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The Museo de La Plata, 1877-1906 Jens Andermann
Birkbeck College

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Facade of the La Plata museum; Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

While still a child, the adventures of Marco Polo, of Sindbad the Sailor and the narratives of the missionaries from China and Japan, [...] read aloud in the college refectory, arouse in me a strong desire to roam the earth,
we read in the first lines of Francisco Pascasio Moreno´s Journey to Southern Patagonia (1879), in a chapter aptly titled 'First Attempts. Results. The museum'. The adventures of Livingstone in deepest Africa, and Franklin´s tragic agony in the arctic winter, the author goes on,
filled my soul with a profound admiration for these martyrs of science and with a desperate longing to follow, on a more moderate scale, the example of such daring enterprises. This natural disposition might be attributed to blood inheritance, for my maternal surname, Thwaites, has been carried by more than one travelling naturalist. Two years later, new readings increased my addiction to Natural History and made me decide to form a 'museum'. The road to Palermo was thus submitted to collecting every Sunday, providing me with rich harvests of quartz and jaspers, while the street pavements supplied magnificent samples of other rocks. (Moreno 1879: 9)
The scene, we should add, takes place in the mid-1860s, and soon the 'wise director of the Public Museum, Dr. Don Germán Burmeister', makes a habit of stopping by at the museum of the Moreno brothers and their cousin Eduardo L. Holmberg, kept in cardboard boxes in little Francisco´s bedroom, and by now increased by 'an idol from a Chinese pagoda', 'a bow with six arrows, weapon of the Chaco Indians', or 'two fractured vertebrae of a glyptodon'. However, it is only when, in 1870, due to the yellow fever epidemic, the family moves to its estancia in the south of the province, that the child naturalist´s true initiation takes place:
The journey was short, but rich in results. The settlements and cemeteries whose existence Strobel had revealed, provided me with skulls and stone objects in sufficient number as to form myself an idea of the interest offered by studying the Patagonian Indian. [...] My vocation was decided: I had discovered a scientific treasure, and I had to exploit it.(Moreno 1879: 10-11)

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Museo de La Plata; Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

He who writes this would become, only a few years after this initiatic discovery, and after having travelled south on repeated occasions, the director of a 'real', 'adult' museum, initially called the "Museo Antropológico y Arqueológico de la Provincia de Buenos Aires" and, after the federalization of the capital city, removed to La Plata as one of the cornerstones of this unprecedented urban experiment of the new state order. It is, then, this singular coincidence of the individual´s 'arrival' at adult age and the child collector´s conversion into scientist, with the presumed 'arrival at maturity' of the state at large, thanks to the conquest of the southern plains site of this scientific initiation, that makes the career of Francisco P. Moreno and the La Plata museum such a striking example of the self-allegorisation of the nascent modern state and its young elite in the 'natural order' of the museum exhibition. Moreover, the way in which Moreno, in his writings as well as in the setup of his museum, explicitly insists again and again on this coincidence as a sort of founding fable, poses the question of how this Bildungsroman of 'nature´s' submission to 'knowledge' was converted into an exemplary and didactic fiction that had the purpose to mould the museum public into a model, illustrated citizenry stripped of barbarian and archaic supersticions and habits. This article will try to argue that, in a uniquely theatrical and performative aesthetic of display, the La Plata museum would narrate the foundational violence of the positivist state as a triumphant arrival at scientific self-knowledge, and display its vast collections in such a way as to offer each visitor a miniaturised experience of the scientist´s self-discovery revealed in the vast natural history of the nation. In the first part, I will briefly sketch the museum´s foundation process from 1877 to 1906, the year Moreno steps down as director in protest against the museum´s annexation to the new National University of La Plata. I will then refer briefly to Moreno´s account of his travels to Patagonia in the 1870s, to then go on to show how, in the design of the museum and the display of its collections, this individual adventure provides the model for a collective civic initiation through science to which the museum attempts to submit the populace.

A temple on the pampas

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Edificio del Museo Público; Burmeister, Karl Hermann

Born in 1852 as the son of a wealthy creole landowning family, Francisco Pascasio Moreno was among the original members of the 'Sociedad Científica Argentina', a society founded in 1872 on the initiative of Estanislao Zeballos and Justo Dillon, graduate students at Buenos Aires University´s Faculty of Exact Sciences. From 1875, a year after returning from his first expedition to Patagonia, Moreno was put in charge of the Society´s museum. A second expedition to the south was financed by the society in the same year, and in 1877, having assembled a large collection of human remains and amimal specimens at his parents´ estancia, Moreno approached Vicente Gil Quesada, the minister of the province of Buenos Aires and old friend of the family, offering to donate his collection if the province would in turn create a museum and appoint him as director-for-life. The appointment would be irrevocable, and the province would agree to rent exhibition space and cover the salaries of the director, secretary and porter; while all other expenses, such as vitrines and cabinets, purchase and maintenance of exhibits and the publications of research results, would be covered by a 'Sociedad Protectora' whose members would be recruited amongst the province´s patricians, and of which Moreno would be the chairman. (Podgorny 1998: 186-7) In complementation to the capital´s Public Museum, which under its director Burmeister was focusing on zoology and palaeontology, the new museum, Moreno signalled in a letter to Quesada, would undertake the investigation of national history starting
with the knowledge of the origin of its inhabitants, of their anatomical, moral and intellectual characteristics, their migrations, crossings, geographical distribution, as well as the state of their primitive civilization. Our History, Sir, does not start with the European conquest. (Moreno in González 1935, 14: 127)
Remarkably, Moreno envisaged a longue durée of historical succession from 'ancient to modern Argentineans' at a time when both parties were still immersed in a complex and contradictory war: although Calfucurá, the great chief of the Araucanian confederation, had died in 1872, shortly after losing the 'battle of San Carlos' to the federal army, in 1874 the mitrist uprising against elected president Avellaneda had counted with the support of Catriel´s Tehuelches, who a year later had invaded the southern frontier in malón. (Martínez Sarasola 1992: 257-295)

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Indios patagones; Panunzi, Benito

A museum dedicated to the study of 'the ancient history of Argentine man', Moreno suggested, would provide the key for the submission and enduring 'pacification' of the Indians -that is, their neutralisation as undesired actors within modern history-, as well as reserve for the nation "the glory of offering to the world the description of its natural and archaeological treasures." (Moreno in González 1935: 129, italics mine)

The project was accepted in November of the same year, and on 1 August 1878 the museum opened its doors in a provisionally rented location on the fourth floor of Buenos Aires´ Teatro Colón. The exhibition consisted principally in Moreno´s collection of human skulls from the southern Pampas, Patagonia, the Andean provinces and Santiago del Estero, as well as a few samples and plaster casts of skulls from Peru, Mongolia, Greenland and the Neanderthal valley, obtained through exchanges with European anatomists and museum curators such as Broca, Quatrefages and the Belgian prehistoricist Van Benden. It also featured an Indian mummy (classified as 'Fuegian race') which Moreno had found in a cave near Lago Argentino in 1876, pottery and tools from Patagonia, the Calchaquí valleys, Uruguay and the Andes, as well as a small collection of fossils, minerals and animal specimens. (see Podgorny 1998: 202-205)

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Central patio and upper gallery, Museo de La Plata; Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

Sarmiento, who attended the inauguration despite having to climb seventy stairs to the locale of the exhibition, was so impressed as to compare his ascension toward the remains of remote pasts to Dante´s descent into the circles of his Inferno, and declaring anthropology the poetry of modernity, which "rather than words within verses, lines up natural objects in causal series" (Sarmiento 1899a: 137). The young director, in Sarmiento´s essay on the museum, published as "Prehistorical Worlds: a bird's-eye journey across Moreno´s prehistorical museum", plays the part of a youthful Virgil, who outlines the successive steps of this trip to the very origin of man:
What a history these skulls tell us! Every group represents a human age. The form of the skull is a chapter of this narrative, told not in centuries but millennia. The Fuegians have prevailed, who are the autochthonous, the indigenous; a very cultivated people if they do indeed descend from the Neanderthalian fauns! One day their ancestors watched the Eskimos arrive, as Marius watched the hyperboreal Cymbrians. In the course of the centuries came the Mound Builders, persecutors perhaps of the Palenques, besieged and annihilated, until they at last perished in Patagonia. The Aztec or Mexican invasion has filled these lands with the glory of its arms and arts [...] Thus Patagonia comes to be the Ultima Thule which the poets have sung, and which the geographers, just like Paradise, have not been able to locate in any particular country, as the last one to be found had always pointed to one still further in the past...(Sarmiento 1899a: 143)
Egyptians and Phoenicians, in Sarmiento´s account of Moreno´s exhibition, parade across this cradle of humanity which, paradoxically, has itself remained identical and unchanging through the ages, despite witnessing the passage of all cultures and races: a place which simultaneously comprises and denies evolution. Patagonia, then, the place from which the new nation-state triumphantly emerged, also provides the stage to tell the story of creation as a millenary history of the nation.

In the following years, raids of indigenous burial sites by Moreno or Zeballos, who in 1889 donated his 'private museum' comprising

a hundred ancient and modern indigenous skulls, several of them taken from famous chiefs, an infinite number of stone, metal and earthenware, vestiges of the antique societies which inhabited these regions, and a many contemporary indigenous ethnographical objects(Moreno 1890)
, further contributed to the centrality of anthropological displays in the museum.

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Sur quelques points de l' ostéologie ethnique imparfaitements connus; Ten Kate, H.

Moreno´s institution thus seriously challenged the Museo Público´s more traditional collection pattern centered on natural history, as the most adequate way of displaying the nation: whereas Burmeister´s museum exhibited -in a scholarly and unattractive way- a mute nature which was finally being conquered and exploited by (European) science, Moreno´s exhibition offered an age-old human history of the Argentine soil, of which the modern nation was the legitimate spiritual heir. When, after the election of the 'Conqueror of the Desert', Cordobese general Julio Argentino Roca, as president, the city of Buenos Aires was federalised and a new provincial capital (baptised 'La Plata' on suggestion of José Hernández, the author of Martín Fierro) was planned a few miles south of the port-city, a series of parliamentary intrigues and struggles between the two museums broke out about which institution would remain in the federal capital. With the help of Florentino Ameghino, a palaeontologist and future vice-director of the museum, Moreno lobbied for a bill passed through Congress in 1881 which decreed the creation of a National Museum in the city of Buenos Aires. Moreno´s institution was to be its cornerstone, while the Museo Público would pass to provincial administration and would be moved to La Plata. A series of financial and political crisis, however, impeded the bill's ratification by the Ministry of Public Instruction, until Moreno redrafted and submitted the project to the Governor of the province, Dardo Rocha, as one that would symbolize the ongoing centrality of Buenos Aires within the nation and, besides, add scientific glamour to Rocha´s own (ultimately unfulfilled) presidential ambitions. In 1884, the construction of the Museo de La Plata started in what would be an extensive park-landscape on the edge of the model city´s central ellipsis.

Anxious to maintain government enthusiasm, Moreno started staging successive 'inaugurations' whenever a section of the building was completed, starting only a year after the beginning of the construction, and ending in 1888, when the 'temple on the square pampa' (Moreno 1891) was finished.

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Museo de La Plata (lámina 2); Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

Again, Sarmiento was among those who attended the 1885 event, commenting on the extraordinary impact the emerging 'ideal city' with its splendid new museum would have on the inhabitants of the surrounding pampa, who until recently had lived in an archaic "Hispano-American, colonial, Argentine", in short, barbarian society. This overwhelming 'shock of civilization', Sarmiento went on,
will be my consolation on witnessing this spectacle, (...) for the enterprise of the public men of my age, even though nobody reveres us for having built portentuous cities, nor palaeontological and anthropological museums, as scientific exhibitions of the pampa which is already disappearing under the shadow of the eucalyptus trees or under a golden coat of corn, was to rip her of her pristine barbarity.(Sarmiento 1899b: 312)
This, certainly, was the core of the territorial allegory the museum attempted to unfold before its visitors: splendid displays of mounted fossils had by now joined the human remains, as well as living indigenous families from Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego (again, including 'famous chiefs' such as Sayeweke, Inakayal, and Foyel) who had been transferred from the prison island of Martín García in 1884 to perform forced labour during the museum´s construction (Andermann 1997: 24-5; Podgorny & Politis 1992: 74-5). Together, skeletons and warriors would unravel the spatio-temporal vastness of the Argentine 'prehistory' as well as, in an almost Hegelian Aufhebung, the even more breathtaking merits of the consolidated state in having submitted this fossil landscape and atavistic humanity to the prodigies of modernity in less than a generation. Palaeontological findings (as well as the presence of living examples of the 'first human beings') therefore translate into a territorial ontology, one that predetermines Argentina´s claim to a leading role within modernity. Sarmiento concludes:
You will already understand [...] the importance of this Museum which proposes to recover the testimonies of such singular and strange events, preventing them from disappearing. But what does not appear at first sight, being its necessary consequence, is that from now on the Argentineans and Americans are called to take a principal part in the development of the modern sciences, which link the animals´ creation to the human races, to the topography and history of our country, for if here we have Indians brought from the desert in these recent years, we have in the inauguration of the Anthropological Museum a living proof of prehistorical man, in addition to the hundreds of skulls which fill its showcases. It will be quite a surprise in Europe when we tell them we have living prehistorical men here...(Sarmiento 1899b: 313)

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Sección antropológica, sala 1 (lámina 7); Moreno, Francisco Pascasio

As the correspondence between Moreno, collaborators such as Ameghino, and political protectors such as his friend Ramón Alvarez de Toledo, a supporter of Rocha, reveals, the museum struggled hard to obtain exhibits large enough to fill its giant new cabinets, and both Indians and palaeontologists were made to work hard on the production of museum objects.
We need -Moreno wrote to Ameghino in 1886- at least two hundred more skulls and some skeletons for the anthropological gallery to give a good impression. Moreover, Spegazzini has told me that on the coast south of Bahia Blanca the remains of whales abound. I insist on the convenience of having great predators, and something could be found there. [...] We need to obtain something to fill these hundreds of metres as soon as possible. In case we fail, I fear serious questions about expenses, unnecessary for now but indispensable to us later. I much desire that it should go well for you down there. Remember the necessity of large pieces! Don´t laugh! (Ameghino 1935; letter 453)

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Museo de La Plata: gliptodontes; Moreno, Francisco Pascasio

Meanwhile, as Herman Ten Kate, a Dutch anthropologist at the service of the museum, explained in 1904 in an article for the Revista del Museo de La Plata, the Indians who had been deported from Chubut after their capitulation in 1884, their children being taken from them and 'adopted' by Argentine families, were made to work as carpenters and locksmiths, while their wives, "had to enrich the ethnographical collections by their knitting work, at the same time as it would be possible to study their customs". Actually, the Indian warriors, save for the Yagán Maishkensis, who consented to aid preparations of human skeletons, refused to do any work, even when faced with the withdrawal of tobacco and reduction of their food rations. Those who, like Inakayal, were infortunate enough to die at the museum -Foyel eventually returned to his tribal lands-, were themselves stripped of their skin, and their brains and skeletons put on display. (Podgorny 1998: 209) The women, meanwhile, soon found a way to sell their textiles on the city market rather than having them taken for the ethnographical section of the museum.

Donations, too, continued to flow in from expeditionaries and collectors such as Ramón Lista, head of the Geographical Society of Buenos Aires, Samuel Lafone Quevedo, an ethnolinguist employed at the museum, Juan B. Ambrosetti, future director of the Museo Etnográfico, and many others.

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Portrait of Florentino Ameghino; Ameghino, Florentino

The Ameghino brothers had gathered a large palaeontological collection near Monte Hermoso, Patagonia, which passed on to the museum after Ameghino resigned from his post as subdirector, following heated arguments with Moreno precisely on the ownership of collections assembled by the museum´s employees. On the museum´s final inauguration in 1888, some 8000 pieces of indigenous anatomy were on display, of which 2000 were skulls and 500 skeletons. (Teruggi 1988: 109)

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Museo de La Plata: anatomía comparada; Moreno, Francisco Pascasio

The collection also comprised seventeen dissected corpses, as well as some Egyptian mummies purchased from international trafickers in antiquities.

In the 1890s, by then firmly established as the foremost exhibiting institution of the country, the museum started dividing its sections and appointing subdirectors to these, most of whom were young career scientists from Europe - thus the case of the Swiss palaeontologist Alcide Mercerat, appointed in 1889, the German geologist Rudolf Hauthal, appointed in 1891, the French zoologist Fernand Lahille, appointed in 1893, the Russian botanist Nicolai Alboff, appointed in 1895 and the German anthropologist Robert Lehmannn-Nitsche, appointed in 1897. A group of immigrant scientists, then, was put in charge of crafting for a population of immigrants, a monumental image of their new land. This image, as I will try to show below, was a mise-en-scène of science which, rather than at an academic public, was directed at a popular audience in search of 'self-improvement'. Moreno, therefore, resigned in protest when the minister of education Joaquín V. González annexed the museum to the recently nationalized University of La Plata, so as to create -after Córdoba, the colonial alma mater, and Buenos Aires, the university of Independence- a third national academic institution in the spirit of progress and modernity. (Podgorny 1995: 96-101) A few years earlier, Moreno had donated enormous estates surrounding lake Nahuel Huapí, which he had received in concession after serving as Argentine expert in the border dispute with Chile in 1897, to the nation, for the creation of Argentina´s first national park (baptised, naturally, 'Parque Nacional Perito Moreno'), so as to bring the museum out into 'nature' rather than 'nature' into the museum. In a way that reflected the peculiar dialogue between scientist and public at the museum, nature as a 'public' space was created here as a 'gift' from a patriarchal founding hero, who had himself been granted his titles by the state in recompense for his 'discoveries'. As a site of memory of the founding scene, Moreno's gesture seemed to imply, the south, or at least its most scenic spots, had to be preserved from commodification for it was here where the nation was most at home.

Inscriptions in the desert

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Francisco P. Moreno a Ramón Alvarez de Toledo; Moreno, Francisco Pascasio

Before the museum existed, it was already part of a story, a presupposed point of arrival and confluence of a series of travel narratives to the Argentine desert thanks to which it ceased to be a desert and instead became, alternatively, a garden, a theatre, or a repository of the spaces and times of 'nature'. Just as his contemporaries Estanislao Zeballos, Manuel J. Olascoaga or Ramón Lista, Moreno belonged to a generation of young naturalist autodidacts who, in the 1870s when most of them were in their twenties and early thirties, were offering their skills and adventurous spirits to the state in pursuit of the conquest of 'Tierra Adentro'. Many of the expeditions these young naturalists and geographers undertook were funded by the state, either directly or through official suscription to the editions of Moreno´s Viaje a la Patagonia Austral (1879), Lista´s Viaje al país de los tehuelches (1879), or Zeballos´s Viaje al país de los araucanos (1881), titles which seem to recall with some nostalgia an exotic exteriority these spaces had now lost due, precisely, to their submission, first, to the classifying gaze of the scientist and second, to the advances of the military´s battalions. For the term 'desert' had not so much referred to particular geographical features, but rather to a territory beyond the reach of the law, and inhabited by native as well as by 'dissident mestizo' populations who had been able to evade coercion by crossing a mobile and unstable border. (Viñas 1983, Martínez Sarasola 1992) The 'frontier question' which had dominated political debates in the 1870s, then, was about the establishment and consolidation of a liberal, capitalist hegemony over a cross-cultural subsistence economy and a socio-cultural order based, among many other things, on compadrazgo, violence and a code of honour specific to an equestrian society which had emerged in the post-independence void of a centralized state authority.

In the travel narratives of the second half of the 1870s, the natural sciences (including the emerging discipline of anthropology) began to assume priority over the legal discourse of submission of, or arrangements with, the Indians, thus anticipating the shift from law to medicine as a metalanguage of social intervention and observation that was to take place after 1880. (Terán 1987: 11-54) Naturalist travel thus narrates the operation of political, legal and military violence of which it constitutes the vanguard, as a quest for knowledge: the measuring of geographical space, and the collection and classification of its fauna and flora, its minerals and its 'ancient and modern' human inhabitants, is presented as the constatation of a natural order that mimics (or, in the language of the texts, prefigures and justifies) the equilibrium of the liberal state. Paradoxically, then, this order is at once a fact of nature, and one that has yet to be imposed on a 'perverted' space, a space of barbarism which until then has disobeyed the laws of evolution.

It is necessary, I suggest, to recall these travel narratives of the 1870s (and particularly Moreno´s journeys to Patagonia), for in them is inscribed what we may call with Hayden White the 'metahistorical element' of the museum narratives of the 1880s: not only do they refer the first approaches to what is here constituted as a museum object, but it is this narrative, furthermore, told as an individual scientific adventure, which will serve as the mould for the public, performative experience of apprehending these same objects at the museum. This same move from the individual to the collective through the mediation of science, and resulting in an almost epiphanic, shared national enthusiasm is, in fact, already present in the many scenes of Moreno´s book where he refers how, captivated by the naturalist´s example, even the most humble member of the expedition becomes a a collector:

The fossil banks which are found on these slopes give us an excuse for some moments of rest, or variation in our work; we assembled a great number of mollusks and principally of the giant oyster, and as nothing is more contagious in our national character than enthusiasm, even my mariners became adepts of paleontology, and it is to them that I owe many of the interesting tertiary mollusks discovered during several of the stops of that day.(Moreno 1879: 193)

Moreno travelled to Patagonia in 1874, 1876, and 1879, "drawn by the attraction of the unknown" (Moreno 1879: 15) and, prior to the Viaje, had already published a number of articles on archaeological and ethnographical subjects, much to the distress of Zeballos, then president of the Geographical Institute, who in a review from 1880 asserts that

in 1875 Mr. Moreno explored the immediacies of the [Santa Cruz] river; but since he dedicated himself to study the races, and his guides, all of whom were Indians, did not provide him with any exact data, his journey did not contribute to the progress of mapping the Río Negro and its affluents.(Zeballos 1880: 68)
While the Institute had partly financed the 1875 expedition, Moreno´s interests clearly did not lie with the contours but the contents, not just of space but of time. Thus, apart from plant and animal specimens, he shows himself especially interested in the remote past (both animal and human); where, instead, he finds himself irritated by the presence of living Indians, his narrative (and collecting practice) quickly transforms them into human remains that will eventually become museum objects alongside with those raided from 'prehistorical' burial sites: in spite of their apparent contemporaneity with the national present, their time is really that of prehistory. In a particularly good-humoured part of the narrative, Moreno recalls the sinister fate of his 'friend' Sam Slick, "good tehuelche, the son of the chief Casimiro Biguá." This Indian, he goes on,
allowed us to take his photograph, but by no means to measure his body and especially his head. I ignore the curious anxiety which made him act in this way, for later, when I met him once again at Patagones, even though we had remained friends, he would not let me get near him when he was drunk, and a year later, when I returned to that spot to undertake my journey to Nahuel Huapí, he declined my offer to come with me, claiming that I wanted his head. That turned out to be his destiny. Days after my departure he went to Chubut and was viciously killed there by two other Indians during a night of orgy. On my arrival I learned of his mischief, found out the spot where he had been buried, and on a moonlit night exhumed his corpse, the skeleton of which remains today in the Anthropological Museum of Buenos Aires; a sacrilege committed for the sake of osteological research on the Tehuelches. The same I did with the bodies of the chief Sapo and his wife, who had died in previous years at the same spot during one of the tribe´s visits. Both were buried on the Christian cemetery, albeit maintaining the indigenous practice of the sitting position of the corpse.(Moreno 1879: 106)

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Indios patagones; Panunzi, Benito

It is not so much the almost too obvious contempt for the other´s humanity which makes this passage such a telling one: rather it is, for one part, the fact that the museum is not only presupposed, in this and other scenes of violent erasure of future museum objects, as the necessary destination of the journey and its findings ("...our sanguinary instincts are neither appeased by watching the curious penguins defend [...] their young fledglings. Twenty of them end up in the womb of the boat, victims of collectionism..."), but also as the one which redeems and justifies, post factum, the naturalist´s violence and its anticipated implication, that is, conquest, as an operation that safeguards what it has to erase so as to study the order of nature and impose that of the state. While in the act of mapping the territory the presence of this conquering and foundational violence is guaranteed by its inscription into physical space (and here an interesting line runs from Moreno´s use of national history as principal source of toponymy to Zeballos´s use of both fellow scientists´ and defeated indigenous chiefs´ names), in the experience of collecting not only the object, but also the violence of its erasure, is erased in the very moment of its inscription. For violence is only quoted, ironically, as something the naturalist does not actually indulge in: his massacres are not the genocidal massacres of the federal army but massacres of penguins; and if he does want the Indian´s head, he wants it not quite in the way the Indian had feared he would. If the naturalist violates nature and commits 'sacrilegous' acts of ravage, these are immediately downplayed by flashing an ironical eye to the reader. Irony, then, becomes the dominant trope in Viaje a la Patagonia Austral, for it binds together the two principal strains of narrative: the national adventure of conquest and the scientific adventure of collecting, thus prefiguring the material narrative staged at the museum. Both adventures are told in the language of initiation, the first as a ritual passage from barbarism (and the disorder of the 'desert') to civilization (and the order of 'nature'), the second as one from adolescent amateur to adult scientist (and eventually to museum director). Irony is what makes it possible at one and the same time to allude to violence as foundational (the 'conquest of the desert' narrated as an epic), and to downplay it denying its epic character, as author and readers know that the language of romance and adventure is only 'quoted' but actually out of place where the adversary only consists of (defenseless) wild animals and of wild men and women. At the La Plata museum, this irony would reveal its tragic face in the ghostly re-encounter of naturalists, Indians, and (stuffed) animals, former inhabitants of a space which now only existed as a simulation of itself in travel books and museums.

Object lessons

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Museo de La Plata; Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

On a gentle slope of the park that was to contain a botanical and a zoological garden displaying plant and animal specimens from all over the republic, overlooking a lake with native fish, the museum designed by the European architects Karl Friedrich Heynemann and Henrik Aberg still stands today, built in the neoclassical style common to all public buildings of the new provincial capital. The building is a large rectangle with a semicircular gallery on each end, so that one showroom follows the other enabling the visitor to virtually walk through the process of evolution:
The building", Moreno wrote to the Minister of Public Works in 1886, "is of a new kind; to the purpose of understanding in a short time the majestic biological harmony, it allows in an ininterrupted continuity of perception, to get to know everything from the first beings that emerge from imponderable seeds, to the human organization; the visitor will see there his complete genealogical tree. The ring of a physical perspective represented by the longitudinal showrooms of the Museum, is completed by the transversal showrooms destined to conserve the vestiges of South-American moral evolution across the ages, and logically the installation of the collections has had to begin in the geological section, leaving those related to mankind, the last to appear in this terrestrial age, for a more advanced stage.(Moreno 1886)

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Museo de La Plata - primer piso (lámina 2); Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

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Museo de La Plata - segundo piso (lámina 2); Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

The evolutionary narrative of the outer 'biological ring', then, provided visitors with the determinist key to 'read' the object lesson of a 'moral history' of man, which ascended from anatomy to art, passing across the material culture of the native communities, though, this time, not in a spiralling upward movement but in rectangular salons branching off from the airy patios in the centre of each wing. The rooms holding the art collection and the library were placed on top of those containing the collections of indigenous anatomy and ethnography. Man´s development, while certainly set within the greater frame of natural evolution, was at once less immediate and more complex, the leap from 'barbarism' to 'civilisation' being more than just the sum of gradual modifications.

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Entrance of the La Plata museum; Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

On the front façade, for which a mock-corinthian style was adopted (the back featured the simpler ionic style), a bas-relief allegory of science overlooks the main entrance, on each side of which a series of niches contains busts of famous scientists (Aristotle, Lucrecius, Descartes, Buffon and Linné; the palaeontologists Bouchet de Perthes, Lamarck, and Bravard; the zoologists Owen and Burmeister; the archaeologist Winckelmann, the physical anthropologists Blumenbach, Broca, and Cuvier; and the naturalist travellers Azara, Humboldt, Bonpland, Darwin, Fitzroy and d´Orbigny), the patron saints of the museum, crafted by the Venetian sculptor Víctor del Pol.

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Museo de La Plata; Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

On the lower part of the frontispiece, and running across the upper façade of each wing, are friezes citing decorative elements from the temples of Palenque and Tihuanaco, which repeat themselves on the internal walls:
I have tried -Moreno wrote in his presentation of the museum in the first volume of its journal, published in 1891- to endow the decoration with an ancient American character, which nevertheless would match with the Greek lines.(Moreno 1891: 39)
In its audacious combination of hellenistic and precolumbian elements, then, the museum became an active forerunner of a modernist aesthetic, one that points toward turn-of-the-century arielismo and further on towards Leopoldo Lugones´s Payador (1916) and Ricardo Rojas´s Eurindia (1924), the first systematic attempts to formulate an 'Argentine aesthetic'. Of course, the pairing of classic occidental and 'American' traditions also designed an allegory of Argentine nation-formation, as the harmonious encounter of European immigration and the American spirit; an idea whose programme was formulated by Joaquín V. González in La tradición nacional, published in 1888, the year of the museum´s (final) inauguration.

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Vestíbulo del Museo (lámina 3); Heynemann, Friedrich and Aberg, Henrik

On entering the 'central rotunda' from which the circular pathway through the collections departed, visitors found themselves face to face with yet another artistic encounter between Europe and America. For both the ground and the upper floor featured, next to wooden busts of native animals, a series of al-fresco paintings depicting, in the lower rotunda, scenes from the 'prehistory' of the pampa (including typical episodes in the life of its present, or better recent, native population), and in the upper rotunda, a series of emblematic landscapes from the cardinal points of the republic. The pampa, as a millenary chronotope, is thus once again placed at the core of the nation-state, while its variety of landscapes juxtapose (in a literal sense) a second, territorial image onto the first. Buenos Aires and the south (depicted as its prolongation into vast, infinite space-time) appear as the spiritual centre around which a panorama of other vast and sublime landscapes twirls: the Andes, the rainforest, the great rivers. All of the painters were of immigrant origin, most of them, like José Bouchet and Augusto Ballerini, practitioners of an academicist, grandiloquent style, while others such as Reynaldo Giúdice, author of "La sopa de los pobres", were among the first artists in Argentina to venture into social themes depicted in naturalist fashion. Here, however, the formal language is simple, yet directed at evoking a dramatic effect, so as to locate the visitor within the presence of the ages whose remains he or she is about to see. The titles alone are a small summary of the museum´s themes: "The return of the malón", by Bouchet; "A prehistorical hunt", by Giúdice; "Mastodon and glyptodons", by Matzel; "Smylodon", by Coutaret; "The guanaco hunt", by Speroni; "An Indian parliament", by Bouchet; "Cutting a glyptodon", by De Servi; and "The Indian rancho", by Giúdice, decorate the lower rotunda, while the upper one features, among others, Bouchet´s "Spanish caravelles of discovery"; Coutaret´s "The Vuelta de Torres in the Paraná delta"; Giúdice´s "The pass of Uspallata"; and Jorgensen´s "Surroundings of the Tronador volcano".

Of the seventeen showrooms on the ground floor, the library and the semicircular patio were closed to the public, as well as the secretary´s office on the first floor and Moreno´s private residence, and the basement with its fourty deposits, workshops, laboratories, lecture rooms and cabinets occupying some 3,500 square metres. Some of the showrooms, furthermore, remained closed for lack of exhibits. (Terruggi 1988: 113)

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Museo de La Plata: talleres de fotografía; Moreno, Francisco Pascasio

While the 'machinery', the way an exhibit is created, thus remained invisible, the museum displayed before the eyes of its visitors a 'total history', a miniature replica of everything the nation contained: an inverted panopticon.
It is necessary -Moreno writes in his presentation- to remake as a total the biological past of the American south. [...] The same work will be undertaken with respect to the men who inhabited these lands since immemorial times. We will thus intend to make prehistory into history, investigating its times and forms until we arrive at linking our ancestors with other beings we do not yet know.(Moreno 1891: 41-2)
Our ancestors: once cut out of their contemporary context of military violence, genocide and deportation, the indigenous populations can finally pass from the purgatory of prehistory to the heaven of history, to become the spiritual forefathers of the very nation in whose name they have just been massacred.

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Museo de La Plata: salón de bellas artes; Moreno, Francisco Pascasio

Of course -as Argentine scientific hagiography has been quick to show- Moreno and his peers did not partake in the violence of the desert (rather, as inoffensive, childlike naturalists exposed to the threats of the wilderness, they archetypally embody the narrative Mary Louise Pratt (1992: 7) has so aptly described as anti-conquest); but it is only in this double erasure -of violence and its victims- in the symbolic environment of the museum exhibition, that the efficiency of this violence is fully confirmed.

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Sección Antropológica; Lehmann-Nitsche, Robert

For, whereas only a decade ago European governments had still issued warnings to potential immigrants about the danger of Indian invasions, what could be more comforting than the image of the section of human anatomy the museum distributed in its series of postcards? There are several levels of posing implied in this gruesome allegory of knowledge-power: first, that of the scientist, a European gentleman -the very Lehmann-Nitsche- sitting in the midst of skulls, skeletons and death masks, taken from the indigenous prisoners (or 'museum guards') who, in the late 1880s and early 1890s, had died from lung diseases or just utter desperation. (Podgorny & Politis 1992: 74-5) Secondly, there are the large showcases in the middle of the room, containing mounted human skeletons (some, Moreno reminds us, of famous chiefs including Mariano Rosas, or Panghitruz Guor, the Ranquel chief who, in 1870, had so eloquently challenged Mansilla on his government´s violation of peace treaties). On top of these we can see a series of busts portraying the pioneers of physical anthropology, as if to make the point that science, finally, had taken possession of its object. Conquest, from this perspective, becomes only an anecdote in the fatal and millenary process of extinction:
The human skulls, the remains of industry, and the inscriptions on the rocks, prove that the Argentine Republic is beyond any doubt, a vast necropolis of lost races. Having arrived from the remotest theatres, pushed by the fatal struggle for life in which only the fittest survive, they arrived, victorious the ones and defeated the others, and annihilated themselves in our extreme South. (Moreno 1891: 50, italics mine)

It is pointless to argue over the intentionality of the image of power which, in the name of the state, is laid out here before its subjects: for certainly, there is a moral lesson here to learn.

There is no heterogeneity of elements once these are placed where they have to be, and it is enough to do so for the objects which had been mere objects of curiosity, to become useful ones. The impression the little instructed visitor begets from these objects, that is, those he may understand with his overall criteria, is then transmitted to his friends, who are inspired to see them, to comment on them, and from one comment to the next they are ripped of the first impressions and the false atavisms they may have carried at first, and thus a conscious interest for the museum is born. [...] I have noticed that many of the visitors to this establishment frequently return; there are some who come back every Sunday, spending hours in the rooms open to the public, which are not even the most interesting ones. For the uneducated public the museum has become a pleasant place to meet; they respectfully observe the displays, enthuse over a hen with chicks, a wildcat which has caught a partridge, etc., and forget about the tavern which could lead them to crime.[...] Thus, gradually, that which the eyes learn, cultivates the spirit of the people, and this is one of the most beneficious tasks of this kind of establishment.(Moreno 1891: 33-4)
As little Francisco who, on his dominical visits to the suburb of Palermo, started collecting stones and debris which, eventually, would evolve into the museum of the nation, visitors were invited to educate themselves, that is, not only to observe the objects science had laid out before them, but to do so in a collective, performative way, to 'cultivate their spirit'. Moreno certainly knew the writings of contemporary museum educators such as Henry Cole, who, in 1884, had recommended to
let the working man get his refreshment [at the museum] in company with his wife and children, rather than leave him to booze away from them in the Public house and Gin Palace. The Museum will certainly lead him to wisdom and gentleness, and to Heaven, whilst the latter will lead him to brutality and perdition.(Cole in Bennett 1995: 21)
As Tony Bennett has argued, the institutions of the 'exhibitionary complex' in late nineteenth century, in complementation of Foucault´s 'carceral archipielago', intervened in the formation of disciplinary and power relations not through penalty and confinement, but through performativity and display. Along with exhibitions, fairs, zoological gardens and department stores, museums thus integrated "a set of cultural technologies concerned to organize a voluntarily self-regulating citizenry" (Bennett 1995: 63). But while exhibitions and fairs retained from earlier forms of Foucault´s 'juridico-discursive' exhibition of power, the dimension of the momentaneous and spectacular, museums, instead, were conceived as sites of permanent display of knowledge-power, "a power which was not reduced to periodic effects but which, to the contrary, manifested itself precisely in displaying its ability to command, order, and control objects and bodies, living or dead." (Bennett 1995: 66)

Public self-fashioning in the performative space of the museum, then, a space of gazes at objects and gazes exchanged amongst the lookers-on, publicly parading a 'model behaviour', was to produce a model subject, the 'citizen', a subject 'conscious' of itself in its engagement with the objects it confronted. As Moreno suggests, moreover, this subject becomes a national one in undergoing, albeit in a synthetic and artificial way, the very kind of scientific initiation in the face of 'nature' which his writings had posited as the ritual empowerment of the ruling class. But then, once more violence exposes itself in the very moment of its substraction, for the state is a source of authority as well as instruction. It is in the very last image of this spectacular diorama of nature, that Moreno permits himself to depart from the museum model drafted by his idol, the French palaeontologist Albert Gaudry, who, in his own project of an ideal museum, had proposed to reserve the final showroom to a statue of poetry. (see Moreno 1886) For, instead of an allegory of Beauty, Moreno insists, the Argentine museum requires one of the Master:

The visitor, after grasping on his pace through the showrooms, the immensity of past times; after having seen the vital forms slowly developing in an unending struggle, precursors of mankind, and human generation rise and disappear again, leaving clumsily sculpted stones as their only trace, epochs of barbarism preparing the arrival of autochtonous societies also long deceased, needs to synthesize the memory of the worlds and beings he has just evoked, and I think that instead of 'the figure of an artist or a poet', what should occupy the centre of this rotunda is the statue of one of our glories, whose great work embodies the step from past to present, and may serve us as an example for the future. (Moreno 1891: 53)
It took another thirty years to finally decide on whom the statue should depict; little surprisingly, it was the very Francisco Pascasio Moreno who, majestically, was to preside over his temple of science, a Marco Polo of the infinite, and immemorial, plains of Argentina.
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