Unthinking the Canon: Latin America and the History of Historiography

Mark Thurner (ILAS)
17 November 2015

In the late eighteenth century Peruvian intellectuals complained in print that their history "occupies only a diminutive place in the portrait of the universe painted by historians". More than two centuries later, the place of Peru and Latin America at large in the universe of historical thought is probably no better, and may very well be worse, particularly in Departments of History in the UK, where its very existence is in serious doubt. In this talk I argue that the erasure of colonial and postcolonial Latin American history is inscribed at the deep level of the language of theory and canon (that is, at the level of what constitutes History itself). This deep level should be of urgent concern since -and contrary to the discipline's anti-intellectual and anti-theoretical posturing-- it may easily be demonstrated that it invariably commands historical writing in the profession. The problem is painfully evident in the retooled field of Theory and History of History (what used to be and is still sometimes called "Philosophy of History" and/or "Historiography", where Latin America is, as The Oxford History of Historical Writing puts it, little more than "Europe's offspring". In this talk I will outline an alternative approach to the theory and history of historiography that, I argue, may return Indo-American historical writing to its long lost position at the cutting edge of history.

Mark Thurner is Reader in Latin American Studies, Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London.

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