- Spell of the Urubamba: Anthropogeographical Essays on an Andean Valley in Space and Time by Daniel W. Gade
At the recent annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in San Francisco, three sessions were held to honor the work and life of Daniel W. Gade. These sessions were well attended, full of laughter, and felt more like a family reunion than a conference session in a cramped AAG hotel. One participant concluded (paraphrased from my memory): “Dan Gade is the best geographer no one has ever heard of!” and another affirmed that “He did Sauerian geography better than Sauer!” Spell of the Urubamba is this master geographer’s final contribution to the discipline. It is a sweeping volume that is part memoir, part presentation of new research, and part expert analysis of human-environment relations across space and time in a “magnetic landscape” (p. 334). The book is divided into ten chapters, each a complete individual work, yet connected and ordered in a logical progression. They all examine Peru’s Urubamba Valley, which is home to the archaeological site Machu Picchu, among other wonders, and simultaneously consider the past 50 and 500 years.
Spell of the Urubamba must be considered in conjunction with Gade’s previous publications on the Andes, especially Plants, Man and the Land in the Vilcanota Valley of Peru (1975) and Nature and Culture in the Andes (1999). A great deal of the volume is composed of the author’s reflections, observations, and updates on his past work. This is most apparent in Chapter 1, “The Urubamba in Panoptic Perspective,” which apart from providing a geographic introduction to the Urubamba Valley, includes reminiscences of fieldwork in the 1960s and commentary on the dissertation that resulted from this initial encounter with the region (eventually published as Plants, Man and the Land). Gade explains how his experience of being in the landscape guided his diachronic interpretations, as well as his curiosity about specific features (e.g., bridges, flowers, crop theft, gristmills). This chapter reads like a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of Gade’s most well-read articles and essays, as we are given a glimpse of the scholar-at-work, as well as previously unpublished information. A highlight of this section is the sometimes rowdy description of the 1960s Andes: tales of bus drivers stopping for “quickies,” landlords beating servants, alcohol-drinking Mormons, and terrorist bombings add color to the regional description. Overall, Gade provides a lively rendering of physical and social landscapes, as well as an honest self-assessment of a young scholar learning his craft.
Gade unabashedly writes about a single place, the Urubamba Valley. The significance of the experience of being in that place, returning to it, witnessing change, and [End Page 119] investing personal time, resources, and commitments in that place, are all key themes for Gade. This is transmitted through his recollections of fieldwork, as well as the many examples of other travelers, visitors, and scholars in the valley, and their role in developing knowledge about the place. See, for example, the many descriptions in Chapter 2, “Urubamba Travelers as Generators of Knowledge,” as well as more detailed studies of the role of specific individuals in Chapter 7, “Urubamba Ramble: Hiram Bingham (1875-1956) and His Artful Encounter with Machu Picchu,” and Chapter 8, “Vilcabamba: Fabled Redoubt of the Urubamba Region.” The account of Bingham in Machu Picchu, the most well-known archaeological site in the Andes, is undoubtedly the most honest assessment of this “explorer” I have ever encountered. In particular, Gade accounts for the role of Albert Giesecke, one of the impressive figures in Cuzco history, in directing Bingham to the site (which Bingham likely would not have heard about otherwise). One can only wish this version of the story of the discovery of Machu Picchu would be incorporated into the tourist guides. The focus on archaeological...