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Shvoong Home>Social Sciences>Historiography, Historiographic Identity and Historical Consciousness in Peru Summary

Historiography, Historiographic Identity and Historical Consciousness in Peru

Article Summary   by:godjil     Original Author: PAULO DRINOT
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On 27 April 2003, Lima''s newly elected mayor, Luis Castañeda, ordered the removal of Francisco Pizarro''s statue from the Plaza Mayor. For some 50 years, the equestrian statue of the conquistador from Extremadura had stood in a little adjacent plaza on the north-eastern corner of the main plaza. The mayor justified the decision to remove the statue on the grounds that ''the little plaza must be a symbol of all Peru and for this reason it will be represented by its most distinguished insignia,'' and he vowed to erect three flags in its place, the Peruvian national flag, the flag of the city of Lima, and the flag of the Tawantinsuyo or Inca Empire.1 The removal provoked a heated debate between those who saw Castañeda''s decision as, at best, a hollow and demagogic gesture and, at worst, a case of cultural philistinism, and those who celebrated the gesture on a variety of grounds, ranging from a stress on the poor aesthetic qualities of the statue to the argument that the nation''s major plaza was no place for a foreign illiterate ruffian who had done little more than pillage and murder. Significantly, a large part of those who celebrated the removal of the statue did so on grounds not unlike those expressed by Adriana Doig Manucci, whose letter to La Industria of Trujillo (the city that Pizarro founded and named after his place of birth) was published in early May: ''Pizarro''s statue is a symbol of the man who conquered us, the man who ended our culture in a violent way. I do not think that the man who began the invasion of our culture deserves a statue. Perhaps this is why we find it so difficult to find our identity.''2 Such arguments were countered by those who pointed out that Pizarro did not conquer ''us,'' since that ''us'' was a product of that very conquest and that, as Mario Vargas Llosa noted, ''the conquistadores of five hundred years ago are not the ones responsible for the fact that in today''s Peru there is so much poverty, such harrowing inequality, such discrimination, ignorance and exploitation. are Peruvians of all races and colours who are very much alive.''3 Pizarro''s conquest, these critics noted, was no less violent than that of the Incas whose empire is represented by the invented Tawantinsuyo flag that would stand where Pizarro''s statue had been.
In this study I will argue that this debate can be read as a reflection of the schizophrenia that characterises Peruvians'' historical consciousness, understood as ''the area in which collective memory, the writing of history, and other modes of shaping images of the past in the public mind merge.''4 This schizophrenic historical consciousness is a product of the exposure of most Peruvians to two contradictory and highly simplistic historical master narratives which have little in common with the historiography produced today by most Peruvian and foreign scholars. In an essay on French historiography in the twentieth century, Jacques Revel argues that ''a certain French historiographic identity can be discerned despite the diversity of individual works and choices.''5 If the Annales ''movement,'' in its various and sometimes contradictory guises, was at the centre of French historiography, around what identity-conferring idea or movement does Peruvian historiography revolve? Is there such a thing as a ''Peruvian historiographic identity''? I will suggest that something resembling a Peruvian historiographic identity is taking shape and that its character, although far from static, is defined largely in relation to the historiographical revolution of the 1970s, which I have called elsewhere the Nueva Historia.6 In the last few decades, historians have begun to rewrite Peruvian history and are producing a version of the country''s past that, in moving beyond older Manichean interpretations, is providing one of the key elements in the construction of a more just and inhic identity and the historiography that produces it have influenced only marginally the historical consciousness of most Peruvians. Although most historians are aware of the need to modify the historical master narratives that inform historical consciousness, until recently there had been few, if any, attempts to do so. However, as I will venture, recent developments are a cause for optimism.
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As Michel de Certeau has argued, historiographical production is embedded in a locus of socio-economic, political and cultural production.7 This locus establishes the possibilities but also the limits of historiographical production: it allows but also forbids.8 Indeed, the emergence of a new history in the 1970s in Peru can only be properly understood in a broader social, political and cultural context.9 Like the French ''nouvelle histoire'' of the 1930s, the Peruvian Nueva Historia was built around a critique of traditional history, which it saw as little more than ''a meaningless catalogue of presidents and public works, of battles and dates and heroic acts.''10 In its place, the Nueva Historia proposed a scientific and politically relevant history and one that would break down the walls of the discipline and incorporate the insights offered by other social sciences. The architects of the Nueva Historia were influenced by an eclectic mix of imported theoretical perspectives, including the new English social history, Althusserian Marxism, the Annales school and dependency theory. At the same time, they found in the works of José Carlos Mariátegui an original and largely autochthonous explanatory framework of Peruvian history and society.
Published: January 18, 2008   
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