Our Indigenous Ancestors

A Cultural History of Museums, Science, and Identity in Argentina, 18771943

By (author) Carolyne R. Larson

Hardback - £63.95

Publication date:

31 July 2015

Length of book:

232 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271066967

Our Indigenous Ancestors complicates the history of the erasure of native cultures and the perceived domination of white, European heritage in Argentina through a study of anthropology museums in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Carolyne Larson demonstrates how scientists, collectors, the press, and the public engaged with Argentina’s native American artifacts and remains (and sometimes living peoples) in the process of constructing an “authentic” national heritage. She explores the founding and functioning of three museums in Argentina, as well as the origins and consolidation of Argentine archaeology and the professional lives of a handful of dynamic curators and archaeologists, using these institutions and individuals as a window onto nation building, modernization, urban-rural tensions, and problems of race and ethnicity in turn-of-the-century Argentina. Museums and archaeology, she argues, allowed Argentine elites to build a modern national identity distinct from the country’s indigenous past, even as it rested on a celebrated, extinct version of that past. As Larson shows, contrary to widespread belief, elements of Argentina’s native American past were reshaped and integrated into the construction of Argentine national identity as white and European at the turn of the century. Our Indigenous Ancestors provides a unique look at the folklore movement, nation building, science, institutional change, and the divide between elite, scientific, and popular culture in Argentina and the Americas at a time of rapid, sweeping changes in Latin American culture and society.

“Carolyne Larson’s revealing of the indigenous foundation of liberal constructions of Argentine national identity is both startling and convincing. She does justice to the native peoples of Argentina and provides a historical context for current museum reforms and cultural repatriation efforts today. With clear and elegant writing supported by a remarkable depth and breadth of sources, Our Indigenous Ancestors is both a must-read for specialists and an accessible delight for the general reader.”

—Steven B. Bunker, University of Alabama