History's Peru: The Poetics of Colonial and Postcolonial Historiography

History's Peru: The Poetics of Colonial and Postcolonial Historiography

History's Peru: The Poetics of Colonial and Postcolonial Historiography

History's Peru: The Poetics of Colonial and Postcolonial Historiography


More than the story of a South American country, History's Peru examines how the entity called "Peru" gradually came into being, and how the narratives that defined it evolved over time.

Mark Thurner here offers a brilliant account of Peruvian historiography, one that makes a pioneering contribution not only to Latin American studies but also to the history of historical thought at large. He traces the contributions of key historians of Peru, from the colonial period through the present, and teases out the theoretical underpinnings of their approaches. He demonstrates how Peruvian historical thought critiques both European history and Anglophone postcolonial theory. And his deeply informed readings of Peru's most influential historians--from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega to Jorge Basadre--are among the most subtle and powerful available in English.

In this tour de force, Thurner examines the development of Peruvian historical thought from its misty colonial origins in the sixteenth century up to the present day. He demonstrates that the concept of "Peru" is both a strange and enlightening invention of the modern colonial imagination--an invention that lives on today as a postcolonial wager on a democratic political future that can only be imagined in its own historicist terms, not those of European or Western history.

A fascinating counter example to those who mistakenly believe history to be an exact and objective science, History's Peru is an intellectual adventure of wide scope and great originality.

Mark Thurner is associate professor of history and anthropology at the University of Florida.


This book is a history of history. As such, it is a book about a world made by and in the words of history. The name of this world is Peru. And the history of that name is Peruvian.

The history of the Peruvian history of Peru is of unusual interest for the simple reason that “Peru” is one of the first colonial subjects of the modern historical imagination. “Born in an abyss of history” at “the edge of the world” in the early 1500s, Peru’s colonial genesis as a historical subject dovetailed with the earth-shifting daybreak of the global or “modern” age. This age and Peru’s genesis saw the revival of the classical “arts of history” both in Europe and beyond, and as a result Peru was soon fashioned as a marvelous subject of those high arts. Centuries later, Peru’s enlightened rebirth as a postcolonial historical subject corresponded with the fiery dawn of the Age of Revolutions and with the rise of historicism in Europe and elsewhere. In words and things postcolonial, Peru was also a pioneer. In sum, the history of Peruvian historiography registers an intellectual history of the colonial and postcolonial world that runs, at an illuminating critical distance, zigzag to the better-known early modern, modern, and contemporary history of European historical thought. My contention in this book is that this colonial and postcolonial zigzag offers new critical insights into the history of history at large. If world history is something more than a European invention, then Peru is a good place to look for that “something more.”

The chapters that follow consist of a series of critical meditations on the key turning points, authors or writing subjects, and texts that have shaped the long course of the history of Peruvian historical writing. I begin with the beginning, that is, with the early colonial poetic invention of “Peru” as a historical subject, which I argue was largely the work of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, and I end with the end, that is, with the twentieth-century philosophical historicism of Jorge Basadre, who pushed the concept of a “Peruvian history of Peru” to its aporetic finale. In between I retrace the colonial history of a Peruvian “Book of Kings” or dynastic tradition in its Renaissance, Baroque, and . . .

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