Skip to main content


Cornell - Peru Project

A Brief History of the Cornell-Peru Project

Cornell University's intervention in the northern Andean community of Vicos, Peru in 1952 became a paradigm for international development in the third world in the decade of the 1960-70's. Initially, the Cornell-Peru Project also conducted research in nearby Huaylas, Marcará, Hualcán Recuayhanca, as well as Paucatambo in the department of Pasco, Chinchero on the shore of Lake Titicaca, and costal locations in Viru, Lima and Chimbote. The goal of the project was to bring the indigenous population into the 20th century and integrate them into the market economy and Peruvian society.

So That Men Are Free

Transcipt (PDF)

The Cornell-Peru Project was part of a larger effort, the Cornell University Program on Culture and Applied Social Sciences implemented in four other regions besides Peru: in Bang Chan, Thailand; in Senapur, India; among the Inuit of Canada; and the Navaho of the southwest U.S. Under the direction of Allan Holmberg, the first chair of the department of anthropology, the Vicos hacienda, owned by a public beneficial society to support a regional hospital, was leased for five years by Cornell for $600 a year but faculty and students remained involved in Vicos until 1966 and much of their work is archived in the Vicos Collection in the Koch Library.

As was common for that period, Holmberg and the other North American researchers did not speak Quechua but one of the graduate students eventually gained fluency. However, Mario Vázquez, a Peruvian university student and native Quechua speaker from Chiquian, Ancash, who earned his Ph.D. from Cornell, became the co-director of the Vicos Project. Enrique Luna, the former administrator of the hacienda, was hired by the project along with a staff of seven Peruvians, two of whom were Vicosinos. During the fourteen years of the project, over thirty Peruvian researchers worked in Vicos and according to one of the original researchers, perhaps as many as 500 foreigners visited or conducted studies in Vicos. In 1965 when Peace Corps volunteers met with opposition from the community, they were expelled. However, the Peace Corps has returned and a volunteer is working with the current ecotourism project. Peruvian governmental agencies however stayed involved in Vicos until 19741 (Mangin 1979)

Holmberg House:

The Vicos hacienda, a failing economic enterprise, comprised 43,750 acres but less than 10% was cultivated with the patrones controlling the best lands near the river (Stein 2003:185). Moreover since 1953, when the hacienda ironically became a property of a public beneficial society, it had been passed from renter to renter with little attention to improving the living conditions of the indigenous population or sustaining the environment. One of the first studies that the Cornell-Peru Project and the ministry of Health completed found that Vicosinos were suffering from endemic starvation and were debilitated by numerous gastro-intestinal and respiratory diseases (Doughty 2004). Potato production in 1952 was almost extinct due to diseases and pests when the Cornell-Vicos experiment was initiated. The indigenous population attached to the land at that time consisted of 2,250 Vicosinos who were obligated to the patrones of the hacienda through labor and service for which they received usufruct rights of small plots of hacienda land. These serfs were listed along with plants and animals of the hacienda in lease agreements. Male serfs were required to work three days a week in the patron's fields; single women and widows were obligated to work one month a year as cooks or maids in the hacienda and some of the men were required to be on call twenty-four hours a day for one month each year for the care of hacienda horses; others served as guards, gardeners, or as shepherds. The elite of Vicos were a special class of overseers who managed the labor force who often lived in the hacienda main house because the patrones were absentee landlords who only visited the hacienda occasionally.

prev | index |