Raquel Gil-Montero

Raquel Gil-Montero

Fellow: Awarded 2011
Field of Study: History

Competition: Latin America & Caribbean

CONICET; Instituto Superior de Estudios Sociales

I studied history at the National University of Córdoba, Argentina. Since 2002 I have been full time researcher at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, at the Instituto Superior de Estudios Sociales at the National University of Tucumán. My specialties are Indigenous population, social history of the Andes, herders and miners. Since 2009 I have been Editor of Población & Sociedad, a social sciences journal edited in Tucumán.

Indigenous highland population: My doctoral thesis (1999) dealt with an indigenous population in the highlands of northern Argentina between 1770 and 1870. This population was living 3,500 meters and more above sea level, engaging in caravan trade, mining, extraction of salt, and pastoralism. My thesis examined its demography and family structures, and included issues such as climatic variations, environmental problems, and cultural differences. Because of the main theme, it was necessary to work with very different kinds of sources and to interact with specialists from other disciplines like climatology, archeology, anthropology, and geography.

Borderland Argentina-Bolivia: The frequent interactions of the highlanders with their Bolivian counterparts motivated me to design a bi-national project, and to study the population on both sides of the border between Argentina and Bolivia during the 19th century. My research was supported by various grants, and required lengthy preliminary phases for the revision and critique of the sources under comparison, and for the definition of the precise study areas. Parallel to that project I was working with an interdisciplinary group on the relationships between climate, environment, and population.

Long-term perspective: On a next stage, I completed my comparative approach by a long-term perspective. In fact, for an examination of key processes in the different regions, it seemed useful to include the 20th century and to go back into colonial history, including its early period. So I started to collect serial data and qualitative sources from the 16th to the 20th centuries (parishes registers, censuses, cadastres, chronicles, and mining documentation). The principal result of that enquiry was the insight into the strong links between pastoralism, mining, transport, and trade in the long-term history of the Southern Andes. These links do also imply that we can get an idea of pastoral groups and practices by studying in detail the—much better documented—commercial sectors of the mountain society.

Mountain pastoralism and modernity: Between 2006 and 2009, together with two colleagues from Europe and Asia, I started a project on “Mountain pastoralism and modernity." We aimed at taking up the global comparative debate on pastoralism and to promote its historical parts. The project started with a series of pre-conferences in three continents. I was coordinating the Latin American part and organized two workshops, in August 2008, in Peru and Argentina. As a closure to the cycle, selected scholars from the pre-conferences met at a session at the 15th International Economic History Congress in the Netherlands, in August 2009. The results were published in a special issue of the journal Nomadic Peoples. After that experience I launched a new “Programa de Estudios Surandinos” at my Instituto Superior de Estudios Sociales in Argentina, and I organized and supervised a group of students for Andean studies.

The Guggenheim Fellowship: During my Guggenheim Fellowship term I will write a book about herders and miners in the Andes in the long-time perspective. The book will tell the history of a region populated by herders, where important silver veins were discovered around 1640. A surprising city began to crop up and develop at this altitude, with an illegal neighborhood where people traded in slaves, played cards, and sometimes got rich. Present-day herders still speak about this long gone “Sodom and Gomorrah." More than 5,000 inhabitants were living in a territory earlier inhabited by herders, who used to live dispersed in small groups. The environmental conditions (high altitude, chilly and arid climate, lack of agriculture) implied that the city had to be supplied from very distant places. At the end of the 17th century, mining activities declined very fast, and the city was almost abandoned. There remained only few miners families, or occasionally, more people in some sporadic exploitation of old mines, but the city was never as populated as in the second half of the 17th century. Three decades ago, in the 1980s, the city was totally abandoned.


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