Peru is a country with a rich, ancient and diverse history. Whether one is exploring Peruvian history to prepare for travel there, or to become more acquainted with one’s world, A Brief History of Peru is worth considering as a reading option. Examining a foreign culture will expand a reader’s understanding and empathy, as well as illuminating one’s own culture by revealing similarities and differences.
Within the space of 300 pages, Christine Hunefeldt takes her reader from the period of Inca Civilization’s predominance, through Spain’s conquest and colonization, into the post-imperialist present with all the conflict and turmoil associated with independence. A “brief history” indeed. This exploration is punctuated by the nation’s history of racial injustice against native Quechua- and Aimara-speaking indigenous populations. Like most places in the world, economic injustice accompanies racism. In Peru, this combined injustice is fostered by the nation’s oligarchy, which composes 1% of the population. Most of the wealthy are of Spanish descent. The composition of this racial/economic group stands in contrast to Peru’s majority, 50% of whom lived below poverty level as of 2005. The author, who has a well-developed sense of injustice, is certainly up to the task of displaying these characteristics of regional history. She is of a liberal-progressive bent. The last section of the last chapter in the book is a two-page political screed on new indigenous movements which include new agendas like “the redefinition of territory; the defense of indigenous languages…defense of cultural values, collective rights and ways of living” (Hunefeldt, p. 288). These truly legitimate issues appear alongside some questionable issues like “the defense of biodiversity and nature” (Hunefeldt, p. 288). Environmental defense is usually imposed by privileged white westerners on indigenous populations. It is true that some individuals within native cultures are concerned with industrial misuse of the land on which they live. However, the majority of indigenous peoples want the material goods and prosperity that westerners have and are even less inhibited than we around destroying the environment to get it.
Christine Hunefeldt is an able historian. She marshals the facts into an understandable chronology and writes comprehensibly. She is not a theorist with the sophistication of Jurgen Habermas. She does not discern patterns with the analytical originality of Eric Hobsbawm. She does not write a compelling narrative with the skill of Dena Goodman. In fact, there are periods in the book that drag like those middle school social studies classes which made many hate history. Her accounts of colonial bureaucracy, or early Twentieth Century import/export differentials, are civics hell. Skim such areas to avoid drudgery. But in less than 300 pages, one will obtain a plethora of information and a basic grasp of Peruvian history. If this is your goal, A Brief History of Peru will not disappoint.
Hunefeldt, Christine. A Brief History of Peru. New York: Lexington Associates, 2010.