I came to Cochabamba in order to do research on indigenous-peasants’ movements right before and after the Bolivian Revolution of 1952. I arrived here during an especially tough moment for academic research: the Universidad Mayor de San Simón, which has a wonderful library, has been closed for a month due to strikes coordinated by different student organizations. And the Hemeroteca and the Archivo Histórico are undergoing major structural changes that make archival research a challenge.
The Universidad Mayor de San Simón (UMSS) is going through tumultuous times. After inquiring about this situation with some people, I learned that the main demand that is at the core of student strikes is related to the process of becoming a tenured professor at the UMSS. Some of the student organizations are in total opposition to the current system. The students who are on strike are demanding that candidates to be tenured professors take rigorous exams in order to qualify for the position. Thus far, it does not seem that a solution will be reached any time soon. As a consequence of this, the University has remained closed and people do not know when classes are going to resume.
Notwithstanding these and other unexpected challenges, I have been fortunate to have received the collaboration of the Director of both the Hemeroteca and Archivo Histórico, who has granted me access to the aforementioned archives. Since I received her approval, I have engaged myself in navigating a national newspaper: EL DIARIO.
I started by reading the news from 1945 onwards and paying special attention to any report that focused on or mentioned indigenous-peasants, regardless of the main topic of the article. It has been fascinating to track how some images that emerge through different articles in EL DIARIO about indigenous people still resonate in some contemporarily held ideas about those peoples. Such ideas usually come out in the context of private conversations and sometimes in newspapers in a more “subtle” way.
In order to make the most of my archival research at the Hemeroteca and at the Archivo Histórico, I have tried to spend every single day as wisely as possible. That is why I usually spend my mornings at the Archivo Histórico and my afternoons at the Hemeroteca. While at those places, I have met different Bolivian historians who happened to be there doing archival research on varied topics. These historians and other researchers have been of great help in my project: they have not only offered me advice but have also pointed me to some alternative archives. In so doing, they have drawn my attention to a crucial element in any archival research in Bolivia: the importance of personal relations. These researchers have pointed me to the right person to talk to in order to be granted permission to access different archives. At the Archivo Histórico, for instance, the archivists have been a great source of information, since they have suggested some key readings that are going to be fundamental for my analysis.
Sonia Calpanchay is a MA candidate in Latin American & Caribbean Studies at IU.