Marlén Rosas

Marlén Rosas

Ph.D. CandidateNAEd/Spencer Fellow

My dissertation traces the multiple, long-rooted ways Ecuador’s indigenous organizers became protagonists in debates about literacy.  In 1963, as Ecuador’s military government limited political organizing, Indigenous activists in Cayambe transformed themselves into archivists. By building a local knowledge base of oral narratives and printed ephemera, they preserved a legacy of resistance that the generals in power sought to erase. Longtime organizers, among them Dolores Cacuango and Tránsito Amaguaña, transformed what they knew about decades of strikes, clandestine schools, and alliances into radical forms of community-based archiving and socialist schooling to be accessible to diverse publics. I argue that beginning in the 1930s Indigenous activists turned literacy to political ends, thereby contesting the state’s monopoly on historical expertise. When activists responded to the dictatorship’s Agrarian Reforms by curating public archives, they were building on decades of intellectual work. In the 1940s, 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 not only because that work became a central focus in the face of military repression but also because activists used new recording technologies to set down their own understanding of the past. This work laid claim to new forms of political participation in the 1970s as old alliances unraveled, and government functionaries systematically limited activists’ power. Various organizations with distinct stakes-- private industries in land, political parties in Indigenous constituents, and Church missions in evangelism--used activists’ narratives to conflate a grassroots movement with their own agendas in order to claim to speak for Indigenous interests.

The project brings critical archive studies, oral history, and intellectual history approaches to the study of Indigenous mobilization in twentieth-century Ecuador, arguably the most organized indigenous movement in the history of the Americas. I examine recorded oral histories, printed books and visual images, as well as educational materials that they produced to champion their local leaders as icons for the next generation. This work remade literacy for Indigenous communities at a time that the state denied them educational opportunities. These radical projects of recording and archiving their own histories enabled future Indigenous communities to find inspiration within their own traditions of resistance. This case study expands the intellectual fields of twentieth-century Latin American history by examining Indigenous political consciousness within debates about decolonial resistance, nationalism, global Cold War politics, and modernity. It thereby contributes novel perspectives to the fields of Indigenous history, memory studies, the history of education, gender studies, and media and material culture studies.


B.A. Latin American & Caribbean Studies, Columbia University (2014), Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow

A.M. History, University of Pennsylvania (2016)



Ann Farnsworth-Alvear

Dissertation Committee
Ann Farnsworth-Alvear
Kathy Peiss
Amy Offner
Nancy Hornberger (GSE)

Dissertation Title
Recording Resistance: Indigenous Activists' Archives and Power in Twentieth-Century Ecuador

Research Interests

Modern Latin American History; Indigenous Peoples' Histories; Oral History; Memory Studies; History of Education; Critical Archive Studies; History of Race and Ethnicity; Intellectual History