UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

La pérdida de todo : personal memory in Cuban universities during the Special Period Thornton, Nicholas


This thesis focuses on the remembered experiences of Cuban university students and professors who lived through the economic hardships of the Special Period, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It draws on published conversations from a roundtable discussion conducted by the University of Havana and Utrecht University, as well as entries from the dissident blog ‘The Havana Times.’ Tracing how state responses to economic hardships were experienced by students and faculty, this thesis investigates Cubans’ often complicated understandings of Revolutionary ideology and the sudden loss of imagined futures alongside the neglect of universities and the impact on the students and faculty that marked the Special Period. Despite historical scholarship exploring the Special Period, university education, a cornerstone of Cuban society and civic culture since the Revolution in 1959, has been largely ignored. Also absent from many historical narratives of the Special Period are individual voices and personal memory. By examining the remembered lived experiences of Cuban students and professors, and positioning them within the framework of improvisation, this thesis unpacks the polemical debate between Cubans who fled the country and those who stayed and committed to the ideals of the Revolution. This thesis further explores the complicated ways in which Cubans viewed the Special Period as a period not altogether that difficult or noteworthy, while simultaneously remembering it as a time of intense scarcity and uncertainty. In doing so, it argues that Cuban university students and professors navigated their realities through improvised, and at times conflicting, senses of Cuban identity, Revolutionary ideology, and economic and material realities.

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