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Intermediaries in the South American Andes

School of Social and Cultural Studies Summer Research Grant
Truman State University
May 2012

Intermediaries have long played key roles in negotiating power relationships between fundamentally different worlds and across deep class divides. During the Spanish administration of the Americas, protectores de indios (Indigenous protectors) were charged with presenting the concerns of the colonized population to government officials. In the nineteenth century, informal petty lawyers known as tinterillos commanded attention among their largely nonliterate Indigenous neighbors because of their ability to read, write, and handle documents. By the twentieth century, a variety of intermediaries including educators, priests, journalists, and socialists became involved in defending the interests of rural communities throughout Latin America. Their seemingly ubiquitous presence in rural communities often displaced the actions of organic intellectuals, even as these outsiders played a key role in giving Indigenous demands broader exposure. Examining the actions of a wide range of intermediaries from both subordinate and dominant perspectives provides key insights into how people negotiated power relations between different cultures for mutually beneficial and exploitative ends.

A key importance of this project is to contribute a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the roles that intermediaries play in mediating interactions between two different worlds. This project will broaden our understanding of the important but understudied topic of how different people negotiate interactions between various cultures and intellectual traditions.

An immediate contribution of this project to the University will be the provision of new conceptual ideas, interpretations, and content for my Latin American history classes. This fall I am teaching Andean History (HIST 390) that fulfills the Intercultural Perspectives requirement of the Liberal Studies Program. It accomplishes this by providing students with a greater knowledge and appreciation of cultural diversity through the study of the encounters of Indigenous, European, and African peoples in the Andean World. Intermediaries played a key role in key role in negotiating these interactions, and this research will introduce new material that will make students aware of how culture has been used for political and social ends, including confronting racial discrimination, economic exploitation, and social injustice.

I am always happy and willing to present the results of my research in a variety of venues on campus such as the Faculty Research Conference, the Global Issues Colloquium, and the Women’s History Month conference. I have submitted a proposal to present the results of my research on intermediaries to the Truman Faculty Forum, and I look forward to doing so in the near future.

The central objective of this research is to understand the roles that intermediaries have played in negotiating ethnic identities and political struggles between marginalized Indigenous peoples and the dominant culture during the twentieth century in the South American Andes. Through an analysis of petitions and correspondence between rural communities and government officials, this project will help us understand the ramifications of bridging wide cultural divides. My hypothesis is that even though both the subordinate and dominant sectors of society vilified intermediaries, they both benefited from their actions in bridging wide societal divisions. As a result, intermediaries became crucial actors to assure the smooth functioning of society.

This project builds on previous research I conducted for a more narrowly conceptualized project on tinterillos in Ecuador that The Latin American Research Review published in the Spring 2012 issue of their journal. That investigation, however, raised more questions than it answered, and led me to realize that the phenomenon of intermediaries was much broader and more significant than what I had initially understood. That research led to a second essay in the Journal of Latin American Studies (published May 2011) on one specific individual, a socialist lawyer named Gonzalo Oleas who signed petitions for many rural communities throughout Ecuador. Oleas’ actions led me to understand that many different models existed for negotiating interactions between marginalized rural communities and the dominant culture. One of these models was that of urban intellectuals known as indigenistas who pontificated on rural Indigenous realities even though they had little direct experience with that world. I am publishing a preliminary analysis of indigenista thought and action in Ecuador in the September 2012 issue of Latin American Perspectives.

This faculty research grant will allow me to deepen my analysis of the evolution of intermediaries in the South American Andes during the twentieth century. The immediate goal of this project is to draft the framework for a book manuscript that will interrogate the multiple and conflictive roles of intermediaries. My colleagues have urged me to pursue this project because of its importance in helping us understand societal interactions, not only in the Andes but whenever and wherever two different worlds meet.

This project employs a qualitative methodology that focuses on historical research into primary source archival documents. In particular, it analyzes legislative discussions and correspondence among government officials that examine the actions of educators, priests, journalists, socialists, and other intermediaries in rural communities.

During the month of June, I will review documents from previous research trips to South America, looking for common themes and patterns that can form the framework for a book on intermediaries. In particular, I will look for gaps that can only be filled with further archival research.

In July, I will travel to Ecuador to conduct research into documents of the Social Welfare Ministry currently held in the Archivo Intermedio in Quito. This collection will allow me to fill in gaps in my research that I identified during my previous month's review of the current state of my research. While in Ecuador, I will discuss the preliminary results of this research at the VIII Ecuadorian History Congress (Montecristi, July 11-14, 2012). Maintaining an ongoing conversation with my colleagues, not only on campus and throughout the United States but also in South America, is key to advancing this project.

I will return to campus in August in order to analyze the new information I collected during my research trip and proceed to draft the framework for a book on intermediaries in South America. I am a productive scholar who makes effective use of resources and follows through with promised results. Funding this research project will assure my continued growth as a teacher/scholar with defined and immediate contributions to the classroom, the University, and my broader profession.

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