Bringing into dialogue the fields of social history, Andean ethnography, and postcolonial theory, The Lettered Indian maps the moral dilemmas and political stakes involved in the protracted struggle over Indian literacy and schooling in the Bolivian Andes. Brooke Larson traces Bolivia’s major state efforts to educate its unruly Indigenous masses at key junctures in the twentieth century. While much scholarship has focused on “the Indian boarding school” and other Western schemes of racial assimilation, Larson interweaves state-centered and imperial episodes of Indigenous education reform with vivid ethnographies of Aymara peasant protagonists and their extraordinary pro-school initiatives. Exploring the field of vernacular literacy practices and peasant political activism, she examines the transformation of the rural “alphabet school” from an instrument of the civilizing state into a tool of Aymara cultural power, collective representation, and rebel activism. From the metaphorical threshold of the rural school, Larson rethinks the politics of race and indigeneity, nation and empire, in postcolonial Bolivia and beyond.
Preface xi Introduction 1 1. To Civilize the Indian: Contested Pedagogies of Race and Nation 23 2. Lettered Aymara: The Insurgent Politics of Literacy and Schooling 70 3. Warisata: Forging an Intercultural School Experiment 110 4. Whose Indian School? Revenge of the Oligarchy 160 5. Instigators of New Ideas: Peasant Pedagogies of Praxis 192 6. Enclaves of Acculturation: The North American School Crusade 229 7. The Hour of Vindication: Rural Literacy and Schooling in the Age of Revolution 269 Epilogue. Silences, Remembrances, and Reckonings 315 Acknowledgments 339 Notes 345 Bibliography 423 Index
Brooke Larson is Professor Emerita of History at Stony Brook University; author of Cochabamba, 1550-1900: Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia, also published by Duke University Press, and Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810–1910; and coeditor of Ethnicity, Markets, and Migration in the Andes: At the Crossroads of History and Anthropology.
“The Lettered Indian is a beautifully narrated and painstakingly documented history of Indigenous education in twentieth-century Bolivia. Drawing on a prodigious array of archival, print, and oral sources, Brooke Larson weaves a history of Aymara activism, in which schooling and literacy play a primary role, thus putting the lie to the myth of the ‘oral Indian.’ At once historical and ethnographic, this book places Indigenous actors at the center of Bolivian history to tell a powerful and vibrant story of postcolonial nation-building. It is a major contribution to Latin American history, anthropology, and Indigenous studies.”
~Joanne Rappaport, author of, Cowards Don't Make History: Orlando Fals Borda and the Origins of Participatory Action Research
“The Lettered Indian is a monumental work by a masterly historian. Through profound investigation, incisive analysis, and compelling narration, Brooke Larson shows how education is central for decolonization. Moving between Indigenous activism and peasant community initiative, national intellectual debate and state policy, as well as US imperial projects, her book reveals that the struggle over popular education led to the dismantling of neocolonial modernity in Bolivia over the course of the twentieth century.”
~Sinclair Thomson, coeditor of, The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics