Idols, Altars, Slippers, and Stockings: Heritage Debates and Displays in Nineteenth-Century Chile

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

When liberal historian Benjamin Vicuna Mackenna lobbied for support to host an exhibition about Chile’s colonial past, he compared the bringing together of historical objects to the work of a natural historian, who used the fossilized, fragmented remains of a long-extinct creature to imagine its body and its habits. Fragmentary remains are an apt way to describe the raw
material of Chile’s heritage: the new country did not have monumental architecture, the metaphorical equivalent of a perfectly complete fossilized mastodon or tyrannosaurus rex, around which to build a concept of national heritage. The indigenous people who inhabited the territory that became Chile did not leave pyramids behind, like the Aztecs or the Maya, nor did
the colonial period leave a baroque city-scape, as it had in Lima, Mexico City, or Potosı. As the nineteenth century progressed, this lack of grand material remains became more problematic because other Spanish American countries used them as metaphorical foundation stones to new national identities. By the mid-century in other parts of Latin America, the ‘new language’ of archaeology offered evidence that the Maya, Inca, and Aztecs were highly ‘civilised’ peoples, feeding into both nationalism and a re-valuation of pre Columbian remains as having scientific merit. This same language of archaeology, however, situated the indigenous people of Chile, without a written language or grand architectural ruins, in the category of ‘Lower Barbarian’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-348
Number of pages23
JournalPast and Present
Volume226
Issue numberSuppl. 10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2015

Keywords

  • Chile
  • heritage
  • Museums
  • natural history

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