Mark Rice. Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. 252 pp. $22.99 (e-book), ISBN 978-1-4696-4354-0; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4696-4353-3; $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4696-4352-6.
Reviewed by Lisa Covert (College of Charleston)
Published on H-LatAm (December, 2018)
Commissioned by Casey M. Lurtz (Johns Hopkins University)
The name “Machu Picchu” conjures the image of a verdant, fog-shrouded mountain peak forming a spectacular backdrop to Inca ruins nestled on a plateau above Peru’s Urubamba River. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World according to an international poll in 2007, Machu Picchu holds a special place in the global imagination and on many travelers’ bucket lists. The trip to Machu Picchu is quite commercialized and crowded with throngs of tourists. Nevertheless, the breathtaking vistas and ancient structures are magnificent to behold, even for this somewhat jaded tourism scholar. It is difficult, then, to envision a time when the ruins were not widely known and accessible, when preservation was not a priority, when even the excitement generated by Hiram Bingham’s much vaunted and much exaggerated “discovery” of the ruins in the early twentieth century wore off. Mark Rice’s excellent book, Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru, reconstructs the history of how the site attained its iconic status. Rice’s study reveals that Machu Picchu’s fame and centrality to Peruvian national identity was not a foregone conclusion but rather the result of decades of efforts, setbacks, and historical contingencies.
Making Machu Picchu uses the emergence of tourism in Cusco (both the region and the city) and Machu Picchu as a lens for analyzing economic policy and national identity formation in twentieth-century Peru. Rice traces how changes and shifting priorities at the national level had huge implications for the Cusco region in the nation’s southern Andes. Although primarily an analysis of a particular Peruvian region, it also sheds light on transnational actors, both individuals and institutions, that were instrumental in making the Machu Picchu we know today. The book moves chronologically across five chapters, beginning in the early 1900s and finishing in the 1990s. A concise epilogue brings the study into the twenty-first century. Rice draws from a wide range of sources in Peru and the United States, from government archives, manuscript collections, and newspapers, to films, tourism promotional materials, and interviews. These sources allow the author to weave together perspectives from an array of actors involved in Cusco’s and Machu Picchu’s development. The book’s chronological and thematic scope contributes to numerous bodies of literature and will be of interest to scholars of Peru and of Latin America more broadly, as well as to scholars of tourism, economic development, and national identity beyond Latin America.
First and foremost, Rice’s book builds on studies by Ricardo Salvatore, Chris Heaney, Amy Cox Hall, Mariana Mould de Pease, Deborah Poole, and others who have sought to untangle and properly contextualize the narrative of Bingham’s expeditions to Machu Picchu in 1911, 1912, and 1914-15. Whereas for decades Bingham was internationally celebrated as the discoverer of a lost city, these scholars have dismantled the hagiography and offered a more nuanced view of Bingham’s expeditions as scientific, political, and cultural phenomena. Rice uses these important works as a point of departure and demonstrates not only that Machu Picchu was not “lost” but also that the Cusco region was not simply a stagnant backwater as outsiders often portrayed it. The first chapter examines how regional elites sought to make the case for Cusco’s significance during the early decades of the twentieth century when the national government in Lima had other priorities. The tensions between cusqueños and elites in Lima comprise a central theme throughout the book. Rice demonstrates that cusqueño elites were not pawns of more powerful players but rather (mostly) savvy actors eager to promote their, and what they imagined to be their region’s, best interests. At times this meant alliances with Lima, and at other times it meant turning to UNESCO, or figures like American Albert Giesecke, to help further their vision. Throughout the twentieth century, transnational actors provided investments in and served to legitimize the importance of Cusco for a national audience. Another important contribution of the book, then, is the insightful discussion of how international interest in Cusco and Machu Picchu helped make both central to Peruvian national identity.
By tracing the emergence of the tourism industry in Cusco across the twentieth century, Making Machu Picchu also illustrates the effects of economic development schemes and theories put forth by various local, regional, national, and international policymakers. Above all, this case study reveals the shortfalls of state-led development for regions that are not central to those plans and the downsides of development strategies that rely on private investment. In both situations local interests vied for resources and the power to assert and preserve a degree of control. Even in moments when national and international attention focused on Cusco, such as in the aftermath of a devastating 1950 earthquake, aid and development strategies tended to prioritize the goals of outside technicians and political interests rather than those of the majority of Cusco’s residents. The Velasco military regime (1968-75) embraced tourism as an economic development strategy; however, the government often failed to deliver the promised funding and its tourism development projects sometimes conflicted with its agrarian reform initiatives. In the latter periods of the study, particularly the 1980s and 1990s, implementation of neoliberal economic policies meant that investors from Lima and abroad were able to capitalize on a rebounding tourism industry at the expense of locals. While the circumstances in Cusco were obviously idiosyncratic in certain ways, the overall trajectory of this story will be quite familiar to scholars of tourism in small cities and towns around the world. Rice concludes the study with the hope that “the many transnational and local actors involved in [the growth of Cusco’s tourism industry] will be able to create policies that employ the region’s rich cultural heritage as a source of more inclusive development” (p. 166).
After reading this book, it was perplexing to contemplate the lack of attention paid to the history of tourism in Peru in the scholarly literature up to this point. It is easily one of the nation’s largest and most rapidly growing industries and thus has far-reaching implications. Social scientists like Pellegrino Luciano, Alexandra Arellano, and others have looked at tourism through a contemporary lens, but aside from the essay by Rice in the important new edited volume The Peculiar Revolution: Rethinking the Peruvian Experiment under Military Rule (edited by Carlos Aguirre and Paulo Drinot, 2017), only a handful of studies situate the industry within a longer historical context. Even The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics (edited by Orin Starn, Carlos Iván Degregori, and Robin Kirk, 2005), from a series known for providing introductions to the histories and cultures of countries around the world, only includes Machu Picchu by way of an essay by Bingham, allowing this historic figure to continue to cast a shadow over the site. As a result, Making Machu Picchu will be foundational for future studies on Machu Picchu and Cusco but also for histories of tourism elsewhere in Peru. Indeed, the book leaves open the possibility for many fresh analyses of tourism, development, and national identity in the Cusco region alone. For instance, at times Rice stands too comfortably on the shoulders of the works that came before him, such as those by Marisol de la Cadena, José Luis Rénique, and José Tamayo Herrera. A greater engagement with the histories of intellectual debates (especially indigenismo, which undergirded so much of the earlier period of tourism promotion) and popular movements examined in other studies would have added nuance to Rice’s study, particularly for newcomers to Peruvian history. There is also room for a deeper interrogation of the intra-elite tensions and popular struggles in Cusco and Aguas Calientes, the town adjacent to the Machu Picchu site. Rice provides glimpses of the lives of campesinos and urban working classes who are so deeply affected by the historical currents he describes, yet they too rarely emerge as actors in their own right in this telling.
Ultimately, Rice’s study creates an essential bridge between research on early twentieth-century Peru, particularly works on imperialism, commodities, science, and knowledge production, on the one hand, and the scholarly fascination with the Shining Path and cocaine, on the other. It reveals that the site we recognize as Machu Picchu only came to be after decades of struggles over preservation, infrastructure, and resource allocation. The book also expands the scope of histories of tourism in Latin America, which tend to focus on Mexico and the Caribbean. Rice’s straightforward analysis makes his text accessible for readers unfamiliar with Peruvian history. This book would work well in an undergraduate course or a graduate-level seminar. It adds a depth of understanding to a place so frequently characterized as a one-dimensional tourist destination.
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Lisa Covert. Review of Rice, Mark, Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru.
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