[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Volume 50 / Humanities


19th and 20th Centuries: Peru

NILS P. JACOBSEN, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

AMONG RECENT WORKS on republican Peru many standard topics continue to command the same interest as in the past but new subjects are noticeable as well. Scholars are still writing on the War of the Pacific, examining diplomatic and military issues as well as peasant movements it fostered and how they impinged on the national question. As in every recent reporting period, there are numerous studies on Haya de la Torre, Mariátegui and the nationalist military regime. Labor history is again well represented.

Local historians, from Chota to Moquegua, continue to compile bits and pieces of information on their cherished terruño and its heroes. Their approach, however, confirms the enormous distance that lies between them and professional historians, a cleavage of mentalities and horizons that reveals much about contemporary Peruvian culture. Studies of regional societies and economies are now firmly entrenched, although they are only haltingly extending beyond three favored regions (i.e., a few provinces and departments in the central and southern highlands and the north coast) to include hitherto neglected parts of the country.

Probably the greatest progress during the past biennium is evident in publications on key issues and sectors of Peru's 19th-century economy, covering topics that go beyond guano, sugar and foreign trade. But many topics which have been neglected for years were ignored once again in this biennium, among them demographic history prior to the 1940 census, the history of the bureaucracy and the military during the first century after independence, history of prices and of taxation, the history of gender roles, the evolution of education and of public health, to name but a few. Even the reappraisal of the history of the country's political processes, suggested in 1982 by Rory Miller, which would require systematic studies of congresses, electoral practices and the social composition of political elites, has yet to receive the attention it deserves.

Among works canvassed for this HLAS volume, there is one that stands out because of its extraordinary scope, graceful style and the challenge it poses for widely held conceptions of Peruvian history: Alberto Flores Galindo's Buscando un inca (item bi 88000486). This work suggests that for the past four centuries there has been in Peru an Indian national project, subject to constant renewal, a movement which became millenarian or utopian in nature as it arose from the majority of people excluded from power and from inclusion as part of Peru's elite identity. The book signals the heightened concern of a major group of younger Peruvian historians about the racism that prevails in their society, and their realization that a narrow preoccupation with socioeconomic "progress" will not suffice to forge a national identity. Like the generation of 1919, these younger Peruvian intellectuals do not perceive their nation as a mere extension of Western tradition but rather as a heterogeneous and still somewhat blurred Andean culture sui generis. Utilizing the liberties of the essayistic genre, Flores Galindo sets forth a broad interpretation of the utopian tradition of the Andes by combining ethnohistory, history of ideas, ideologies and mentalities, psychohistory and even economic and political history. While such approaches have recently been employed in other works on the colonial period, it remains to be seen whether Buscando un inca will stimulate further research on Indian ethnohistory, ideologies and mentalities during the republican period.

Studies on the economy during this biennium are noteworthy in that 1) they take on issues that have been long neglected, and 2) they shift from the one-dimensional consideration of export-orientation and dependency towards an exploration of internal variables, domestic markets and their complex interrelations with foreign trade and capital. In his reappraisal of the guano age, Hunt (item bi 89006581) now stresses the growth potential offered by the unexpected bird-dung bonanza, and points to specific internal variables as causes for its ultimate failure to produce lasting development. What was possibly the key episode in that failure, Echenique's consolidation of the internal debt, has now been analyzed meticulously by Alfonso Quiroz (item bi 89006659), whose study draws into question the conventional wisdom that the consolidation funds and, a few years later, the Castilla administration's payment of compensation for emancipated slaves, helped to recapitalize coastal agriculture and other productive enterprises.

Peru's republican mining sector before the rise of the foreign-owned copper corporations is finally receiving the attention it deserves. Deustua (items bi 89006662 and bi 89006588) demonstrates the fast recovery of silver mining after the wars of independence, along the lines of traditional technology, its somewhat surprising decadence between the mid-1840s and 1890, and explores the still insufficiently understood links between silver mining and monetary circulation. The article by Contreras (item bi 89006582) underscores the traditional weakness of the miners vis-à-vis merchant capital and highlights the long neglected strength of the muleteers. Fiona Wilson's fine article in a volume on regional issues edited by Rory Miller (item bi 89010711) shows how peasants in the central sierra could again take advantage of opportunities in the transport business when the change-over from railroad to truck transport was ushered in during the 1930s. In a brief, but lucid monograph Contreras (item bi 89006656) demonstrates that mining in the central sierra remained embedded in an essentially agrarian society until the end of the century, through labor relations that simultaneously exploited the peasants and aided in the reproduction of their household economy. Dore (item bi 88002224) suggests that even after the rise of the foreign-dominated gran minería since 1900, its rhythm of growth and profitability remained primarily determined by internal variables rather than by foreign demand.

The issue of the formation of an internal market is directly addressed in a suggestive study by Nelson Manrique (item bi 89006677), according to whom the regional elite of the central sierra flourished during the third quarter of the 19th century through domestic trade until it was ruined in the aftermath of the War of the Pacific. In contrast to Klarén's findings for La Libertad, we now learn that in Lambayeque domestic trade grew together with the expansion of sugar production for export (e.g., see Gómez Cumpa and Bazán Alfaro, item bi 89006654). The other major coastal export sector, cotton production, has finally received serious attention in the studies of William Bell (item bi 89006590) and Vincent Peloso (item bi 89006592). Along with the most thorough long-range cotton export statistics for the 19th century, Bell also provides an excellent discussion of yanaconaje. Peloso shows how the conditions of this share-cropping arrangement gradually shifted to the hacendados' favor in the early 20th century.

In two important articles, Alfonso Quiroz (items bi 89006615 and bi 89000727) expertly discusses the rise of modern banking institutions and the formation of Lima's business elite in the decades after the War of the Pacific. By demonstrating how innovative finance techniques, bringing together foreign and national entrepreneurs, helped to diversify and modernize the country's economy, he contributes to the ongoing revision of the image of the national oligarchy during the aristocratic republic. Alexander Secada's well researched article on the early development of W.R. Grace & Co. (item bi 89006624) also underscores the War of the Pacific as a turning point for this enterprise, stressing its early operation as a transnational corporation.

The debate about the meaning of peasant rebellions during the late 19th century continues. Heraclio Bonilla (item bi 89002804) again stresses that the peasant movement of the Mantaro valley during and after the War of the Pacific could take on nationalistic overtones only because of the peculiar circumstances of the war, while denying a more general feasibility for peasant nationalism under the social, economic and political circumstances prevailing in Peru at the time. Florencia Mallon (item bi 89002920) musters impressive evidence and a sophisticated theoretical argument to support her view that the central sierra's peasantry could sustain a nationalist project even without an alliance with the regional elite; yet she finds that in the northern sierra, due to a different trajectory of class relations, conditions were not ripe for peasant nationalism. Michael Gonzales' fine essay (item bi 89006599) shows that peasant uprisings in the altiplano reflected an attempt to reestablish old rights and balances within a traditional patriarchal society, rocked by increasing tax burdens on the peasants and a wave of land acquisitions by large landholders. In a well researched and thoughtful book, Nelson Manrique (item bi 89006655) discusses the different power constellations in the central and southern sierra, exacerbated by the War of the Pacific. Landholders in the south could exploit peasants much more harshly than their colleagues in the central sierra, without provoking serious rebellions. Yet this finding is puzzling, because the south paradoxically has remained the region with the strongest communal peasantry.

The growing realization that the evolution of social structures or class relations cannot be adequately understood without considering power constellations, political culture and broader issues of culture, ideology and mentality, has contributed towards rekindling interest among scholars in issues related to the Church and religiosity. Pilar García Jordan's essays (items bi 89006612 and bi 89006597) help us to understand why the Church-State conflict in mid-19th century Peru was comparatively muted, and how the emerging liberal elites and the Church hierarchy sought mutual accommodation. Jeffrey Klaiber's informative article about educational institutions of the Church during the 1960s-70s (item bi 89006619) discusses the growing fissure within the Church over issues of school curricula and control, and its shifting interaction with the government.

Among recent works on Haya de la Torre, the young perceptive journalist Pedro Planas' monograph on the formative phase of the APRA leader up to the electoral campaign of 1931 stands out (item bi 89006648). A skeptical antidote to Fredrick Pike's new emphasis on Haya's spiritualism (see HLAS 48:3070), Planas' critical, non-partisan work, casts doubt on several cherished notions about the jefe máximo's intellectual evolution, especially concerning the influence of González Prada and the conflict with Mariátegui. With Gonzalo Portocarrero's fine monograph on the rise and fall of the Bustamante administration (item bi 89006594), we now also have a critical and scholarly analysis of the next era of reformism in Peru. In contrast to earlier partial treatments of the years 1945-48, the author finds enough blame to go around for Bustamante's failure. An important collection of essays on the military regime of Juan Velasco (item bi 89006623) suggests that many leftist intellectuals, who had actively supported that reformist effort, by the mid-1980s attempted a sober reevaluation of the goals and achievements of the "Peruvian revolution" in the broader framework of a long-range democratization of Peruvian society.

Works on the Peruvian labor movement focused primarily on the formative phase during the first third of this century. The quantitative study by Derpich, Huiza, and Israel (item bi 89006664) offers valuable data for a revision of prevailing notions about working-class standards of living and the problem of unemployment during the 1920s-30s. The memoirs of a key union leader during the 1910s-20s, Julio Portocarrero (item bi 89007288), vividly portray the fragility and ideological fluidity of the early labor movement and present us with a first-hand account of the difficult working and living conditions of Lima's urban proletariat, and the resourcefulness and camaraderie which characterized these pioneers.

Before closing we should note the publication of the parliamentary speeches of Luis Alberto Sánchez (item bi 89006618), a stellar figure in Peruvian political and intellectual affairs for more than half a century. They demonstrate how, until recently at least, Peruvian intellectuals have been active participants in politics and have helped the nation to address many key issues from a broad, at times nearly philosophical perspective.

On balance, these two years have been fruitful ones for the historiography of republican Peru. Challenging reinterpretations have been formulated on a number of topics, and empirical studies, especially on aspects of the 19th-century economy and society, as well as on 20th-century politics, have brought us further. As Fred Bronner notes in his frank and sympathetic portrait of Peruvian historians today (item bi 89002808), this is an especially productive and creative epoch for Peruvian historiography, despite the great difficulties which many practitioners of the craft face in their daily lives. One cannot help but be concerned whether this productivity can be sustained year after year, as Peruvian historians, together with most of their fellow citizens, wage a continual struggle in an atmosphere of severe economic crisis, political uncertainty, and pervasive violence.

Go to the:

Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (01/07/05)