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


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.

Rio and the Surreal: The 2016 Olympic Games in a ‘Glocal’ Context


by Giselle Datz, Associate Professor of Government & International Affairs, Virginia Tech

Paradoxically ritualistic and idiosyncratic, the Rio Olympics were set against a background of perplexing global and local dynamics which converge around the challenge of resilience.

Rio Olympics

Olympic Games reveal an inherent paradox.  They are part of a recurrent and ritualistic tradition, not only in terms of their peace and brotherhood ideals, but also in some of their bureaucratic procedures. Locations are selected in advance through competitive bid processes, mascots designed, competitions are rigidly scheduled and many of the operations before and after the opening ceremony are tightly run by the International Olympics Committee.

However, much in the Games is also markedly contextual to the locations where they take place and the discrete moments in history to which they belong.  Every four years, a different city attempts to woo the world with its own grandiose opening and closing shows, where pride and personality are employed to sell a version of the national that aspires to become unforgettable (arguably a high standard set by the tears shed by the first commercially successful Olympic mascot, Russia’s Misha, in 1980).

Beyond their ‘glocal’ dynamics, each Olympic Games nearly always reveal their own version of the predictable messiness that hosting such a large scale event – with all its infrastructure demands – entails. Delays in preparations are legendary. The Rio Games are likely to have won a position on the podium for providing one of the ‘most disorderly preparation[s] yet’ along with Sochi and Athens[1]. In the week preceding the opening of the Games, the international media featured no shortage of reports on how much had gone wrong – from the haphazardly finalised Olympic Village apartments to the unjust evictions of families in areas targeted for new infrastructure projects.

No amount of global glamour could shield the Olympics from the widespread corruption and incompetence that have become sad hallmarks of Brazil’s federal and local governments in the 21st century. In fact, nowhere is this more evident than in the bankrupt state of Rio Janeiro, far beyond the glossy Olympic infrastructure improvements.

Rio2016 Opening Ceremony

Part of the Rio2016 Opening Ceremony

Momentary exuberance was well displayed in the magnificent opening ceremony at the legendary Maracanã stadium. As Charles McNulty, put it ‘never has an opening ceremony been so green’. It was a celebration of the country’s rainforests, biodiversity, and a timely cautionary note on global warming. Perhaps most importantly, the opening ceremony also ‘provided an opportunity to reframe a sporting event that was in danger of becoming the embodiment of the world’s brooding mood’.

Indeed, the XXXI Olympiad took place amidst a seemingly surreal historical moment. It was marked by events that have captured most of the media’s attention of late: the Brexit vote, ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks, the confirmation of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate, and widespread repression in Turkey in the aftermath of a(nother) failed coup.

At home too, the Games revealed their share of surreal dynamics, marked by a reversal of fortune of grand proportions.

In 2009, Rio beat Tokyo, Madrid, and Chicago in a ‘bid’ to become the first South American city ever to host the Olympic Games. The victory was reportedly emblematic of ‘Brazil’s remarkable rise (…) from a near basket case to an economic and diplomatic heavyweight’.. It was expected that having weathered the 2008 global financial crisis, the ‘BRIC’ nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China, supposedly the fastest growing economies in the world, would drive global economic recovery.

Temer, Dilma, and Lula in happier times...

Temer, Dilma, and Lula in happier times…

Fast forward seven years and the contrast is stark. Lula da Silva, the president whose winning bids for hosting both the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics brought renewed attention to Brazil, did not even attend the opening ceremony. Also conspicuously absent was his ally and successor as president, Dilma Rousseff; impeached by Brazil’s lower House, she is now being judged in the Senate. Instead, it was interim president Michel Temer who – whilst being booed by some of the attendees – declared the Games officially open.

While in 2009 Lula’s party, the PT, seemed set to perpetuate its grip on power, as the Rio Games got underway, some of its leaders and three of its former treasurers were jailed as part of the mensalão and ‘car wash’ corruption investigations[2]. Lula is being investigated for ‘influence peddling’ during Dilma’s presidency, trading personal favours from construction companies for contracts with Petrobras (Brazil’s state oil company). This may just be the tip of an iceberg of accusations against Lula (and eventually Rousseff) now coming up as part of jailed construction magnate Marcelo Odebrecht’s plea bargain.

The Brazil of the Rio Olympics is far from the successful BRIC economy, surfing on the wave of record high commodity prices, awash in corrupt deals profoundly rooted in the country’s political establishment. Yet much as the current crisis in Brazil may seem surreal relative to the smokescreen set in 2009, one should appreciate the vast and ongoing anti-corruption efforts that some relentless members of the Judiciary have been championing. Shaking the core of dominant parties, they are setting a wide and welcome precedent for accountability in Brazilian politics.

It is also worth noting that this is a country where the steep currency devaluations of late have finally receded, a new central banker has reinstalled a credible commitment toward inflationary control, and dilapidated Petrobras may finally see the light of sane corporate management.

The Olympic Games too, beyond the surreal quality of their global context, and partly because of it, have already displayed notable initiatives. The world’s refugees were represented by 10 athletes from South Sudan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia. Having overcome unimaginable odds, they, along with many of their fellow athletes from across the globe, inspire hope in human resilience. It is this very ability to bounce back that underpins the kind of ‘Olympic’ effort Brazil must attempt — once again.






Originally published by SPERI Comment.

What is the cost of a basic universal social pension for Latin America and the Caribbean?


by Dr. Gibrán Cruz-Martínez, Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies

The world’s population is ageing, and Latin America and the Caribbean is no exception. By 2030, the number of older people – those over 60 – is expected to grow by 56 per cent (United Nations, 2015), and will outnumber children below 10 (HelpAge International, 2015a). Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to be the region with the fastest growth of this group (71 per cent increase), followed by Asia (66 per cent), Africa (64 per cent), Oceania (47 per cent), North America (41 per cent) and Europe (23 per cent) (United Nations, 2015).

Figure 1: Estimating the ratio of older-age population (60+) in 2015, 2030 and 2045, source: UNPD, 2015

Figure 1: Estimating the ratio of older-age population (60+) in 2015, 2030 and 2045, source: UNPD, 2015

Ageing may bring wisdom and experience, but it also creates new social risks that need to be anticipated. According to the latest data from the Socioeconomic database on Latin America and the Caribbean,  57.7 per cent of salaried workers have the right to pensions when retired (CEDLAS and World Bank, 2016).[1] Therefore, almost half of the current workforce will not benefit from a contributory pension during retirement. If data is segmented by age, gender, level of education and area of residence we can examine the gaps in contributory-pension coverage.

As Figure 2 shows, there is a considerable gap in all categories, with gender the only possible exception. Workers aged 15-24, adults with a low level of education and residents in rural areas are the groups whose retirement is worst provided for. One possible explanation is that these groups work in more flexible and informal jobs, with less social security benefits than older generations, urban populations, and workers with over 13 years of formal education.

Figure 2: Share of salaried workers with right to pensions when retired by age, gender, education, and area

Figure 2: Share of salaried workers with right to pensions when retired by age, gender, education, and area, source: CEDLAS and World Bank, 2016, notes: SEDLAC (CEDLAS categorize level of education as low (0 to 8 years of formal education), intermediate (9 to 13 years), and high (more than 13). Author’s own calculations using the latest data for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Increasing the proportion of salaried workers contributing to a social security pension scheme is imperative. But is there any other alternative? What can governments do to guarantee the wellbeing of older people who are not set to benefit from a pension scheme? Universal non-contributory pensions – also known as social pensions – represent a viable option worthy of consideration.

Social pensions are non-contributory programmes that use benefits to bring the incomes of older people up to a societal minimum standard. Social pensions can be universal or targeted. Universal social pensions are available unconditionally to those who meet eligibility criteria of age and typically some form of residency. Targeted social pensions use additional targeting measures (e.g. assessment of means or assets) to identify the ‘truly deserving’. The main difference between social pensions and contributory pensions is that the latter are based in social-insurance schemes, with benefits derived from work or taxes and centred on redistribution throughout the life cycle. In Latin America and the Caribbean, workers in the formal sector are the main beneficiaries of contributory pensions, but the large segment of the population working in the informal sector is not covered.

In countries with a low level of contributory pension coverage, a basic universal pension could guarantee income security and a basic social-protection floor for every older person. But how much would it cost to implement a basic universal social pension in the region? This will naturally vary according to the pension level – the value of the benefit – and coverage – the age of eligibility.  Here I use four eligibility ages (60, 65, 70, 75) and one pension level (20 per cent of gross domestic product per capita)[2] to examine different scenarios. Data comes from the United Nations Population Division (UNPD, 2015) and is available for 38 countries. A modified model of Willmore’s (2007) formula is used, adding 5% of the total cost of transfers as administrative cost, previously proposed by Knox-Vydmanov (2011: 3).

As the results shown below reveal, all Central American countries would be able to finance a basic universal social pension with less than 0.7 per cent of their national GDP (age of eligibility 75). South American and Caribbean countries would need on average 0.6 and 0.8 per cent of their national GDP to fund a basic universal person for everyone over 75 years. The cost of a universal social pension in the total region varies from 0.3 to 2% GDP at 75+ coverage, from 0.5 to 2.8% GDP at 70+, from 0.8 to 4% GDP at 65+, and from 1.2 to 5.5% GDP at 60+. Unsurprisingly, the cost of a social pension rises as eligibility age decreases and pension level increases.

Figure 3: Cost of a basic universal pension equivalent to 20% of the GDP per capita in 38 Latin American and Caribbean countries, author’s calculations; source: UNPD, 2015

Figure 3: Cost of a basic universal pension equivalent to 20% of the GDP per capita in 38 Latin American and Caribbean countries, author’s calculations; source: UNPD, 2015

In Latin America and the Caribbean only four countries have implemented a basic universal social pension: Antigua, Bolivia, Guyana and Suriname (HelpAge International, 2015b; Shen & Williamson, 2006). For example, Bolivia introduced Renta Dignidad in 2008 to replace a cash transfer program created in 1997 (Bonosol). The eligibility age for Renta Dignidad is 60, and it currently has 869,808 beneficiaries, meaning around 88 per cent of those eligible (APS, 2016). The monthly income transfer is 270.83 bolivianos (US$ 39.83) for those who are not beneficiaries of the contributory pension scheme, and 216.67 bolivianos (US$ 31.86) for pensioners of the contributory scheme.[3] Most beneficiaries are women (53.4 per cent) and recipients of the contributory pension (83.3%).

The total value of transfers under Renta Dignidad in 2015 was equivalent to 1.2 per cent GDP.[4] The simple model used in this article estimates that a potential basic universal pension in Bolivia of 354.08 bolivianos (US$ 52.07)[5] for everyone over 60 would cost approximately 1.9 per cent GDP (including an estimated administrative cost). In Bolivia’s case the model appears to be presenting an accurate picture of costs.

There are many ways to finance basic universal social pensions. Bolivia, for example, funds Renta Dignidad mainly from taxes on fossil fuels (Mendizábal & Escobar, 2013), whereas Guyana uses budgetary allocations from central government  (IMF, 2006). Among the possible alternatives for other regional governments are (1) increasing tax revenues by non-regressive methods (e.g. taxes on financial transactions, targeting the top 1%), (2) relocating public expenditure to social protection, and (3) improving the efficiency of expenditure (see Harris, 2013; Ortiz et al., 2015). There is no magic solution that fits all cases. Each country will have to examine its own reality and implement a unique mix of policies.

But overall this post has revealed that there are multiple options for financing and implementing social pensions throughout the region.  The real question is whether there is the political will to make the necessary fiscal and monetary arrangements. The clock is ticking and the population is ageing rapidly. The time to act is now.


*Previous versions and analyses related to this article were prepared while the author was a Research Fellow in Social Protection at HelpAge International.


References and Notes

APS (2016). Estadísticas De La Renta Dignidad. Version of 30 April 2016: Dignidad/Estad%C3%ADsticas de la Renta Dignidad (Al 30 de Abril de 2016).pdf [accessed 11 June 2016].

CEDLAS, and World Bank (2016). Socio-Economic Database for Latin America and the Caribbean. [accessed 11 June 2016].

Harris, Elliott (2013). Financing Social Protection Floors: Considerations of Fiscal Space. International Sociel Security Review, 66(3-4), 111-143.

HelpAge International (2015a). Pension Watch. Social Protection in Older Age. [accessed 11 June 2016].

HelpAge International (2015b). Pension-Watch Database. [accessed 11 June 2016].

IMF (2006). Guyana: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Progress Report 2005. IMF Country Report, 06(364)

[accessed 11 June 2016].

Knox-Vydmanov, Charles (2011). The Price of Income Security in Older Age: Cost of a Universal Pension in 50 Low and Middle-Income Countries. Pension watch briefing series, 2, HelpAge International.

Mendizábal, Joel, & Federico Escobar (2013). Redistribution of Wealth and Old Age Social Protection in Bolivia. Pension watch briefing series, 12 , HelpAge International.

Ortiz, Isabel, Matthew Cummins, & Kalaivani Karunanethy (2015). Fiscal Space for Social Protection. Options to Expand Social Investments in 187 Countries. Extension of Social Security Working Paper, 48, International Labour Organization.

Shen, Ce, & John B Williamson (2006). Does a Universal Non-Contributory Pension Scheme Make Sense for Rural China? Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, 22(2), 143-153.

United Nations (2015). World Population Ageing. New York: United Nations: [accessed 11 June 2016].

UNPD (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision. [accessed 11 June 2016].

Willmore, Larry (2007). Universal Pensions for Developing Countries. World Development, 35(1), 24-51.

World Bank (2016). World Data Bank.


[1] Author’s own calculations using the latest data for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela.

[2] These pension levels are ‘lab tests’ – arbitrarily assigned – and do not necessarily represent an adequate basic income for all countries. Median/average income, median/average salaries and median/average income poverty line could be examined as alternative options for pension levels.

[3] Author’s calculation using Renta Dignidad data from APS (2016). Conversion rates are accurate as of 11 June 2016.

[4] Author’s calculation using GDP data from the World Bank (2016), and Renta Dignidad data from APS (2016).

[5] Author’s calculation using GDP per capita data from the World Bank (2016). Conversion rates are accurate as of 11 June 2016.

Finding My History in the Literary ‘Archive’ of Indenture


by Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, Associate Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies

In partnership with Gitanjali Pyndiah (PhD candidate, Goldsmiths) and Institute of Commonwealth Studies colleagues Dr Catherine Gilbert and Dr Kavyta Raghunandan, from 3 to 5 May, 2016, Maria will be live streaming “‘We Mark Your Memory in Songs’: Literary Remembrances of the System of Indenture“, a series of three short talks on literary representations of the system of indenture and its legacies.

Group of Indian Immigrants in Guyana

A group of Indian immigrants in then British Guiana

Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet scholars who have done academic work on overseas Indian communities from a variety of disciplines, from geographers to musicologists, historians to sociologists. The vast majority have had roots in the indenture system, often being motivated to study their chosen topic out of curiosity about their own history. One thing that has united me with these academics, regardless of where our indentured roots lie, is a love of literature and an opportunity to share our joy in the discovery of texts in which we are spoken to, for and about by people who share our heritage. This, in large part, is the motivation behind the Periscope live-streaming event ‘We Mark Your Memory in Songs’.

To my mind, every novel, poem or short story about the system of indenture and its legacies in overseas Indian communities is an act of resistance against the erasure that surrounds the transportation of East Indians across three continents between 1838 and 1917. Whilst people may have a general awareness of the Indian presence in places like Guyana, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa and Trinidad, it is rare outside of these communities to encounter someone who knows how they first arrived there. The Indian-Guyanese diaspora often tackle the additional frustrating problem of having to explain where Guyana is. Being born and brought up in London this is something I have found myself doing on a weekly basis since I was a child.  Once, a contact at the Guyana High Commission in the UK advised me to write ‘South America’ clearly at the bottom of an important letter I was sending to an official in Georgetown, ‘Or it will get sent to Ghana,’ he explained without irony.

It was by reading works of literature rather than history that I developed an interest in the system of indenture. Many years ago, before I had an idea of what I would do after completing my undergraduate degree, I read a copy of David Dabydeen’s novel The Intended. This was the first novel I read by an Indian-Caribbean writer and its depiction of how racism shaped the lives of a group of teenagers growing up in London resonated tremendously with me. Its proximity to my own experiences make it apt to me now that I discovered this book before the beautiful but canonical A House for Mr Biswas by V.S Naipaul or the powerhouse poetry of Mahadai Das or Rajkumari Singh. What affected me particularly in The Intended was the chief protagonist’s reflections on his childhood in Guyana and the stories that surrounded his ancestors. Around the same time I became aware, through speaking to my father’s family, of the epic personal stories that surrounded the indenture system: I heard tales of bold and brave women who boarded boats alone to travel unthinkable distances. In the vast majority of cases they were leaving a homeland they would never see again.


I may have had inkling after reading The Intended that my future lay somewhere in the past; this was confirmed when I stumbled across a copy of Moses Nagamootoo’s Hendree’s Cure in a bookshop near Piccadilly Circus. It was through a conversation with my father about this novel that I learnt that his maternal grandfather, my great-grandfather, was a first generation Indian-Guyanese of South Indian descent, a minority group beside the massive majority of North Indian labourers who were favoured — and stereotyped — by the British as less rebellious and thus more suitable for plantation work. My decision to do postgraduate study in the field of indenture was sealed at this point and I went on to write my MA thesis on the South Indian community of Guyana. I looked at the colonial representations of this group in archival documents and analysed how Indian-Caribbean writers have both played with and perpetuated the colonial stereotypes constructed about South Indians.

The study of indenture is still an emerging field and this is what makes works like Nagamootoo’s first novel so important. To the best of my knowledge, Hendree’s Cure and Peter Kempadoo’s Guyana Boy are the only literary works written by Guyanese writers of South Indian descent. They give us valuable insight into the lives of Indian-Guyanese minority communities. It is of course not just Nagamootoo and Kempadoo who have presented us with literature that represents minority communities. To name but two others, Jan Lowe Shinebourne’s The Last Ship and Ryhaan Shah’s A Secret Life are equally important works that have contributed achingly poignant portrayals of the Chinese-Guyanese (Shinebourne) and Muslim Indian-Guyanese (Shah).

When I read works about those who existed as minorities within minorities under the indenture system I return to the archive more resolute and determined. While writing my PhD thesis I had an opportunity to recover short texts written during the period of indenture by Muslim and South Indian authors. Being a tiny part of the movement to redeem the history of indenture from the seemingly bottomless well of  ‘hidden histories of Empire’ is rewarding, but my journey would have been impossible without the inspiration provided to me by the Caribbean writers who have determined my academic choices.

The Ethiopic Ocean and Luiz Felipe de Alencastro’s New Perspectives on the South Atlantic


by Marília Arantes Moreira, Research Student, Institute of Latin American Studies

I recently met up with Brazilian historian Luiz Felipe de Alencastro in Paris to discuss his latest article, “The Ethiopic Ocean – History and Historiography 1600−1975”, published in 2015. In a café, with Oscar Niemeyer’s French Communist Party headquarters standing behind him, he also had much to say about ongoing projects on South Atlantic Studies as a new cultural area of knowledge. [1]

The Ethiopic Ocean

Alencastro is known for his influential and prodigious output, especially the books “História da Vida Privada” (1997) and “O Trato dos Viventes” (2000), in which he explained Brazil’s formation outside of its territory in light of its crucial role in the bilateral slave-trade network with Africa. Embedding Brazil in a global context, he revealed how economic geography imposed political conditions on colonisation.[2]

Recently, The Transatlantic Database has enabled a revision of his books with new quantitative approaches: “as those were commercial relations, everything was taken into account”, he notes. From 1550 to 1850, 95% of all slave ships docked in Brazil: “This oceanic continuum is stronger than the continental idea of South America”. [3]

In “The Ethiopic Ocean”, Alencastro explores the core of traditional interpretations of Atlantic History, introducing a Brazilian point of view. He utilises the term “Ethiopic Ocean” as a geohistorical aggregate for comprehending the subequatorial seas of western and eastern Africa, considered as “an ocean in it’s own right” in the Sailing Age, and as a means of reasserting a complexity that modern cartography was unable to offer. Since 1850, with geopolitical transformations, another ocean has been shaped. As underlined in his article, “significantly, the American Cyclopaedia (in 1873) designates North Atlantic as the ‘Atlantic Proper’.” [4]

Alencastro relates his immersion in the study of whalers while a Visiting Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, in 2012. Averse to driving, he sometimes waited at New Bedford Whaling Museum rather than the bus stop on his way back home. After coming across their accurate maps and charts, including one showing whale concentrations (above), he re-read the “wonderful work” Moby Dick (1851) and realised that those sailors also knew what the slave traders had realised: the North Atlantic is shorter than the South: “It is all about the thermic equator, located 10 degrees above Senegal.”

The Anticyclone of Capricorn that governs Southern currents and naval routes was key to exploration of Africa. Like Jesuit Padre Antonio Vieira’s sermons, it seemed to justify transmigration as “singularly favoured and assisted by God”, morally validating slave trafficking as a stage in the evangelisation of African bodies and souls that would be converted in Portuguese colonies.[5]

Alencastro's representation of the maritime dynamics of the Ethiopic, with cyclons and anti-cyclones, hand-drawn during our interview

Maritime dynamics of the Ethiopic, with cyclones and anti-cyclones (drawn by Alencastro during interview)

Yet, the purpose of Alencastro’s article is not to explain the South Atlantic (as previous essays did), but rather to compare traditional historiographies, demonstrating how this phenomenon was interpreted differently. His deep historical analysis of Portuguese, Brazilian, Belgian, British and North-American literatures, as well as the Annales School, shows how this geographic zone was only dimly perceived – and underestimated. Yet “Brazil and Africa cannot be merely footnoted”, he argues.[6]

The idea of writing a genealogy of South Atlantic history came after Harvard’s International Atlantic World Seminar, 2004, in a talk with the Director Bernard Baylin, concerning the “The Idea of Atlantic History” (2005).[7]  However, “the debates on Atlantic History started in the 50’s, in France; they weren’t invented by Baylin”, Alencastro underlines.[8] “When Braudel said the Atlantic is ‘a space which borrowed its past and was hastily constructed’ as I show in the article’s epigraph, he was denying that Pierre Chaunu did the same in ‘The Mediterranean’, because he couldn’t give an idea of the whole in his essay.” [9]

But Braudel didn’t even recognise the significance of the bilateral trade in Pierre Verger’s “monumental” thesis, Flux et reflux de la traite de nègres entre le golfe de Bénin et Bahia de Todos os Santos, du XVIIe au XIXe siècle (1968), even though he supervised it.  Alencastro points out that even Verger had also neglected Angola’s significance to Brazil, which went far beyond Bahia: “now numbers are proven by the Database.” [10]

While in charge of the Sorbonne’s Brazil and South Atlantic Studies Centre (2000-2104), he organised conferences gathering specialists on Namibia, Angola, South Africa, alongside other Southern Atlanticists. A book is on the way, as well as a denser version of “The Ethiopic Ocean”. Encounters are giving rise to new projects, such as a Centre of South Atlantic Studies at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo, to expand the concept’s use to contemporary South-South relations.

Alencastro redefined the South Atlantic as a network instead of system after realising that, differently from the Indian Ocean or the Caribbean, it depended on the Eurocentric system. As the slave trade was interrupted, the network collapsed. So did communication between Africa and South America, for more than 120 years. Relations were only revived after 1975, with the independence of Angola and Mozambique.

Another point is that “The Ethiopic Ocean” isn’t purely maritime. For example, it includes Minas Gerais leather for rolled packs of exported tobacco. Silver from Potosi, via Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, was the currency used in exchanges with China. Nevertheless, São Paulo, Pará, Maranhão and the Amazon belong to another geographical pattern.

The chronology (1550-1850) delineates a continuum of the same colonial matrix, the slave trade period. It suits the long durée definition, but “not in a Braudelian way”. Considering historic ruptures, Alencastro thinks independence in 1822 “didn’t change things much. It is true that the first export destination for Brazilian goods became Liverpool instead of Lisbon, but Luanda remained the second most important port of Brazilian traders because of the slave trade.” Moreover, “what held the provinces together after independence was these relations with Angola, managed by the Braganza dynasty of Brazil – the only ones with the diplomatic ability to comply with both the British and the slave owner’s demands.”

The “Opening of Brazilian Ports” (1808), part of the Royal Navy’s offensive across the whole South Atlantic, is another deceptive symbol of Europeanisation, argues Alencastro. “In fact, that’s when Africanisation occurs.” After 1815, Brazilians and Cubans appropriated abandoned British and North American schemes all over Africa, constituting a significant episode of displacement. Would that make any sense with Marx’s idea of the “dark side of Capitalism”? “Yes. The British abolished the slave trade, but kept buying commodities made by slave hands.”

To Alencastro, Brazil didn’t become a nation until the five million Africans got there, victims of the Atlantic slave trade. “If the majority of the population is black and there were none, then Brazil was not yet born.” Brasileiro wasn’t a demonym until 1850. When legal union was complete, there were 6.5 Africans for every Portuguese or white descendent in the country.

Clearly, intellectual debates on Atlantic History remain unresolved, not least concerning Eurocentric bias and openness to new perspectives. And though Baylin once declared “he knows nobody poetically enraptured by the Atlantic World” (referring to Chaunu and the Mediterranean), when I came across “The Ethiopic Ocean”, I for one couldn’t help falling in love with it.



[1] Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, Emeritus Professor at Université de Paris-Sorbonne, and Professor at the School of Economics of São Paulo — FGV.

[2] Alencastro, Luiz Felipe de, “O Trato dos Viventes: Formação do Brasil no Atlântico Sul, Séculos XVI e XVII”: Companhia das Letras; São Paulo, 2000. And História da vida privada no Brasil, Volume 2. Império : A corte e a modernidade nacional . São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997.

[3] The Transatlantic Database (completed and organized by D. Eltis, D. Richardson, and others);

[4] Alencastro, Luiz Felipe de, “The Ethiopic Ocean: History and Historiography – 1600-1975” (In Portuguese Literary & Cultural Studies, n. 27, 2015, p. 1-79), p. 46.

[5] Alencastro, Luiz Felipe de, Op.Cit. p. 7.

[6] Bailyn, Bernard, “The Idea of Atlantic History”, Itinerario 20 (1996): 19-44.

[7] As Professor Leslie Bethell observed, from 260 papers produced in six years of Harvard’s seminars, only nine referred to Brazil.

[8] Bailyn, Bernard, The New England merchants in the seventeenth century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1955. See also, Massachusetts shipping, 1697-1714; a statistical study, Cambridge; Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1959.

[9] Braudel, Fernand. Pour une histoire sérielle: Séville et l’Atlantique (1504-1650) [Pierre Chaunu, Séville et l’Atlantique (1350-1650)]. In: Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations. 18ᵉ année, N. 3, 1963. pp. 541-553.

[10] Verger, Pierre. Flux et reflux de la traite de nègres entre le golfe de Bénin et Bahia de Todos os Santos, du XVIIe au XIXe siècle: Paris, 1968.

Travelling to do a PhD: The role of international postgraduate students in networks of information circulation


by Jose Luis Guevara Salamanca, Research Student, Institute of Latin American Studies

I am writing this post one year after arriving in London. Having finished my undergraduate studies in 2005 in Colombia I began looking for a place abroad where I could develop my scholarly career. Eventually, in 2011, after six years in academic publishing, I took a Master’s in History in Colombia, and then in 2015 I began my PhD here at ILAS.

From the beginning I have been interested in the history of books, and during my PhD I have been able to relate this topic to questions about the legitimacy of knowledge, the roots of public policies on science and technology in Latin America, and how my personal experience fits into global networks of knowledge production and information circulation that have driven particular projects by scholars new and old.

For many British scholars the idea of coming to the UK to study the history of the book in Peru and Colombia seems strange. But the biggest surprise to me was not their posture, but rather how I took for granted that I would go abroad to do my PhD. Why did this seem the next logical step in my career? Clearly the main reason is that accumulation of capital and knowledge had created an imbalance in scientific and academic development between Colombia and the UK. Consider alone the concentration of books that Bloomsbury provides for the students of UCL, the School of Advanced Study, SOAS, and other institutes and members of the University of London.


A reading room at Senate House library, Bloomsbury

However, this vision only reproduces the traditional scale of centre-periphery explanations, which basically rely on an economic perspective to study the relations (and perhaps hierarchies) between different places[1]. In my research there is an ongoing battle to separate myself from perspectives that reduce cultural and social variables to the flows of capital, thereby hiding the networks that allow us to identify global organisations that challenge the metropole-colony understanding.

In this struggle for intellectual independence a question emerges: is it possible that after more than 200 years of independent history Latin America has not created its own, original corpus of knowledge? I have heard many explanations of why Latin America has not produced a school of thought distanced from European roots, with an underlying frustration about never becoming a place where knowledge is produced instead of reproduced. Could it be a lack of PhD programs in universities? The absence of a strong conversation among our scholars? A public policy that cannot free production of knowledge from “dependency” on Europe?

Two trains of thought split off from this issue. The first one relates to the common binary explanation in which “first world academia” is opposed to “third world academia” because of the obvious resource imbalances and the dependency of the latter on the former. The second, meanwhile, sees the circulation of information and knowledge as a global network that connects different geographies beyond the developed economies.

In the first case, voices from different parts of the world have gradually achieved global recognition[2] since the midpoint of the twentieth century, emerging from former colonies of the Imperial European enterprises. As such, oppositions like “developed world” and “emerging economies”, or “first world” and “third world”, can be understood as euphemisms for colonizer and colonized.[3] This is especially true where mechanisms of legitimacy of knowledge – rankings, databases, avenues to scholarly publication – work more in terms of the market than of scientific progress. However, this dichotomy only creates a dual vision that disempowers knowledge producers outside of the major centres. These producers, of course, already suffer from a lack visibility within a largely Anglophone system which reinforces the idea that “discoveries” happen in specific places[4].

The second case tells a different story, albeit one that provides as many questions as answers. An understanding of how information circulates outside of the bipolar world demands a broader view encompassing materials, channels, translations, deviations, influences, interests, global contributions to knowledge production, and meanings achieved by readers as active participants in the reproduction of information. Instead of telling a story of isolated creators blessed by “genetically unique cleverness”, this view underlines the connections, borrowings, influences and multiple ways in which the world of scholarship is linked. One of the ways in which geographically separate academic arenas encounter each other is through PhD students themselves. Although we come here to learn, in many cases we have an ongoing research career in our countries.  And because of the nature of our economies and our growing academic sectors, many students already have some experience of publishing, teaching and researching. We carry our own methods, questions, interests, and passions along with us on our research voyages.

For Colombian scholars the PhD is sometimes considered the summit of an academic career. It comes, especially in the social sciences and humanities, after lengthy research projects at undergraduate and Master’s level.[5] Reaching the required language proficiency for a PhD in a non-Spanish speaking country can also represent a significant and time-consuming challenge. Some scholars spend years looking for funding, studying languages and completing relevant exams and applications. This idea of the PhD as the pinnacle of one’s career is also shaped by the fact that once in post at a Colombian university, academics have to split their time between research itself, administrative tasks and teaching courses, many of which do not fit their area of expertise. Thus, later research lacks the luxury of time afforded by the PhD.

In the UK, meanwhile, the PhD dissertation is considered the beginning of a scholar’s academic life. The publication of the thesis as a monograph helps to position the researcher in a given field and that process turns the young scholar into an author: he or she knows how to respond to the publisher’s expectations, how to rewrite a text for a more general audience, and how to sell the idea of the project within a particular collection or series. This training in the communication of science and knowledge is part of the PhD process, allowing for insertion of the scholar into particular networks of information dissemination.

To come to the UK is to take part in a process of dissemination that flows in many directions – not only from Europe or North America to the rest of the world. Perhaps we have been too focused on showing how the “centre” spreads around the globe rather than how different geographies nourish each other. Gone are the days when audiences, readers, students and consumers were understood as passive agents in the processes of circulation of goods and texts, for new advances in the study of consumption, readership and education have shown how meaning changes in the process of circulation and how the practice of reception has come to define the production of knowledge itself.



[1] Peter Burke works on this perspective on his book, A Social History of Knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot, Kindle edition (Cambridge, UK : Malden, Mass: Polity, 2000). Effectively, this author locates the center-periphery approach into the geographical explanation of circulation of knowledge, this strengthens the idea that behind those geopolitical explanations exist an specific way of understand the space, also position geography in the middle of this debate.

[2] Authors like Samir Amin, Edward Said, Dipesh Chakravarti, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Walter Mignolo and Jorge Canizares Esguerra have become widely known.

[3] Many of those voices have been gathered in academic trends that have searched for rewritte the colonial history like the postcolonial studies, decolonial studies and subaltern studies. However, many of this alternatives have been born in Southeast Asia, for that reason they tell the story of colonialism from the experience of the British Empire. A few steps ahead have been done for Hispanic American colonies in the work edited by Mark Thurner and Andrés Guerrero, After Spanish Rule. Postcolonial Predicaments of the Americas (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003).

[4] Examples could be found in the difficult access to works in Chinese and Japanese history because of the lack of use of English. Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Writing History ‘Backwards’: Southeastern Asian History (and the Annales) at the Crossroads. Studies in History, 10(1994), 131-145. Even many of the works in Latin American history written in Spanish are absent from certain networks of circulation because of the language barrier.

[5] Although this is changing because the years to get an undergraduate diploma have been reduced considerably in recent times.

Economics Research on Latin America: A Personal Viewpoint from China


by José R. Sánchez-Fung, Assistant Professor in Economics at University of Nottingham China (Ningbo) and Associate Fellow of ILAS

JR Sanchez-FungI am currently a full-time member of the economics faculty at the University of Nottingham’s Business School in Ningbo, China. I moved to Ningbo last year after teaching economics for over a decade at Kingston University in London. Parallel to the post at Kingston, in 2008 I became an Associate Fellow of the University of London’s Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS). The association with ILAS derives from a long-term research agenda concentrating on the economy of my native Dominican Republic and on other Latin American countries.

Colleagues and friends tend to ask the same question following the move to Nottingham-Ningbo: Do your academic research activities benefit from being in China?

Given my interest in emerging markets and developing economies, it turns out that being in China positively affects what is called the research environment. What follows illustrates the situation with three examples relating to the development of topics in my ongoing research agenda.

My arrival in Ningbo coincided with the final stage in the process of organizing an ILAS-INTEC-sponsored workshop on the Dominican Republic’s economy, held on 7 November 2014 at the University of London’s Senate House[1]. Operating from China provided a unique perspective while revising my own work and subsequently editing a selection of the contributions for publication in Ciencia y Sociedad – a scholarly journal based at INTEC in the Dominican Republic. Particularly, analyses about the expected recovery from the economic crisis affecting the advanced economies since 2007-2009 crucially depend on China’s performance. And that, in turn, affects prospects for economies around the globe including the Dominican Republic.

Book chapter coverMonetary policy, and particularly central banks and their policies, is a key topic in my research agenda. Thinking about monetary policy in the Dominican Republic and in China actually involves many common elements. And that should not be surprising as both are developing economies. For example, in contrast to what happens in advanced, open economies, like the United Kingdom, in China and in the Dominican Republic the central bank pays more attention to fluctuations in the exchange rate. I have published articles about monetary policy in China and in the Dominican Republic, and remain active in the field; a working paper published in 2015 by the Bank of Finland contains preliminary findings from estimating the impact of monetary policy on inequality in China. So, following how the People’s Bank of China implements monetary policy on a day-to-day basis and from a local perspective adds a welcome perspective to my research activity.

Another project I have been working on during the past year is the analysis of the relationship between aggregate economic performance and pollution of the natural environment -as measured by the volume of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions- in the Dominican Republic.  As noted in my work on the topic, fostering the conditions to attain economic growth and development is a chief objective for governments across the world. However, in pursuing that goal close attention has to be paid to the limits imposed on the pace of economic growth and development by numerous factors, including the possible adverse impact on the natural environment and the policies needed to reverse the damages.

The University of Nottingham campus in Ningbo

The University of Nottingham campus in Ningbo

The Dominican Republic is an interesting case to study given that it has been successful in implementing policies to preserve the natural environment. Concomitantly, as is well known, dealing with pollution is a pressing topic in China and for that reason my research has provided fruitful opportunities to discuss similarities between the two countries. In that regard, in 2014 I was invited by Fudan University in Shanghai to discuss preliminary findings concerning the existence of an environmental Kuznets curve for the Dominican Republic. I also discussed the investigation in Ningbo at a research event organized in 2015 by the University of Nottingham Business School’s Department of Quantitative and Applied Economics.

Academic research demands perseverance, in addition to tangible and intangible factors that can positively contribute to building a fruitful research programme. The research environment is a vital element to consider. In my case, China is providing an encouraging setting from which to carry out academic research and the prospects for the future are positive.


[1] INTEC: Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo, a leading higher education institution in the Dominican Republic (



Ciencia y Sociedad (2015) Forthcoming, October-December, volume 30, number 3, pages 459-646. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. [RD ISSN 0378-7680]

Mehrotra, Aaron, and José R. Sánchez-Fung (2014) China’s monetary policy and the exchange rate, Chapter 9 in: Brada, Josef C., Paul Wachtel and Dennis Yang (Eds.) China’s economic development, Palgrave Readers in Economics, Palgrave Macmillan, UK.
[ISBN 9781137469953]

Sánchez-Fung, José R. (2015) Estimating environmental Kuznets curves for developing countries: The case of the Dominican Republic. Mimeo, University of Nottingham, Department of Quantitative and Applied Economics, Business School, Ningbo, China.

Sánchez-Fung, José R. (2015) Estimating the impact of monetary policy on inequality in China. Bank of Finland BOFIT Discussion Papers, no. 17/2015. Helsinki, Finland.