaranteed that historians as individuals and history as a discipline would occupy an important place in the Latin American public sphere. It explained why governments financed multiple missions to foreign archives in order to search for colonial documentation and why local archives were ordered and their documentation augmented with the purchase of additional material.9 Latin American governments also encouraged and subsidized the publication of primary sources with the aim of making them available to the wider public.
Although constantly present in the public sphere and forming part of the habitual school curricula, the instrumentalization of history was particularly noticeable in times of crisis. Each border episode and each dispute were followed by a resurge in historical studies, mainly focused on the affirmation of both nationhood and territory.10 Thereafter, historians could be presented as national heroes because their investigations saved the country from “pernicious consequences,” that is, territorial loses.11 Or, on the contrary, they could be classified as traitors if they questioned, let alone suggested, that their country’s claims were unfounded because, according to the dominant narrative, no reasonable person “could have even the most minor doubt” regarding those rights (Escude, 1987: 132-133). The emphasis on the political role of historians led to the emergence of a particular type of historical culture that affirmed that history must serve a “useful” purpose, which could only be filled by scholars telling a certain (prewritten) story that would back particular political or legal claims. To write or suggest otherwise or to engage in other historical questions that would be irrelevant to the affirmation of territorial rights seemed either heretical or simply a waste of time.