Indian "Problems," Indian Solutions: New Sources for Understanding the Nation-Building Process

AHA Session 274
Conference on Latin American History 54
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon A (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
E. Gabrielle Kuenzli, University of South Carolina
Brooke Larson, Stony Brook University

Session Abstract

In late nineteenth and early twentieth century Latin America, the dominant classes sought to consolidate their nation-states based on ideas of order, progress, and civilization. Referring to the majority indigenous population, many intellectuals and politicians of the era pointed to the "Indian problem" as the principal obstacle to the nation's ability to modernize. Historians have traditionally turned to the writings of these elites in order to analyze how the ideas about race and ethnicity embodied by the "Indian Problem" affected state formation. However, indigenous symbols, icons, activists, and laborers were central to the quotidian processes of nation-building. The historicizing of turn-of-the-century discourses on indigenous participation in the nation-building process provides new perspectives on the current proliferation of transnational and national indigenous movements around the world.

This panel will use early twentieth century Bolivia as a case study for reconsidering the "Indian problem." Presenting narratives of mutual influence and agency, these papers will analyze not only elite discourses regarding the role of the Indian population but also indigenous people's efforts and initiatives to engage with and shape the Bolivian nation. Drawing from underrepresented sources such as military records, rural theater, and publications produced by indigenous activists, each panelist will seek new understandings of the nation-building process in Bolivia. Their interpretations of these sources will have broad applications for historians focusing on state formation in nations built on internal colonialism and racial hierarchies. These sources will provoke a methodological discussion of their potential uses and difficulties. Drawing from her experience with a variety of sources from the colonial and modern eras, Brooke Larson will act as discussant of these papers, pointing out the larger implications of the panelists' work for the study of the Andes and beyond.

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