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Archive for December, 2009

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.

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Much ink has been spilled on the Andean past and how it relates to eternal verities about the Andes. To a certain extent, this perspective is valid, for the geographic environment of the Andes (despite recent climate change) has not varied much over the centuries. That is, the Andean mountain range, located in a subtropical and tropical climate makes possible the cultivation of a large variety of plants and animals in different ecological zones present in the area, often within a very short distance from another. This created a type of human society that was able to take advantage of these factors, with its concomitant emphasis on communal lands, reciprocal arrangements, etc. that exist still today since in many ways it is the most rational use of the (otherwise potentially harsh) environment.

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