History, Indians, and University Reform in Cuzco

By Super, John C. | The Historian, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

History, Indians, and University Reform in Cuzco


Super, John C., The Historian


In the early twentieth century the University of San Antonio Abad in Cuzco, Peru, initiated a regional and national effort to preserve and explain the history of the highlands of south-central Peru. The university became the principal curator and interpreter of the Andean past. History, more than any other discipline, guided the university as it studied Indians and promoted social change in the region and the nation.

The intellectual vitality of the early twentieth-century history movement in Cuzco and its influence on Peru contrasted with the university's nineteenth-century history Like other minor Peruvian universities, San Antonio Abad had struggled in the nineteenth century with shortages of funds, political strife, irregular classes, and poorly trained faculty and students. Narrow professional and literary education ruled academic life, producing lawyers and functionaries who strengthened the traditional social and political order. Discontent challenged traditional beliefs, but failed to alter university education in Peru until the early twentieth century.(1)

The reforms that transformed the university in Cuzco were part of a broader movement of university reform in Latin America. Historians usually emphasize the changes at Argentina's University of Cordoba in 1918, when students and faculty outlined the goals that affected the future of the Latin American university: school autonomy, student participation in governance, an accessible and modern curriculum, and a socially responsible university. Although the Cordoba reforms stood as the model of university reform in Latin America, earlier reforms, such as those at Uruguay's University of Montevideo in 1908, articulated many of the demands that became part of the Cordoba reforms. The reforms in Cuzco were similar to those at other Latin American universities, but the renaissance of history in Cuzco provided special inspiration for the university's programs.(2)

For the students and faculty at Cuzco, history meant the Indian past, primarily the classical period of Inca culture before the arrival of Europeans, and secondarily the colonial and republican period of Indian history. Cuzco's history as the center of Indian culture in the southern Andean region assumed national importance as Peru sought to establish its own cultural identity in the early twentieth century. Cuzco had been the capital of the Inca empire; the ruins in the city and surrounding area testified to the cultural achievements of Inca civilization. Although this past had never been lost, it had been neglected both intellectually and physically. History, archaeology, and historic preservation had not halted the general neglect of the nineteenth century. This was reversed in the early twentieth century. With enthusiasm and passion, Peruvian intellectuals sought to recover the past, and to find in that past solutions to the problems of contemporary Peru.(3)

History was an essential discipline for the Indianist movements of the early twentieth century. In Cuzco, the movement that came to be known as indigenismo had its origins in a gradual awakening to the reality of the social and economic conditions of Indians as well as a new, scholarly interest in Indian culture. Indigenismo was strengthened by the reforms at San Antonio Abad that toppled the university administration in 1909. Alberto Giesecke, the new rector of the university, inaugurated what has been called the Golden Age of the university, a period of intense creativity between 1910 and 1930 when faculty and students wrote about the Indian past and made proposals for a better future.(4)

In Peru, indigenismo embraced the many movements that stressed the recovery and revitalization of the Indian. Indigenismo occurred primarily in the highland provinces and served as a unifying force in regional political thought. As it gained momentum, it advocated the centrality of the Andes, that "inexhaustible source of vitality for the culture of Peru. …

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