Anthropologists, Incas, and the Axis? The Wenner-Gren Scientific Expedition to Hispanic America and World War II

Friday, January 6, 2017: 9:10 AM
Room 403 (Colorado Convention Center)
Mark Rice, Baruch College, City University of New York
As World War II raged in Europe and Asia, in the southern Andes of Peru a different front had opened where local entrepreneurs, international diplomats, wealthy philanthropists, and scholars all hoped to gain a different sort of victory. This paper explores the Wenner-Gren Scientific Expedition to Hispanic America that undertook archeological and anthropological research projects in Cusco, Peru between 1940 and 1942.

Funded by the Swedish industrialist and philanthropist Axel Wenner-Gren, the expedition’s goals were to conduct archeological digs near Machu Picchu as well as anthropological investigations of indigenous communities in Cusco’s Amazonian zones to the east. Quickly, the expedition attracted the attention of regional political and economic leaders of Cusco who hoped to employ its activities to support Cusco’s indigenismo movement, existing regional archeological work, and even tourism development. Simultaneously, U.S. diplomats took a keen interest in the expedition. However, the U.S. interest in the expedition stemmed not from academic interest but more due to suspicions that Wenner-Gren was a Nazi sympathizer.

Although scholars have long examined the connections between anthropology and imperialism this paper examines the Wenner-Gren Expedition in a more transnational context. Considering how global and local forces acting within and beyond the frontiers of the nation state influenced the development of the expedition will deepen our knowledge of the aims and legacy of its work both in Peru and in the larger context of the history of anthropology.

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