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Volume 56 / Humanities


19th and 20th Centuries: Peru

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

IN THE PREVIOUS VOLUME, HLAS 54, the sense predominated that historiography on republican Peru was in a phase of open-ended transition, with a balance between old and new themes and approaches. Now the shape of the new predominant approaches is beginning to come into focus. The new methods examine linkages between culture, economy, society, and politics, including the hidden meanings of doctrines, institutions, and practices, while admitting a plurality of voices and twisted paths, all of which makes it more difficult for the historian to proclaim the inevitability of outcomes.

Perhaps the field where these shifting sensitivities and approaches to Peruvian history have produced the most interesting work reviewed for this volume is in what could be called the "new political history." Two distinct conceptual approaches, often at odds with each other, characterize recent studies in this field: 1) the Gramscian notion of hegemony; and 2) discourse analysis and the concept of political culture pioneered by French historians, such as Roger Chartier and Maurice Agulhon. Mallon's study of the role of peasants in the formation of the Mexican and Peruvian nation-states is clearly the most important recent work using the first line of approach (item bi 94016771). She demonstrates innovative ways of exploring the impact of peasants on local and national power structures, but leaves the reader with the depressingly pessimistic notion that Peruvian governments, for decades after the mid-1880s, relied entirely on repression in their attempts to extend the writ of Lima across the national territory. Thurner (item bi 97002418) and Méndez (item bi 94009008) are pursuing similar issues as they explore the lack of connection between highland peasant notions of republican citizenship and the exclusivist national identity espoused by Creole elites. In his essay on the social bases of politics in a northern highland province, Taylor suggests that changing social structures in fact reinforced clientelism and caudillo politics rather than weakening them.

During the current reporting period, the most important example of the second line of new political history - concerned primarily with discourse analysis and the construction of a national political culture - is Demelas' work. Her comparative study examines the Andean countries' "seduction" by democratic politics arising out of the French and American Revolutions. According to her model, which follows that of François Xavier Guerra, politics adapted in strange and unexpected ways, while society remained "traditional." Less methodologically ambitious, but similarly revisionist in its conclusions, is the work by McEvoy about Manuel Pardo and the early Civilista Party, which rejects the conventional dismissal of Pardo and his group as nouveau-riche guano contractors who seized the State merely because of class interests (item bi 97002411). Instead, she credits Pardo for a far-reaching modernization project of the State and economy, with broad popular participation. Gootenberg also suggests that Pardo and other writers on economic affairs during the guano age presented sound proposals for national development, even though they never were applied (item bi 97002412).

As Irurozqui points out, this potential for revisionism arises primarily because liberal and Marxist teleological notions about Peruvian history are no longer tenable (item bi 94013028). Certainly this rejection of much of the historical writing produced between the 1960s-80s provides the impetus for Planas' somewhat simplistic revisionist studies on the "generation of 1900" (item bi 97002410) and the Leguía regime (item bi 97002413). He suggests that during the aristocratic republic there existed fragile but significant developments towards pluralism and a more inclusive polity, which were destroyed through the "autocracy" of the Leguía regime.

Beyond the studies already mentioned by Gootenberg and Méndez, a number of historians published articles concerning political and social ideas. The excellent study by Dawe and Taylor on Enrique López Albújar's notions of banditry clearly demonstrates the complex amalgam of local knowledge and imported fashionable ideas present in an influential reformist author's representation of Peruvian social reality (item bi 95007276). De la Cadena enriches our understanding of indigenismo in Cusco, and, more generally, the construction of ethnicity, by relating both to the crucial social norm of "decencia" (item bi 94016383). Martínez Riaza (item bi 97023375) and González Calleja (item bi 95016055) underscore the drift of conservative and authoritarian intellectuals and politicians in Peru between the 1920s and early 1940s towards the regimes of Primo de Rivera, Franco, and Mussolini, while the structural and institutional bases for emulating southern European corporatists and fascists remained weak in Peru.

A cultural approach to major themes in the history of republican Peru is just beginning to receive more attention. Majluf's suggestive essay on the growing use of monuments to shape popular memories demonstrates the important implications of this kind of research (item bi 97002417). Tamayo Herrera's preliminary study on the changing rituals of death in Lima whets our appetite for more studies on rituals, both public and private, concerning life cycle events, and civil and religious celebrations (item bi 95013852).

One topic that continues to receive less attention than it deserves in the historiography of republican Peru is the history of women and, more broadly, of gender relations. Villavicencio's study has brought to light the surprising extent of women's participation in literary circles during the 1870s-80s and in various labor and reform organizations during the early-20th century (item bi 94016433). In addition, Cecilia Blondet has given us a cogent analysis of the surge in women's organizations since the early 1970s (item bi 95018657). Yet we still do not have any significant studies on the impact of gender relations on major issues in republican history.

Work on aspects of Peru's multi-ethnic character, on the position of its subalterns, and on immigration continued vigorously during this reporting period. Beyond the publications on highland Andean peasantries already mentioned, the most important achievements reviewed here were two major studies by Hünefeldt (item bi 95000004) and Aguirre (item bi 97002409) on the final phase of slavery and its abolition. More than earlier works, these publications stress the Afro-Peruvians' agency and their surprising space for negotiation with slave owners and various intermediary groups. Aguirre's depiction of early post-independence Lima society as atomistic and non-corporatist poses a major challenge to conventional conceptions.

New immigrant groups in 19th- and 20th-century Peru continue to receive considerable attention. Bonfiglio has written a well-documented, innovative monograph on Italian immigrants that offers new insights on the peculiar politics of this relatively small, but highly influential group (item bi 94016430). Trazegnies Granda's monumental epic on the fate of one Chinese coolie constitutes a successful exploration of a new way to write the history of those who are neither famous nor mighty (item bi 97002414). Furthermore, Rodríguez Pastor (item bi 94009007) and Lausent-Herrera (item bi 94008075) have published valuable accounts of the social and religious behavior of Chinese Peruvians.

Much of the best historiography on post-independence Peru continues to have a regional focus. One previously neglected region, Amazonia and the eastern piedmont of the Andes, is finally receiving the attention it deserves. A project at the Universitat de Barcelona has resulted in a string of publications by García Jordan (items bi 96007983, bi 95008100, and bi 94008074) and Sala i Vila (item bi 95008099) that contribute much to our understanding of the contests and negotiations between the Catholic Church, the Peruvian State, and rubber entrepreneurs over control of the native population between the 1880s-1910s. The works present a plausible model for the distinct character of colonization in different southern Andean piedmont regions. Coomes and Barham (item bi 97002505) use neoclassical economic axioms to propose a thorough reinterpretation of the rubber boom throughout Amazonia, beyond the borders of Peru. Finally, the late Jesús Víctor San Román has given us an uneven, but serious and useful overview of the economic and social development of the Peruvian Amazon region since conquest (item bi 94016426).

Most contributions to economic history during this reporting period also have a regional focus. Burga's long essay on the agrarian conjunctures in central Peru, both coastal and highland, between the late colonial period and the 1850s demonstrates the tremendously diverse economic conditions from valley to valley and between production controlled by hacendados and that carried out by peasants (item bi 93010533). Two solid articles by Deustua underscore the important role of peasants and muleteers in the functioning of central Peru's regional markets, still articulated around the silver mines by the mid-19th century (items bi 94009953 and bi 94006230). Contreras' close reading of land transactions among peasants in the Mantaro valley during the late 19th and early 20th centuries is a powerful reminder of how localized ethnic practices could shape economic behavior, even during periods of advanced market penetration (item bi94-7943). In the north, Bazán Alfaro and Gómez Cumpa suggest that it was not commodities but labor migration that defined regions by the time of the sugar estates' boom after 1890 (item bi 94009016). Over all, it appears that scholarly work on Peru's economic history is still declining, however. Martínez Alier's call for utilizing ecological models as a crucial method for understanding changing material conditions has so far found little echo either (item bi 93010118).

Visual images are gaining in importance for our understanding of history. Three beautiful volumes in this reporting period fit this pattern. Mould de Pease and Longhi have assembled extraordinary photos and paintings in an up-beat nationalist volume showing how Peru became the diverse nation it is today (item bi 94016412). The editors of the volume on pisco bring to life every phase of its production, from the vineyards to the distilleries and bottling (item bi 94016409). But pride of place here belongs to the Smithsonian Institution's edition of selected photos by Martín Chambi (item bi 94016411), whose fame as one of the great photographers of the 20th century continues to grow. Better than any text, these photographs make clear how complicated Cusco regional society was during the mid-20th century: embracing the modern world, yet holding fast to its proud indigenous and colonial Spanish past. Chambi's work shows his mastery of profound, multifaceted visions.

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