Prof Tristan Platt

Emeritus Professor

Researcher profile



Research areas

Coming from Music, Philosophy and Classics at Oxford, Social Anthropology (with Linguistics) at LSE, and Quechua at Cornell University, I carried out fieldwork in 1970-71 with the Macha, a Quechua-speaking people in the Bolivian Andes. I initiated the anthropological study of the historic ethnic groups of Northern Potosí, previously unknown to ethnography. For the Macha, my first publications were on symbolism and gender, religion and conversion, ecology and political economy (1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1987b, 1996). A key theme was the practice of "double residence" between cold highlands and warm valleys (1978, 1982, 1984, 1987b, 1996, 2009). Land-rights (1982), fiestas and ritual battles (1987b, 1996, 2009), and shamanism (1997) inspired further articles. In 1971, and between 1976 and 1983, I began researching the ethno- and colonial history of Macha, and other groups forming the ancient Aymara-speaking confederation of the Qaraqara and the Charka. Macha turned out to have been the leading ethnic group of the Qaraqara, in whose lands lay the great silver mines of Porco and Potosí, before and after the Incas. 

Between 1980 and 1983 I researched the 19th century history of Potosi with reference to mining, ethnicity and nationhood, as part of a project on "Andean Mining and Economic Space" at the Institute of Peruvian Studies, Lima. Production had contracted, but fortunes could still be made, and indian labour was essential. "Estado boliviano y ayllu andino" (1982) studied peasant expectations of the Bolivian State: their frustration provoked important uprisings (1987a), and continue to underlie peasant preoccupations. I have published on citizenship in 19th century Bolivia, emphasising the Aymara-Hispanic legacy of cabildos (town councils) for understanding Indian local autonomies during the Republic ((1984, 1987, 1991, 2008). I have also analyzed the effects of free-trading policies on 19th century Bolivian society (1986, 2008). With a Guggenheim Fellowship I published an article on silver-refining by amalgamation with quicksilver, and the recovery of Alonso Barba's 17th century copper cauldron method, in Central Europe as well as in Republican Bolivia (2000). I am working on the Hispanic bases, the development and global influence of Rothschilds' global quicksilver monopoly after 1835 (2010). 

In 1994-5 I carried out in Macha an EC (DG XII) research project on appropriate methods of childbirth, discovering a complex of beliefs and practices aimed at ensuring the transmission of substance from pre-Inca times and hence constituting the indian "originario" as a New Christian. This raised significant problems for reproductive health policies as well as for historiography (2001). 

In 2006, with colleagues from the University of London and the CNRS-Paris, I published a milestone contribution to Andean ethnohistory entitled "Qaraqara-Charka: Mallku, Inka y Rey en la Provincia de Charcas (siglos 15-17)". I have published on Inca and Aymara orality and inscription, and on knotted string administrative records from Sakaka, the Charka capital (quipos/chinu; 1992, 2002). Recent publications concern Inca, Aymara and Spanish politics behind the 16th century "discovery" of the Potosi silver-mountain (2007, 2008).

Present interests include topics in shamanism and writing (2013); historiography, anthropology and the archive (2012); (post)colonial politics (2009); amalgamation and the 19th century quicksilver trade (2011, 2012); Spanish-Amerindian politics in the 16th century (2011, 2013); and the relations between the Andes and the South American lowlands (2013).

Selected publications


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