Indigenous Education and Power in Highlands Ecuador: Political Literacy, Archives, Authority
Marlen Rosas

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

Confronting a military government that limited indigenous people's political organizing, activists in Cayambe, Ecuador transformed themselves into archivists. By building a local knowledge base, they preserved the legacy that the generals in power sought to erase. They transformed what they knew about the decades of strikes, clandestine schools, petitions, and land takeovers into a publicly discussed historical narrative of twentieth-century indigenous history. The dissertation argues that beginning in the 1940s indigenous activists, some of whom were illiterate themselves, consciously turned literacy to political ends, thereby contesting the state's monopoly on historical expertise. In makeshift classrooms, indigenous children learned to read and write in Spanish for the purpose of advancing land rights and pushing workers' claims. The 1960s was a turning point in indigenous politics and Ecuadorian history, when activists used new recording technologies to set down their own understanding of the past, becoming protagonists in debates about literacy, and creating a pantheon of indigenous leaders whom subsequent generations claimed for divergent political and social agendas. They built a set of public representations in multiple formats, comprising various archives with more than a dozen narratives that offered to a new generation a pantheon of indigenous leaders that could be claimed for multiple political agendas. This work laid claim to new forms of political participation as alliances with the Left unraveled, and government functionaries became systematic about limiting activists' power. Activists initiated a movement to reposition their community's history of militant activism as an intellectual tool of political action.
About Marlen Rosas
Marlén Rosas is a historian of modern Latin America with a focus on Ecuador and the Andes. Her dissertation brings critical archive studies, oral history, and intellectual history approaches to the study of indigenous mobilizations in twentieth century Ecuador. It argues that indigenous activists remade literacy for themselves, expanding it to include radical forms of community-based archiving and the writing of history. Marlén's research on the history of indigenous politics in Latin America impressed upon her the radical political potential of community pedagogy. Her research interests are informed by her previous work mentoring minority high school students in New York City and her hometown of Newark, NJ. She came to recognize the profound limitations set on public high school students, a disenfranchised group that struggles to succeed in schools that lack resources and quality teaching. After graduating, she aims to develop an oral history course to reach diverse communities of students and explore the pedagogical significance of their world views. She hopes to foster dialogue with students and activists about how inequalities in access to education shape the knowledge produced and made available to the world. Marlén is a co-founder of the Thinking Andean Studies Interdisciplinary Conference and the Seminario de Investigación Andina, two colloquiums that convene emerging and established scholars across disciplines whose research focuses on the Andean region. The aim is to develop a network of connecting scholarship with indigenous language initiatives and cultural advocates from the Andes and the U.S.

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