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Daughter of the ‘Pampa Gringa’ and the Andes: an obituary for Ana María Lorandi, 1936-2017

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by Mercedes Del Río

Ana María Lorandi died in Congreso, a district of Buenos Aires, on January 31st 2017 at the age of 80. First archaeologist, later historian, she pioneered the study of Andean Ethnohistory in the University of Buenos Aires following the radical renewal of Inca history developed by John V Murra. During her life, she worked and lived in several cities which left a defining imprint on her character and career: Cañada de Gómez, Rosario, La Plata, Paris and Buenos Aires.

She was born in 1936 in Cañada de Gomez, a small immigrant town in the Province of Santa Fe, Argentina. A descendant of Lombard ancestors, her paternal grandfather settled there to work on the construction of the railway line between the cities of Rosario and Cordoba (1863-1870). A progressive town at the time, Cañada de Gómez was one of several agricultural colonies of mainly Italian immigrants. Together they formed part of the burgeoning ‘pampa gringa’, where large-scale agricultural production was part of an agro-export model of development. Railways, crops and immigrants combined to create a world of hard work, progressive ideals and incipient modernity which in turn generated a social imaginary laden with expectations and aspirations that could not always be fulfilled.

Ana María grew up in the heart of a working-class family that valued sacrifice, thriftiness and austerity but also, particularly, the love of reading transmitted by her father. Her mother’s early death forced her to mature suddenly, and she had to take care of her younger brother and do the domestic chores, as was customary at the time. This forged a sense of duty and discipline toward both family and work that would continue throughout her life. Lorandi moved between literature and history. Initially inspired by her public school teachers, she was also stimulated by the town’s intellectual circles and gatherings. Transgressive, rebellious, and bold, she broke down the barriers of the prudish, traditional society of the time, embracing an early stage of women’s liberation, and constantly seeking new horizons that would allow her to develop further.

She left her hometown to study history at the National University of the Litoral in Rosario and to pursue a research career with the National Council of Scientific and Technological Research (Conicet, 1964), gaining her doctorate in 1967. In Rosario, she met the renowned archaeologist Alberto Rex Gonzalez and began the archaeological work that would occupy her for over twenty years. Later, she managed to repeat this experience in Buenos Aires, where she formed her own research team.

Her working life in Rosario was violently interrupted when Argentina succumbed to General Juan Carlos Ongania’s military dictatorship (1966-1973). In particular, the ‘night of the long police batons‘ (1966) in the University of Buenos Aires had a devastating impact on the academic life of the whole country, causing the resignation and emigration of countless eminent intellectuals and a long period of obscurantism.

When the research teams in Rosario were dismantled, Lorandi was appointed Chair of American Archaeology at the National University of La Plata (1969-1983), but she was frustrated by the university’s approach to the discipline, and felt isolated and lonely. Nevertheless, her academic production was fruitful, while her area of study shifted from the plains of Tucuman and Santiago del Estero to the archaeology of the valleys of North-West Argentina (NOA). This was the result of her academic experience in Paris.

Between 1976 and 1980, Ana María frequently traveled to France where she completed her postdoctoral studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and the Sorbonne. Paris was very important to her. It was where her daughter, Valentina, grew up, where she ended her marriage to the musician Enzo Gieco, and where, later, her beloved grandchildren were born. Academically, Paris introduced her to Andean Ethnohistory. Lorandi was fascinated by the epistemological revolution implicit in Murra’s new interpretation of the Andes, and the enormous impact it had on Nathan Wachtel’s history team and on the Andeanist historian Pierre Duviols. She was particularly fascinated by the demolition of the old interpretative models of the Inca state, and by new approaches to problems arising from the social ruptures and reconfigurations during the European invasion of the Andes. The debates and discussions in this academic environment encouraged her to abandon archaeology, and begin ethnohistorical studies of Colonial Tucumán, while introducing these new currents to Argentina. The intellectual marriage between archaeology and history led Ana María to refocus the archaeological concept of long-scale time in historical terms: actors, events and historical conjunctures, the longue durée.

The 1980s brought democracy back to Argentina, and with it academic life was renewed. In 1984, she was appointed professor at the University of Buenos Aires, and built her own team of scholars and young researchers, building on her earlier experience in Rosario. She had learned the importance of knowledge exchanges, of methodological discussions, bibliographical searches and professional competence within a team. But above all, she understood that a successful research team requires a large dose of intellectual generosity and the constant encouragement of a good team leader.

Ana María was an extraordinary research team builder, and knew how to encourage and inspire confidence in newcomers. She listened to new ideas with enthusiasm and knew exactly when to ask a timely question. She was particularly skilled at magically reconfiguring the often disjointed ideas of inexperienced disciples, giving them a broader interpretative framework. Her extensive experience in the archaeology of the Santiago del Estero plains allowed her quickly to interpret the movements of the Chaco population, as well as of the Amazonian piedmont people along the borders of the Tawantinsuyu, following the colonial sources. That was how two different research groups emerged: one orientated to Colonial Charcas and the other to Colonial Tucumán. With time, each took on a life of its own. What she often called “the presentation in international society” of the ethnohistorical research developed under her direction, came to fruition with the organization of the First International Congress of Ethnohistory (1989), which had an excellent reception and continues to thrive in Latin America today. A testimony of this time was a compilation on “Colonial Tucumán and Charcas” (1997) which contains the results of the research carried out by the members of her team over ten years.

In this fruitful phase of her life she was able to consolidate a new line of research as a CONICET scientific researcher, where she collaborated passionately in different management positions (1984-1986). She was appointed Dean of the Institute of Anthropology (1984-1991), organized the Ethnohistory section at the University of Buenos Aires (1992-2014), restructured her classes there (1984-2002), and incorporated new researchers dedicated to the study of the societies of Pampa-Patagonia, Litoral and Paraguay.

Rational, passionate, freed from theoretical inhibitions or ties, she managed to open up the debate on Andean topics, despite the academic indifference prevailing in Buenos Aires. She frequently said she was frustrated by the lack of recognition, and the lack of fruitful dialogue with her fellow historians or anthropologists at the University of Buenos Aires, with the exception of the colonialist Enrique Tandeter and the art historian José Emilio Burucúa. However, Lorandi taught as a visiting professor, shared research and participated in colloquiums with scholars from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Finland and, especially, with Latin American colleagues from Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Mexico. The impact of her ethnohistorical approach and the sincerity of her academic exchanges extended to teams outside Buenos Aires, especially in Cordoba, Salta, Jujuy, Tucumán and Catamarca. Lorandi’s active presence and exchange of divergent approaches undoubtedly enriched the debate on the whole South Andean area. In this context, Lorandi was awarded a doctorate honoris causa from the National University of Salta (2013) and from the National University of Santiago del Estero (2015), in recognition of her valuable contributions.

A tireless worker, she had a prolific career, publishing three single-authored books and nine in collaboration, as well as writing over one hundred articles published in national and foreign journals. Certain themes accompanied her throughout her life, such as the analysis of the southern Inca frontier and the displacement of human resources (mitmaqkuna and yanas) using archaeological or ethnohistorical sources. She worked towards unravelling the ethnic mosaic of the Calchaqui valleys at the time of the Spanish invasion, and interpreted what she found as local “destructuring”. Later, with an anthropological gaze, she dedicated herself to the study of the conformation of Hispanic-Creole society in colonial Tucumán. There, she adapted the analytical categories of the central Andes and probed the silences in the sources to interpret and reconstruct the socio-cultural processes of a marginal area for both Incas and Spaniards, with a small population and based on personal services rather than taxation. But she was also attracted by the utopian or adventurous dimension of certain historical figures who radiated stimulating images, such as the chimera of the false Inca don Pedro Bohorques or the avatars of the Bourbon official of Tucumán, Manuel Fernández Campero y Hesles.

In recent years, she had moved away from the problems of Amerindian-Hispanic contact, and turned to the construction of ambiguous identities in the colonial and republican societies of the Central Andes. One of her last books, published in 2013, consists of a reflection on the construction and reconstruction of diffuse identities, both Creole and Peninsular, and the struggles for local and centralized power in the Cusco region after the great Andean Rebellions of the late eighteenth century. Although she had progressive principles and values, political militancy was not one of her interests, and she never sought to link narrative history with the indigenous struggles of today.

With her open door policy, her Buenos Aires home become a centre for gatherings of colleagues. Her family, and her social and intellectual lives, were intertwined, thanks to her sympathy, enormous intellectual generosity and her capacity to welcome new visitors.