“The heavier the burden of the concrete, the more likely it is to be bypassed by theory”.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot. Silencing the Past, Power and the Production of History (1995).
I am a Peruvian historian specialized in the social and political history of the Andean region. After graduating as a historian in Lima, I took a teaching position at the Universidad Nacional de Huamanga, in Ayacucho, where I lived for one year in the late 1980s. During that decade, Ayacucho’s mostly rural and Quechua-speaking hinterland had become the epicenter of the political violence unleashed by Shining Path’s (Sendero Luminoso’s) insurgency. Deemed the biggest insurrection in the history of Peru, and the bloodiest in modern Latin America, the inner war, which spanned from 1980 to 2000, claimed nearly 70,000 lives, most of them Quechua-speaking peasants. My experience in Ayacucho, which was prior to my pursual of graduate studies in the U.S., turned out to be decisive in my professional choices. Henceforth, the largest part of my research has been devoted to the study of the role of Andean peasant society in Peru’s national life.
My work calls the attention on the importance of late eighteenth-century, and nineteenth-century political developments in shaping modern conceptions nationhood, citizenship, and “race.” I have also investigated the historical relationship between the peasants and the militaries, and the role of war and the army in the construction of the state. I have published widely on these and other subjects concerning contemporary politics. My book The Plebeian Republic: The Huanta Rebellion and the Making of the Peruvian State (2005), won the Howard F. Cline Award for “the best book on indigenous history in Latin America.” Its Spanish revised and expanded version, La República Plebeya (2014) was voted “the best book of History of 2014” according to an international survey of historians specialized in Peru. You can watch the video of the book presentation here.
Currently, I am working on two major research projects. “The Wars Within: Civil Strife, National Imaginings, and the Rural Basis of the Peruvian State” is a study of nineteenth-century civil wars, local governance, and state formation, which draws inspiration in Peru’s most recent armed conflict. This book project was awarded yearlong fellowships form the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Center for Historical Studies at UT-Austin.
My second ongoing book project, “The Proscribed Heroe: Historiography and memory of Tupac Amaru II” explores the long-term legacies of the insurgency of Tupac Amaru II (1780-1781) in the historiography and in the official and popular memory of Peru, from its aftermath to the present.
I welcome graduate students who are interested in studying any of the subjects related to my specialization and who can surprise me with original questions and projects.
Research and Teaching Interests:
- Latin America/ The Andean Region, Peru, 18th-21st centuries.
- Civil wars, citizenship, the peasants and the army.
- The state, race and ethnicity, nationalism, world history.
- Historical anthropology, theory of history and historiography.
- “Violence, Terrorism, and Human Rights. Learning History Through Film.” Freshmen Seminar. Revolutions and guerrillas sparked in various Latin America countries between the 1950s and 1980s, but Peru and Colombia are peculiar in that guerrillas rose up there to fight democratic governments, not military juntas.
- “The Wars Within: Civil Strife, National Imaginings, and the Rural Bases of the Peruvian State, 21st to 19th century.” A study on nineteenth-century civil wars, local governance, and state formation which draws inspiration in Peru`s most recent civil war (1980-1999), when peasants banded together with the army to the defeat the Shining Path terrorist insurgency.
- “The Proscribed Heroe: Historiography and memory of Tupac Amaru II.” This book-lenght project explores the long term legacies of the insurgency of Tupac Amaru II (1780-1781) in the historiography and in the official and popular memory of Peru, from its aftermath to the present.
BOOKS (as author)
- Los Trabajadores Guaneros del Perú, 1840-1879. Lima: Seminario de Historia Rural Andina, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, 1987. Méndez 1987 Los trabajadores guaneros-del-Perú-1840-1879
- The Plebeian Republic: The Huanta Rebellion and the Making of the Peruvian State, 1820-1850. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005. Winner of the 2007 CLAH Howard F. Cline award for the best book on indigenous history in a Latin America. Download the introduction here.
- La República Plebeya. Huanta y la formación del Estado Peruano, 1820-1850. Lima: IEP, 2014. A revised, expanded, and updated version of the The Plebeian Republic. Voted “the best book of History of 2014” in Peru.
- Violencias Fundacionales. Lima: La Siniestra Ensayos. Forthcoming, 2019
BOOKS (as editor)
- Coedited with Juan Carlos Estenssoro, Narra la Independencia desde tu pueblo, I: Huacho, Arequipa y Tarapacá (Lima, IEP, 2017), 157 pp.
- Coedited with Juan Carlos Estenssoro, Las Independencias antes de la independencia: una mirada alternativa desde los pueblos. Instuto Francés de Estudios Andinos, IFEA. Forthcoming, 2019.
- “Una vez más La Pena de Muerte” (The Death Penalty, Once again). Crónicas de Historia del Derecho, 1994: 51-63. A critical overview of the legislation concerning death penalty since the nineteenth century, in light of the political violence Peru experienced in the 1980s. Revised and expanded from “Penalidad y Muerte en el Perú” Márgenes No 1. Lima: Casa de Estudios del Socialismo, 1987.
- “Incas Sí, Indios No: Notes Creole Nationalism in Peru and its contemporary crisis.”. Journal of Latin American Studies, (Cambridge University), 28, February 1996: 197-225 (translated with revisions from the the 1993 Spanish original).
- Incas sí, Indios no: apuntes para el estudio del nacionalismo criollo en el Perú.Lima: IEP, 1995. Second, revised edition of the 1993 essay. The third edition was published by Lima’s Ministerio de Cultura in 2014 as part of the volume Racismo y Enticidad with Christine Hunefeldt and Marisol de la Cadena Méndez Incas Sí 2014 with Hunefeldt, and De la Cadena Racismo y Etnicidad
- “The Power of Naming, or the Construction of Ethnic and National Identities in Peru: Myth, History and the Iquichanos”. In Past and Present (Oxford U. Press), 171, May 2001, pp. 125-160.
- El Poder del Nombre o La Construcción de Indentidas Nacionales y Etncias en el Peru: Mito e Historia de los Iquichanos. Lima: IEP, Documento de Trabajo, 2002.
- “Tradiciones liberales en los Andes: militares y campesinos en la formación del estado peruano.” (Liberal Traditions in the Andes: militaries and peasants in the formation of the national State in Peru). In Estudios Interdisciplinarios de America Latina y el Caribe (EIAL) University of Tel Aviv. vol 15, no. 1, 2004: 35-63.
- “‘¿Una Larga Espera’? Ironías de la Cruzada Postcolonialista en Hispanoamérica,” Histórica Vol. XXX Nro. 2, Dec. 2006 . A critique to the so-called postcolonial theory from a Latin American perspective. Revised edition: In Cuadernos CLACSO 27, Le Monde Diplomatique. La Paz, Junio 2010.
- “Populismo Militar y Etnicidad en los Andes” (Military Populism and Ethnicity in the Andes), presentation of dossier. Iconos, Revista de Ciencias Sociales, Quito: FLACSO no 26, 2006. Introduction of a special dossier on Militaries and Indians in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru: 12-16.
- “Las Paradojas del Autoritarismo: Ejército, Campesinado y Etnicidad en el Perú: siglos XIX al XXI” (The Paradoxes of Authoritarianism: The Army the Peasantry, and Ethnicity in Peru). Iconos, Revista de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO, Quito) no. 26 Sept. 2006: 17-34.
- “Nationalism: Latin America.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World, Peter Stearns ed, Oxford University Press, 2008, vol 5: 353-355.
- “El Inglés y los Subalternos: Comentario a los artículos de Florencia Mallon y Klor de Alva” (English and the Subalterns: Commentary to the articles of Florencia Mallon and Jorge Klor de Alva). in Pablo Sandoval, editor, Repensando la Subalternidad Lima: IEP, 2009. I argue, against a trend that claims “globalization” is blurring national boundaries, that place and language matter in academia.
- “Militares Populistas: Ejército, Ciudadanía y Etnicidad en el Perú.” (Populist Militaries, the Army, Citizenship, and Ethnicity in Peru). In Pablo Sandoval, editor, Repensando la Subalternidad. Lima: IEP, 2009. This article analyzes the long term relationship between the peasants and the army in order to understand popular appeal of civilian and military dictatorships.
- “De Indio a Serrano: Nociones de raza y geografía en el Perú, siglos XVIII-XXI” (From Indian to Highlander: Notions of Race and Geography in Peru). Histórica vol. XXXV, 1, 2011: 53-103 . During the time of the Spaniards, indians could be found everywhere. However, at some point closer to our era, indians became “serranos” and “serrano”, in turn, became an insult in Peru. When and why did this happen?
- In coauthorship with Carla Grandos, Las guerras olvidadas del Perú: formación del Estado e imaginario nacional” (“Peru’s forgotten wars, state formation and national imaginings). Revista de Sociologia e Politica (Brazil) vol 20 nr 42, June 2012: 57-71.
- La Guerra que no cesa: Guerras civiles, imaginario nacional y la formación del estado en el Perú” (Ceaseless War: Civil Wars, National Imaginings, and the formation of the state in Peru). In Clément Thibaud (et. al), L’ Atlantique Révolutionnaire. Bécherel: Editions Les Perséides (France), 2013: 379-420 (Notice the name of this article is mistaken in the table of contents).
CURRENT AFFAIRS (Selected)
- “San Martín no debe estar en el centro de la memoria de la independencia” [San Martín should not be at the center of the memory of Independence]. La República July 28, 2016, Web versión https://larepublica.pe/politica/959295-san-martin-no-debe-estar-en-el-centro-de-la-memoria-de-la-independencia
- “El Mundo al Borde del Historicidio” (The World on the Verge of Historicide). Ojo Público.com. April 19, 2015. Opinion essay that discusses how neoliberalism blends in Peru with the legacies of terrorism to de-historicize notions of nation and citizenship.
- “Obama y Humala: ¿Democracia y Nacionalismo? Revista IDEELE 215, december 2011“. Opinion essay on how presidential candidates Obama in the U.S. and Humala in Peru faced racist attacks from conservative critics. Case exemplifies how political claims of national belonging can mean something different in different countries.
History 202, the Historical Methods course required for all incoming students to the M.A/Phd Program; In Winter 2019, as the current Director of the Latin American and Iberian Studies Program, I offered LAIS 200, “Introduction to Latin American and Iberian Studies” .
At the undergraduate level I teach History 8, Introduction to the History of Latin America; and upper division courses such as History 151B and History 151C, Latin America in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, respectively; History 154LB, Andean History in the National Period; History 151FQ, Latin American History Through Film; and the seminars History 151P, and History 151R, where students develop their own research projects. More recently, I have taught the upper division lecture course History of Cuba (History 151CU).
Honors and Professional Activities:
- 2014. La República Plebeya: La rebelión de Huanta y la formación del Estado Peruano (IEP, 2014) selected “the best book of History” in Peru.
- 2010 Latin American and Iberian Studies Program Faculty Award for Exemplary Mentorship to Graduate and Undergraduate Students.
- 2007 Howard Cline Memorial Prize for the book “The Plebeian Republic” awarded by the Conference on Latin American History.
- 1995 Mildred and Herbert Weisinger Dissertation Prize for the Best Doctoral Dissertation in Progress, SUNY at Stony Brook.
- 1986 B.A. Thesis “Los Trabajadores Guaneros del Perú” approved as “outstanding” with “mention for publication” (published in 1987).
- National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) 2012-2013 Research project “The Wars Within: Civil Strife, National Imaginings, and the Rural Bases of the Peruvian State”
- Stanford Humanities Center Fellowship 2010-211. Research
project: “The Wars Within: Civil Strife, National Imaginings, and the Rural Bases of the Peruvian State.”
- University of Texas-Austin, Institute for Historical Studies Fellowship 2010-2011. “Research project: “The Wars Within: Civil Strife, National Imaginings, and the Rural Bases of the Peruvian State.” (declined)
- Yale University Program in Agrarian Studie Fellowship 1996-1997
Research project: “Peasant Justice and State Rule in Huanta 1830-1879”
- Governmnet of Spain Fellowship for “Foreign Hispanists”, 1994. Project: “Rebellion without resistance”. Doctoral dissertation research in the Archive of Indies, Seville, Spain.
- Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Doctoral Fellow 1993-1994.
Fellowship to write up dissertation.
- Social Science Research Council Doctoral Fellow 1991-1992.
Dissertation: “Rebellion Without Resistance: Huanta’s Monarchist Peasants and the Making of the Peruvian State.”
- Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Doctoral Fellow 1991-1992 Dissertation: “Rebellion Without Resistance: Huanta’s Monarchist Peasants and the Making of the Peruvian State.”
- Invited Professor at l’Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Paris (May-June, 2019).
- Invited speaker at the 2018 summer course “Visiones de lo Colonial: usos y abusos de un concepto”. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (September 2018).
- Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, Lima
Workshop on “Alternative Methodologies” for Latin American Doctoral Students, Sponsored by SEPHIS (2009), and various workshops on the militaries and the peasants, civil wars and the state, and the production of silences in historiographical narratives (2010, 2011, 2012).
- University of the Philippines, Quezon City, 2008.
Workshop on “Alternative Methodologies” for Doctoral Students of the “Global South”, Sponsored by SEPHIS
- Universidad Nacional de San Cristobal de Huamanga, Ayacucho, Peru. Various workshops for history students
Videos, Interviews (Selected)
- “Se usa el miedo para reforzar un modelo económico” [Fear is used to reinforce an economic model”. Interviewed by Gabriela Wiener, La República, 9 Abril 2016. https://larepublica.pe/politica/930458-cecilia-mendez-se-usa-el-miedo-para-reforzar-un-modelo-economico
- “La herencia del terrorismo impide pensar en los rebeldes del pasado” [The legacy of terrorism prevents us from thinking in the rebels of the past]. Intereviewed by José Miguel Munive Vargas, in Revista Ideele 237, April 18th, 2014. https://revistaideele.com/ideele/content/cecilia-méndez-la-herencia-del-terrorismo-impide-pensar-en-los-rebeldes-del-pasado
- Read the chronicle by Elías Navarro, “Libro La República Plebeya Presentado en Uchuraccay,” in La República, August 2, 2015.
- Watch the lecture by professor Alicia Civera, The Ayotzinapa Student Massacre and the Teaching Training Schools in Mexico: A Historical Perspective. UCSB, February 23, 2015 (in Spanish and English).
- Read a review of La República Plebeya from the newspaper La República, Lima November 2, 2014. Rebeldes de Uchuraccay
- Watch the video of the presentation of La República Plebeya in the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, Lima, September 6, 2014.
- Visit the Facebook page for the contest of essays “Narrate Independence from your village, your district, or your city” and the International Conference “Independences before independence”.