The Future of Andean History

Following are the comments I’ve prepared for the CLAH Andean Studies Roundtable, “The Future of the Andean Past.” I’m going to be posting these comments at the Roundtable blog this week, but I thought I’d put them up here first. And feedback would be greatly appreciated. Essentially, what I’m offering is that Early Andean History, what is conventionally known as the colonial Andes (what can I say, I was trained by a Lockhartian) would benefit from deploying ethnohistorical methods, or historical ethnography, on the vast mestizo/afro-descendant/poor-Spanish sector, and the establish a dialogue with traditional Andean ethnohistory to deepen our understanding of processes of acculturation and cultural formation.  See more below the fold.

The Future of the Andean Past

Comments prepared for the Andean Studies Section Roundtable

CLAH/AHA, San Diego, CA

7-10 January 2010

Let me preface these comments by noting some limitations. It’s not my intention here to provide a comprehensive overview of the state of Andean History at the end of this first decade of the twenty-first century. It’s also not my intention to engage any number of specific works that currently define the field.  Rather, I’d like to reflect on some issues of ethnohistorical method and the social-cultural history endeavor as a provocation for future work in the field. Additionally, I come to this as someone who works, as it were, from the margins of the traditionally conceived heartland of Andean History—I’m a historian of Quito and the north Andes who generally works on the casta plebeians of the city in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As a colonialist, I find myself on the margins of that periodization. As an Andeanist, I find myself on the margins of the heartland of Upper Peru and the Viceroyalty of Lima. And, as an Andeanist, I find myself on the margins of the area of scholarship I find most exciting- ethnohistory of the post-conquest period. And yet, that position within the scholarship gives me, I hope, an interesting perspective on the Future of the Andean Past.

Andeanists have produced an impressive body of literature over the past twenty years. In the course of thinking about these comments and out of curiosity, I prepared a bibliography using Zotero of journal articles published since 1990 in the HAHR, The Americas, the CLAR, the LARR, and the Revista de Historia de América. (Sorted by publication, by date—warning, I didn’t clean up the entries at all, and sometimes Zotero is a bit messy.). All told, there were 165 articles published in those journals that substantially dealt with the Andes.  Our production has been consistent in these venues (chosen as generalist journals on colonial and modern Latin America), with a spike in the early 2000s.

Apropos my comments above, this word cloud of titles and authors demonstrate the centrality of subjects dealing with indigenous peoples in Peru, with appropriate caveats. Wordle.net only allows you to control for common words from one language. And if the image is hampered by the prevalence of certain common Spanish words, a quick review of articles published since 2000 demonstrate the continued interest in indigenous topics. Out of ninety-two total articles, forty-one of them (45%) analyze subjects dealing with indigenous peoples. If we divide by our traditional disciplinary periodization, twenty-nine of sixty-three articles on the colonial period (46%), and twelve of twenty-eight articles on the modern period (43%), deal with indigenous issues. (The two other most frequently appearing topics are African and Afro-descendant issues, and gender, amongst many more.) Now, as a colonialist I am happy to note our out-production of our modernist colleagues. I don’t think that it is accidental that many people who go into Latin American history and are interested in the Andes gravitate towards the colonial period, in part because the historical problems of the colonial Andes still resonate. In fact, the vast majority of modern pieces counted above deal specifically with the so-called “Problem of the Indian” and indigenous peoples political engagement of the nation state.  The special place that indigenous people have in our literature points to the larger issue I’d like to broach in these comments.

In 1972, and again in 1989, James Lockhart reflected on the emergence and evolution of the social history of early Latin America.[1] In the essay, Lockhart suggests that the social history of early Latin America is marked by “a cycle of sources, from the more to less synthetic, with corresponding kinds of history,” moving through 1. Chronicles; 2. Official Correspondence; 3. Institutional Records; 4. Litigation; and, 5. Notarial records.[2] In 1972, he proffered that the history of Early Latin America was entering the end of its first phase of movement through the cycle, and social history based on notarial records was fairly dominant into the 1980s. Interestingly, Lockhart’s own trajectory from the late 1970s into the 1990s was to replicate in his own work this cycle now with indigenous language sources. The emergence of the New Philology, so to speak, as the leading form of ethnohistory in early Latin America led Lockhart away from Peru, where his original work was centered, and too Mesoamerica, where a large and complex body of indigenous language sources were available.[3]

It’s not accidental that this shift in focus occurred. There is nothing exactly like the New Philology school of ethnohistory in the Andes because, well, we have nothing like the density and luxuriousness of indigenous language sources from the colonial period that Mesoamerica has. And it is that absence of written native sources that has forced early Andean history, and early Andean ethnohistory in particular, to maintain an adventurous relationship with anthropology and the tools it offers to analyze the process of Spanish empire-building and its impacts on indigenous states, communities, and individuals. The anthropological encounter in early Andean history has been sustained by anthropologists and historians alike from the early days of our discipline, through the work of people like John Rowe, Franklin and Mariana Pease, Maria Rostworowski, John Murra, Karen Spalding, Steve Stern, Irene Silverblatt, Frank Salomon, Brooke Larson, Thierry Saignes, Karen Powers, Ward Stavig, and many more.

The modus operandi, in a generalized sense, of this encounter perpetuated a sort of reconstruction of the dual republics in the interest of identifying indigenous social, cultural, economic, and religious practices through Spanish imperial documentation. I say reconstruction, because ethnohistorical methods traditionally applied to this documentary corpus have sought to find that which is authentically indigenous with the laudatory aim of restoring Andean participants to their own history. Reading against the grain of the documentary record, Andean ethnohistorians have been able to develop sophisticated analyses of processes of acculturation, ethnic identity formation and even ethnogenesis, the penetration of market forces into the indigenous world, ayllu resistances and ayllu sufferings, the mingling of literary forms, changing gender and sexual practices, and more. In effect, the social and cultural historians of the early Andes have extensively documented indigenous agency in the complex processes of conquest, imperial formation, and imperial crisis. There is, of course, a caveat to be inserted here. Writing in 1995 on the issue of native market participation, Steve Stern suggested that the ethnohistory of native intervention in market mechanism is too complex to analyze under a simply rubric of a static European market logic, opposed to a Traditional Andean logic.[4] The difficulty of identifying and fully grasping native motivations for market intervention, according to Stern, diminish our ability to simply bifurcate the European and the Andean, and instead point to the need to mine from the documents what he calls a third “colonial cultural logic.”

Indeed, I would argue that Stern’s warning from the case of native intervention into the market form could be generalized out into the many forms of historical inquiry that currently define early Andean history. Interestingly enough, I came to this conclusion in my own work re-reading Lisa Sousa’s ethnohistorical treatment of Mixtec and Zapotec women’s use of criminal courts in colonial Oaxaca.[5] As a beginning graduate student in the late 1990s, I had found Sousa’s article an exciting application of ethnohistorical methodology to understand native women’s own particular use of Spanish institutions (in this case criminal litigation) to further a traditional Indigenous cultural logic. I was surprised by the extent to which women in colonial Oaxaca utilized the courts, the types of disputes they brought there, and the logic of argumentation they utilized to defend themselves in court. In particular, Sousa claimed that, “The fact that women brought criminal suits without the approval or representation of a male authority figure further highlights the absence of a patriarchal tradition in which women’s identity is shaped by her relationship with a patriarchal figure, either her husband or her father.”[6] The active participation of Mixtec and Zapotec women in Spanish courts was interpreted through the filter of assumed prescriptive norms of Spanish patriarchalism, and thus as evidence of the preservation of native values of gender complementarity.

I returned to Sousa’s piece many years later after reading hundreds of cases of women’s litigation from Quito dating form 1765 to 1830. And, I was startled at the similarities between Sousa’s Mixtec and Zapotec women, and my own casta, African, and Andean litigants from the Barrios of Quito. The same utilization of the courts, the same logics of argumentation, the same types of disputes, and notably, the same regularity of women acting in criminal (and civil) suits without the permission or representation of male authority figures forced me to reconsider the extent to which a binary of European/Andean cultural logics gets us any closer to real social practice.

Which brings us back to the particular engagement of anthropology and history in the Andes.  Because of the close relationship between the two in the historiography of our disciplinary corner, history of the early Andes avoided many of the excesses of the more linguistic-theoretical path to the new cultural history. There already existed a long established practice of approaching indigenous culture through ethnohistorical means that continues to produce new and interesting work. See, for example, the recent and really compelling articles by Jeremy Mumford and Karen Graubart published by the HAHR, just to name two.[7] It’s also worth noting, from the perspective of Lockhart’s cycle of sources that Mumford’s article utilizes indigenous litigation, and Graubart’s notarial records. Are we approaching the end of another cycle? The thought brings me back to the future of the Andean Past. What I would like to call for in our roundtable is a return to institutional records, litigation, and the notarial books with the tools of ethnohistory to pick up where the social historians left off by re-examining the many varieties of rural and urban plebeians, castas, poor Spanish, Africans and Afro-descendant peoples, men and women. Andean ethnohistory, or as Mumford defines it, “the application of anthropological methods to describe Andean culture from historical documents,” offers us excellent methodological tools for getting at the lives of those not primarily responsible for making the documentary record.[8] This ethnographic approach must still avoid the tendency to posit any of the social groupings I’ve listed above as simply oppositional to a reified European cultural logic. Rather, ethnohistory could provide us the methodological means to grapple with the multivalence of social positions in early Andean society, where the large variety of subject positions that interacted in the individual, the barrio, the group, etc. were constitutive of and through each other.

I’m looking forward to San Diego, and would welcome in comments below in the mean time.

Chad Black

University of Tennessee


[1] James Lockhart, “The Social History of ELA,” pp. 27-80 in Lockhart, Of Things of the Indies: Essays Old and New in Early Latin American History (Standford: Stanford University Press, 1999).

[2] Lockhart (1999): 30.

[3] For a recent overview of the New Philology, see Matthew Restall, “A History of the New Philology and the New Philology in History,” LARR 38.1 (2003): 113-134.

[4] Steve J. Stern, “The Variety and Ambiguity of Native Andean Intervention in European Colonial Markets,” in Brooke Larson and Olivia Harris, ed., Ethnicity, Markets, and Migration in the Andes: At the Crossroads of History and Anthropology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995): 78-79.

[5] Lisa Mary Sousa, “Women and Crime in Colonial Oaxaca: Evidence of Complementary Genders Roles in Mixtec and Zapotec Society,” pp. 199-214, in Susan Schroeder, Stephanie Wood, and Robert Haskett, ed., Indian Women in Early Mexico (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1997).

[6] Sousa (1997): 211.

[7] Jeremy Ravi Mumford, “Litigation as Ethnography in Sixteenth-Century Peru: Polo de Ondegardo and the Mitimaes,” HAHR 88.1 (2008): 5-40; Karen Graubart, “The Creolization of the New World: Local Forms of Identification in Urban Colonial Peru, 1560-1640,” HAHR 89.3 (2009): 471-499.

[8] Mumford (2008): ft.nt. pg. 8.

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Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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3 comments on “The Future of Andean History
  1. Chad, I am well aware I am late on this but I just read your paper and really enjoyed. Working on legal records myself, this definitely resonated with me. Even as early as the 1600, I wonder if what I am looking for is a “colonial culture”, rather than a Spanish, indigenous, or even combination of the two. I hope all is well. I plan to make it to some conferences next year and hope to chat with you again. Sorry, I didnt follow in your footsteps to UNM.

  2. ctb says:

    Alex- I’m not 100% sure that “colonial culture” is what I would want to call it, though those were Stern’s terms. The legal actions we see regular people taking in the Indies were very much in accord with those taken by “peasants” on the peninsula. What I want is to use these documents to get at plebeian social norms, plebeian expectations, and notions of legitimacy.

    By the way- it’s 57deg in ABQ today. ;)

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Chad Black

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I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.
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