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“The Ashes of our Ancestors”: Creating Argentina's Indigenous Heritage in the Museo Etnográfico, 1904–1930

  • Carolyne Ryan Larson (a1)

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On September 28, 1927, the central atrium of the Museo Etnográfico on Buenos Aires's Calle Moreno was crowded with people. More than 100 men and women were in attendance, from Universidad de Buenos Aires rector Ricardo Rojas to Argentine president Marcelo T. de Alvear, wrapped in heavy jackets against the spring chill to participate in the inauguration of the museum's new building. Previously housed in “the gloomy catacombs” of an administrative basement, the Museo Etnográfico had now relocated to an airy, Baroque-style building two blocks south of the city's central Plaza de Mayo. In his inaugural speech on that chilly September morning, museum director Salvador Debenedetti proclaimed that the Museo Etnográfico, until then a predominandy academic museum, was undergoing a powerful transformation: it was becoming a public museum. Debenedetti proclaimed that the museum's new incarnation would be a place “of tranquility and of meditation, which will move the spirit of the people and lead them from epoch to epoch, from region to region, from culture to culture.” He described the museum's public visitors, or “the people,” as active participants in the institution's openly nation-building agenda, and celebrated their participation as a “patriotic conjunction, inspired by die desire for scientific progress, the love of truth, [and] the desire to know better and penetrate in its essence the thought of our native ancestors in the land of América.”

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References

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I would like to thank Julie Gibbings, Isa Helfgott, Miranda Johnson, Florencia E. Mallon, Ron Numbers, Francisco Scarano, Steve J. Stern, and the anonymous reviewers for The Americas for their careful readings and invaluable input on earlier versions of this material. They have all offered clarifying and helpful advice without which I would not have been able to write this article. The Museo Etnográfico “Juan Β. Ambrosetri” in Buenos Aires, founded in 1904, is under the direction of the Facultad de Filosofìa y Letras of the Universidad de Buenos Aires.

1. Silvia Calvo and Patricia Arenas, “El Museo Etnográfico: aportes para su historia.” Unpublished manuscript, 1987, Museo Etnográfico “Juan B. Ambrosetti” [hereafter MEA] Library.

2. “Inauguración del Museo Etnográfico,” Archivos de la Universidad de Buenos Aires (Boletín Informativo de la Revista de la Universidad), Año II, Tomo II (September 1927), pp. 434–439.

3. Earle, Rebecca, ‘“Padres de la Patria’ and the Ancestral Past: Commemorations of Independence in Nineteenth-Century Spanish America,Journal of Latin American Studies 34 (November 2002), pp. 775805.

4. Bueno, Christina, “Forjando Patrimonio: The Making of Archaeological Patrimony in Porfirian Mexico,Hispanic American Historical Review 90:2, pp. 215245; Earlc, Rebecca, “‘Padres de la Patria’”; and Marisol de la Cadena, Indigenous Mestizos: Tfie Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919–1991 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000).

5. See Lcdón, Luis Castillo, El Museo “Nacional de Arqueología, Historia ν Etnografìa, 1825–1925 (Mexico: Imprenta del Musco Nacional, 1924).

6. Bueno, “Forjando Patrimonio,“ p. 220.

7. See also Craib’s, Raymond analysis of ancient indigenous cultures in nineteenth-century national maps, in Cartographic Mexico: A History of State Fixations and Fugitive’Landscapes (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004).

8. See for example López, Rick A., Crafting Mexico: Intellectuals, Artisans, and the State After tlie Revolution (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010); Poole, Deborah, “An Image of’Our Indian’: Type Photographs and Racial Sentiments in Oaxaca, 1920–1940,Hispanic American Historical Review 84:1 (February 2004), pp. 3782.

9. Andrews, George Reid, The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800–1900 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980); Mandrini, Raúl J., Vivir entre dos mundos. Las fronteras del sur de la Argentina. Siglos XVIH y XIX (Buenos Aires: Taurus, 2006); Moya, José C., Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850–1930 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); and Funcionarios, diplomáticos, guerreros. Miradas hacia el otro en las fronteras de Pampa y Patagonia (Siglos XVHIy XIX), Nacuzzi, Lidia R., comp. (Buenos Aires: Gráfica Integral, 2002).

10. Shumway, Nicolas, The Invention of Argentina (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991 ), p. x. See also Sommer, Doris, Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

11. Quijada, Mónica, “Ancestros, ciudadanos, piezas de museo. Francisco P. Moreno y la articulación del indígena en la construcción nacional argentina,Estudios Interdisciplinarios de América Latina y el Caribe 9:2 (1998), pp. 2146.

12. For more on the scientific display of indigenous bodies, a topic that lies beyond the scope of this article, see Starn, Orin, Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004); Stepan, Nancy Leys, The Hour of Eugenics: Race, Gender, and Nation in Latin America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991); Stocking, George W. Jr., ed., Bones, Bodies, Behavior: Essays on Biological Anthropology, History of Anthropology, Vol. 5 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988); and Thomas, David Hurst, Skull Wars: Kcnncwick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

13. Burmcistcr, Hermann, Reise durcb die La Plata-Staaten, mit besonderer Rùcksicht auf die physische Beschajjenheit und den Culturzustand der Argentiniscben Republik. Ausgcphurt in den Jahren 1857, 1858, 1859, und 1860, Vols. I and II (Halle, Prussia: H. W. Schmidt, 1861), quoted in González, Antonio Lascano, El Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Culturales Argentinas, 1980), p. 81.

14. Quoted in Auza, Nestor Tomás, “Germán Burmeister y la Sociedad Paleontológica, 1866–1868,Investigaciones y Ensayos 46 (1996), pp. 137155. See also Biraben, Max, Germán Burmeister, su vida, su obra (Buenos Aires: Ministerio de Cultura y Educación, Ediciones Culturales Argentinas, 1968), pp. 2829.

15. Francisco P. Moreno to Florentino Amcghino, dated February 26, 1887, in Ameghino, , ObrasCom-pletas, Vol. 20, letter 453, pp. 407410.

16. Moreno, Francisco P., “El Musco de La Plata. Rápida ojeada sobre su fundación y desarrollo,Revista del Museo de La Plata, Tomo I ( 1890–1891 ), pp. 2854.

17. Moreno,“Rápida ojeada,” p. 40. See also Andermann, Jens, Tlie Optic of the State: Visuality and Power in Argentina and Brazil (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), especially chapt. 1, pp. 2357.

18. Ambrosctti, Juan B., Memoria del Museo Etnográfico, 1906 á 1912 (Buenos Aires: Compañía Sud-Americana de Billetes de Banco, 1912), p. 8.

19. Ambrosetti, Juan B., “La Facultad de Filosofia y Letras de la Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires y los Estudios de Arqueología Americana,Anthropos Vol. 3 (1908), pp. 983987.

20. See Ambrosetti, Juan B., Trabajos publicados (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Juan A. Alsina, 1904).

21. del Pilar Babot, María, “La arqueología argentina de fines del siglo XIX y principios del XX a través de J. B. Ambrosetti,Mundo de Antes 1, 1998, Tucumán. 165192.

22. Casanova, Eduardo, “Disertación del Profesor de Arqueología Americana, Doctor Eduardo Casanova,Homenaje al Doctor Salvador Debenedetti (Buenos Aires: Imprenta y Casa Editora Coni, 1950), pp. 624.

23. See Graham, Richard, ed., The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870–1940 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990); Stepan, Nancy Leys, The Hour of Eugenics; and Alexandra Minna Stern, Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

24. Ambrosetti, Juan B., “La Facultad de Filosofia y Letras,Anthropos Vol. 3 (1908), p. 983.

25. See Arenas, Patricia, “La antropología en la Argentina a fines del siglo XIX y principios del XX,Runa 19 (1989–1990), pp. 147160; Babot, “La arqueología argentina”; Fernandez, Jorge, Historia de la arqueología argentina, (Mendoza: Talleres Gráficos del Centro de Economía, Legislación y Administración del Agua, 1982); and Ramundo, Paola Silvia, “Los aportes de los investigadores pioneros a la arqueología del Noroeste Argentino,Temas de historia argentina y americana 11 (July-December 2007), pp. 179217.

26. Endcrc, Maria and Podgorny, Irina, “Los gliptodontcs son argentinos: la Icy 9080 y la creación del patrimonio nacional,Ciencia Hoy 7:42 (September-October 1997), pp. 5459; Podgorny, , El argentino despertar de las faunas y de las gentes prehistóricas. Coleccionistas, estudios, museos y universidad en la creación del patrimonio paleontológico y arqueológico nacional (1875–1913), (Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires [EUDEBA], 2000); and Podgorny, , “Portable Antiquities: Transportation, Ruins, and Communications in Nineteenth-Century Archeology,Historia, Ciencias, Saúde—Manguinhos 15:3 (July-Septcmbcr 2008), pp. 577595.

27. See Solbcrg, Carl, “Immigration and Urban Social Problems in Argentina and Chile, 1890–1914,Hispanic American Historical Review 49:2 (May 1969), pp. 215232; and Rock, David, Politics in Argentina, 1890–1930: The Rise and Fall of Radicalism (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1975).

28. See Garcia, Susana V. and Podgorny, Irina, “El sabio tiene una patria. La Gran Guerra y la comunidad científica argentina,Ciencia Hoy 10:55 (February-March 2000), pp. 2434.

29. “Inauguración del Musco Etnográfico,” Archivos de la Universidad de Buenos Aires (Boletín Informativo de la Revista de la Universidad), Año II, Tomo II (September 1927), pp. 434–439. Dcbcncdetti’s comments were also reproduced in the porteño newspapers El Diario and La Época on September 28, 1927: Recortes XII, MEA.

30. Conn, Steven, Museums and American Intellectual Life 1876–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 4.

31. Stocking, George W. Jr., “Essays on Museums and Material Culture,” in Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture, History of Anthropology, Vol. 3, Stocking, ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), pp. 314.

32. Rabinow, Paul, ed., The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984). See also Irina Podgorny, “Portable Antiquities.”

33. Bourdieu, Pierre, “The Forms of Capital,” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, Richardson, John G., ed. (New York: Greenwood, 1986), pp. 241258.

34. Ambrosetti, Memoria, p. 4.

35. Ibid., p. 5.

36. Clark Wisslcr to Juan Β. Ambrosctti, July 6, 1908, Legajo “American Museum of Natural History,” Caja 1.10, MEA.

37. Wissler to Ambrosctti, March 20, 1909, Legajo “American Museum of Natural History,” Caja 1.10, MEA.

38. Exchange records, 1913, Caja 4.54, MEA.

39. Memoranda citing Dcbcncdetu’s official tides and payment at Musco de La Plata, March 28, 1924, Caja Debenedetti Institucional, MEA.

40. Samuel Lafonc Qucvado, Director, Musco de La Plata [hereafter MLP], to Dean of Facultad de Filosofía y Letras [hereafter FFyL], Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires [hereafter UBA], April 23, 1906, Caja 1.5, MEA.

41. Dean FFyL, UBA, to Samuel Lafone Qucvado, Director MLP, July 20, 1908, Caja 5, Folio 7, MEA.

42. MLP to Ambrosctti, acknowledging receipt of MEA’s donation to MLP, March 18, 1914, Caja Dcbcncdctti 3, MEA.

43. Luis Maria Torres, Director MLP, to Debenedetti, December 4, 1922, Caja Dcbcncdctti 3, MEA.

44. Secretary MLP to Dcbcncdctti, May 16, 1921, Caja Debenedetti Cartas, MEA.

45. Cristian Nelson, Director, Provincial Museum of Salta, to Debenedetti, April 21, 1923, Caja Debenedetti, MEA.

46. Ambrosetti, Memoria, p. 33.

47. Ibid., p. 4. See also El Museo Etnográfico (Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires, 1948), p. 45.

48. Ambrosetti, Memoria, p. 33.

49. Ibid., pp. 3–4.

50. See Conn, Steven, Museums and American Intellectual Life 1876–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Hudson, Kenneth, A Social History of Museums: What the Visitors Thought (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1975); and Penny, H. Glenn, Objects of Culture: Ethnology and Ethnographic Museums in Imperial Germany (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

51. Conn, Museums, p. 19; sec also Kavanagh, Gaynor, Museums and the First World War (Leicester, U.K.: Leicester University Press, 1994), pp. 2021; and Hudson, , A Social History of Museums, p. 7.

52. Ambrosctti, , “La Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires y los Estudios de Arqueología Americana,Antbropos Vol. 3 (1908), pp. 983987.

53. Clemente Zamora to Juan Β. Ambrosetti, August 12, 1914, Caja 4.58, MEA.

54. Arturo R. Frutos to Juan B. Ambrosetti, May 19,1906, Caja 1, MEA.

55. Carlos Brackibux to Juan Β. Ambrosctti, June 25, 1914, Caja 5, MEA.

56. Héctor Nuñez to Salvador Debenedetti, June 27, 1928, Caja 8, MEA.

57. Caja Visitas, MEA.

58. Comisión de Ayuda Social del Consejo Nacional de Mujeres to Director, Musco Etnográfico, May 3, 1920, Caja Visitas, MEA.

59. Comisión de Ayuda Social del Consejo Nacional de Mujeres to Salvador Debenedetti, Museo Etnográfico, May 3, 1920, Caja Visitas, MEA.

60. See Ambrosctti, Memoria; Ambrosctti, “La Facultad de Filosofía,” Anthropos Vol. III (1908), pp. 983–987; Patricia Arenas, “La antropología en la Argentina”; and María del Pilar Babot, “La arqueología argentina,” pp. 165–192.

61. Alfredo González Garaño to Debenedetti, September 14, 1927, Caja 7, MEA.

62. Tomás Le Breton to Debenedetti, September 13, 1927, Caja 7, MEA.

63. La Prensa, “La tumba de Tut–Ankh–Amon,” May 13, 1923; La Prensa, “La revolución religiosa y su aspecto sexual. Taras de Aj-en-Aton,” February 25, 1923.

64. “Inauguración del Musco Etnográfico,” Archivos de la Universidad de Buenos Aires (Boletín Informativo de la Revista de la Universidad), Año II, Tomo II (September 1927), pp. 434–439.

“The Ashes of our Ancestors”: Creating Argentina's Indigenous Heritage in the Museo Etnográfico, 1904–1930

  • Carolyne Ryan Larson (a1)

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