Fantastic Geographies of Race in Fin-de-Siècle Bolivia

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:00 PM
Senate Room (Omni Shoreham)
Robert Matthew Gildner, Washington and Lee University
This paper chronicles the evolution of racial thought in Bolivia by examining the ways in which creole intellectuals deployed fantastic geography not only to understand Andean prehistory, but also to demonstrate their own biological and cultural superiority over indigenous Bolivians. It explores three troupes that enjoyed widespread popularity (and scientific legitimacy) during the period 1880-1920: the Andes as the Garden of Eden, the ruins of Tiwanaku as the Lost City of Atlantis, and the arctic origins of Native Americans. I then discuss the significance of my findings in the broader literature on race and the history of science in Latin America. What I am proposing is an analysis of the fantastic imagination of Bolivian intellectuals as they struggled to construct enduring symbols of nationhood that at once glorified the pre-Hispanic past while distancing themselves from the indigenous majority that they perceived as racially inferior and an impediment to liberal precepts of order and progress. Merging the history of imagination and the history of ideas, this paper will show that science and fantasy were often inseparable during a period marked by the secularization of knowledge, the attendant development of the social and biological sciences, and Bolivia's integration into the global economy.
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