Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of California / Davis
Quinoa and its People. Empire, Food, and Agrobiodiversity in Colonial Andes

This dissertation explores how the Spanish Empire, Indigenous people, and other groups within Andean colonial society conceived and employed quinoa in the Viceroyalty of Perú (present-day Perú and Bolivia). During Spanish colonization, high altitude Andean farmers, particularly women, cultivated an astonishing variety of roots, tubers, and pseudo-grains such as quinoa. My research brings to light the place of quinoa in the contentious struggles of Andean colonial life. Drawing on little explored notarial, ethnographical, and botanical colonial records, this study recovers quinoa from narratives that have cast it as an irrelevant and ignored Indigenous food. By placing quinoa at the center of everyday interactions among diverse actors within a multiethnic colonial society, from quinoa growers (quinueros) to local authorities, I expand our understanding of the political meaning that even seemingly unimportant foodstuff had and have in the life of Andean people. The project argues that quinoa-producing people developed a close interaction with the plant that allowed them to simultaneously resist and adapt to the Spanish Empire’s aim to appropriate highland food production. Moving beyond traditional perspectives about New World agriculture products, I will foreground quinoa as an invention of Andean people which involved a set of practices, rules, technologies, and knowledge that become crucial in the face of political and agroecological challenges. In addition, I posit that although quinoa was not a commodity in the early modern global market, the seed became essential to the Spanish Empire’s efforts to conquer and convert Indigenous people into Christians and workers in the market economy. I will demonstrate that the Spanish Empire’s knowledge regarding plants and crops encompassed a range of experiences beyond the search for commodities. By doing so, I provide a fresh perspective to rethink the intersections of agrobiodiversity, colonial botany, and global food regimes.