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Volume 52 / Humanities


19th and 20th Centuries: Peru

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

IN SPITE OF THE INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT CONDITIONS for scholarly work in Peru, published research on the country's republican history has continued at an impressive clip, although a good share of the output within Peru follows political conjunctures. Some of the perennial favorite subjects, especially work on the War of the Pacific and the reformist military regime of 1968-80, have drawn less interest compared to the preceding reporting periods, but APRA and its leaders have seen a further rise in historical publications, as the party held national power for the first time from 1985-90. The output of works on national and regional heroes as well as local histories, written for a broad public distant from the ivory tower, has continued unabated with its markedly different methodological and discursive canons.

Publications by professional historians inside and outside of Peru evince uncertainty about methods and paradigms. Straight-forward dependency or orthodox Marxist interpretations of Peru's republican history are becoming rarer among professional historians, but retain popularity in politically inspired historiography. Structuralist economic and social history publications remain numerous. Peruvianists have been comparatively slow in combining such themes with approaches focusing on culture, ideologies and mentalities, as well as political power constellations. Social and political movements received much attention in the present reporting period. The focus in this area is gradually expanding beyond the history of organized labor and peasant uprisings to include other forms of urban and rural protest movements and associations. But most topics which we suggested in HLAS 50 as urgently needing attention, such as demographic history, the history of the bureaucracy and military during the century after independence, the history of taxation, the history of gender roles, and the evolution of public health, continue to be neglected.

The most ambitious Peruvian publication project of the 1980s, the complete works of Victor Andrés Belaunde (items bi 89013858, bi 89013859, bi 89013860, bi 89013861, and bi 89013862) began to appear in print in our reporting period. Thus the works of the country's most influential conservative thinker, who based his vision of a Catholic Peruvian identity on an interpretation of post-conquest history, will become as accessible as the writing of his great socialist and populist counterparts, Mariátegui and Haya de la Torre. Most publications on Haya in this period were part of a concerted effort by the Peruvian Aprista Party during the presidency of Alan García to popularize and aggrandize the party's contributions to the nation's development; these works suffer from an uncritical hagiographic bias (e.g., see item bi 89013843). But Alva Castro's documentary editions (items bi 91005041 and bi 91005042) have made available important contemporary influences on Haya's thought and political activities between the 1930s and 1960, and on APRA's appeal in other parts of Latin America. Autobiographies and reprints of earlier publications by other APRA leaders and militants (items bi 91005054, bi 91005048, and bi 89013793) further our understanding of doctrinal and political struggles in the party. The volume edited by Bonilla and Drake (item bi 91005051) provides important analyses on the transformation of the party between the 1960s and mid-1980s, as well as early evaluations of the García Administration. The greatest strides in deciphering Peru's republican history have been made by a spate of publications on the early post-independence period, an era whose historiography until recently was as obscure as its chaotic politics. Paul Gootenberg has provided us with a lucid, if controversial framework for making sense of those politics, emphasizing coalition building around foreign trade issues and the political economy of chronic fiscal deficits (items bi 91015672 and bi 89014924). Celia Wu (item bi 91024794) further demonstrates the ties between Peru's foreign relations and the domestic struggles between caudillos, as well as the difficulty of defining the Peruvian nation and the concomitant early rise of rather empty national hero worship. Villanueva Urteaga (item bi 89013788), Remy (item bi 89014925), Hünefeldt (item bi 88002741) and Contreras (item bi 90003672) offer new information and sophisticated interpretations of changing political and social constellations on the local and regional levels in the southern and central sierra, demonstrating the complex struggles between Creoles, mestizos and the local peasantry. New studies on the era's economic development (e.g., Quiroz's article in item bi 89013863 and Burga, item bi 89014718) highlight the regional, sectoral, and even communal diversity of conjunctures.

Essays by Aguirre (item bi 91015664) and Hünefeldt (item bi 88002741) offer major reinterpretations of the final phase of black slavery in post-independence Peru, suggesting that the system was undergoing a rapid decomposition by the actions of the slaves themselves, either through marronage and banditry or through working for wages, contractual manumission and litigation. Our understanding of labor conditions on the coast after the abolition of slavery has been much advanced through a number of articles and monographs. Cecilia Méndez (item bi 88001075) shows the economic rationale behind the reliance on coolies and prison labor in the extraction of guano and how the workers struggled to improve their miserable working conditions. Humberto Rodríguez Pastor (item bi 89013744) has given us a balanced and sympathetic portrait of the coolies, highlighting the contrast between harsh labor conditions and their cultural autonomy. Michael Gonzales (item bi 91015671) offers a sophisticated analysis of the crucial transition period of coastal labor regimes between the 1870s and 1890s, underscoring the central role played by various categories of Chinese workers even after the end of the coolie trade. Peter Kammann's major scholarly work (item bi 91024795) documents how much the wages and living conditions of north coast sugar workers improved between the 1920s and 1960s and how it was the specific group interests of certain worker categories, more than the pernicious influence of APRA ideology, that turned their movement conservative by the 1950s.

In Peruvian urban labor history we now see sophisticated studies that combine an analysis of labor regimes and working conditions with an analysis of the labor movement itself. Francisco Quiroz (item bi 91015676) shows the ideological and organizational limitations of Lima's artisans at the crucial moment when Peru adopted free trade in the 1850s. Luis Tejada (item bi 91005059) presents detailed information on the crucial bakery sector of Lima's industries around 1900, covering entrepreneurs, labor processes, working conditions, and the unresolved conflicts in the radicalizing union of bakery workers. The testimony of the pioneering organized textile workers from the 1930s, collected by Derpich and Israel (item bi 89013820), provides crucial insights into the everyday life and early union activities during the Depression years. For rural society, the contributions to the volume by Aguirre and Walker (item bi 91015664) have considerably recast our image of banditry and criminality, demonstrating the ties of rural unrest to political struggles on the national level, the stark conflicts within local groups of peasants and rural workers, the lack of social goals for most bandit activity, and perversion of indigenista rhetoric into racist stereotypes of the Indian, used by authoritarian policy-makers to legitimize measures of social control. William Stein's minute analysis of the Atusparia uprising of 1885 (items bi 91005058 and HLAS 50:767) demythologizes this important movement by pointing to the strategic involvement of urban groups.

Purely economic historical studies, beyond those already mentioned for the early republican era, have been relatively scant during this reporting period. However, we should mention Gootenberg's important study on prices between the 1820s and 1870s (item bi 90003959), an invaluable tool for further economic analyses. Luna's article (item bi 89008743) suggests that for brief periods German business activity in Peru may have been rather more important than hitherto thought, even before the 1930s.

The political history of the confusing middle decades of the 20th century is beginning to receive more attention. In his suggestive synthesis Geoffrey Bertram (item bi 92007123) downplays the role of APRA and speaks of a variety of experimental political models, in a situation in which old and new forces, oligarchic, liberal and populist parties, the military and regionalist movements could never impose their will on power contenders for long. Orazio Ciccarelli (item bi 90010682) comes to similar conclusions about the Benavides regime (1933-39) which, despite sympathies for Italian fascism, ultimately followed pragmatic policies to insure regime stability. In a thorough analysis of economic policy-making during the brief reformist era of 1945-48, Mirella García (item bi 91015669) also diagnoses the weakness of specific interest groups, the instability of the ruling coalition, and pure ineptness as the causes for the downfall of the Bustamante Administration.

The severe and ongoing crisis of the last decade is beginning to attract serious historical study and reflection. Expressing views widely held among social scientists, Steve Stein and Carlos Monge (item bi 91005055) trace the crucial juncture between the demise of the "patrimonial state," the growing economic crisis, and the rise of new, more autonomous social and political movements since the military regime of 1968-80. In the first thorough historical study of the Sendero Luminoso insurrection, Gustavo Gorriti (item bi 91005506) emphasizes the misunderstandings and indecisiveness of Peru's political elites, intellectuals, and military and intelligence apparatus to account for the stunning early successes of Sendero's clandestine revolutionary movement.

This reporting period saw further important publications on the history of church and missionary activity in republican Peru. Jeffrey Klaiber (item bi 91015673) has given us the first comprehensive history of the Catholic Church and its lay movements since independence, a judicious and balanced account which is sure to remain a reference work for years to come. Pilar García Jordan (item bi 89014923) continues to chronicle Church-State relations during the 19th and early 20th centuries. And Rosa del Carmen Bruno-Jofre (items bi 88000156 and bi 92000650) has undertaken to elucidate the impact of mainline Protestant groups on Peruvian society, a topic whose importance will surely grow in the future.

An important new source for 19th-century Peruvian history, selections from the diaries of the German-born merchant Heinrich Witt (item bi 91005052), is rich in information on a broad range of topics covering more than half a century. Research on the 19th century will also be made easier by Estuardo Núñez's thorough compendium of travel literature, a major reference tool (item bi 91005050).

Finally, I would like to mention the last book-length publication of Alberto Flores Galindo (item bi 91015886), whose premature death leaves a great void in Peruvian historiography. In this collection of essays Flores Galindo once again demonstrated the enormous range of his interests and knowledge, and his concern for connecting historical scholarship to the serious issues facing Peru today. It is to be hoped that the open historiographical debate to which he contributed so much can be sustained against the enormous odds which confront all historians working on Peru today.

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