Changing Minds to Change the Environment

Written by Sean Macmillan Archives Manager, Senate House Library |

Discover the story of leading Archaeologist, Dr Ann Kendall OBE, who changed minds to change the environment & create a sustainable future...

Changing Minds to Change the Environment

Written by Sean Macmillan Archives Manager, Senate House Library |

Discover the story of leading Archaeologist, Dr Ann Kendall OBE, who changed minds to change the environment & create a sustainable future...

Ann Kendall and Cusichaca

This blog is part of a series on environmental history leading up to History Day 2021 on Thursday 4 November. History Day brings together students, researchers and anyone with an interest in history with professionals from archives, libraries, and other organisations with history collections from the UK and beyond. This year the event will explore collections that capture the experiences of ordinary people, collectors and scientists, looking at nature, landscape, climate change and much more.

In 1977, an ambitious and brilliant archaeologist arrived in the Urubamba valley, Peru, to undertake a program of work that would last more than 30 years. Ann Kendall had just graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her objective was to gather material on Inca architecture for her PhD thesis at London’s Institute of Archaeology. She began her career as an archaeologist, but as time went on her work would become much more rural developmental, practical, and focused on studying the past to promote sustainability in the present.

Dr Ann Kendall crossing a rope bridge in Cusichaca valley in one of her first research trips to Peru, c. 1978

Kendall established the Cusichaca Trust in 1977, and brought teams of archaeologists, ethnographers, social historians, geographers, environmentalists and rural development workers to Peru. Her studies of the Inca was not simply academic when she found that previous Inca infrastructure could be revitalised. The Inca were masters of their environment and able to support their empire prior to an industrial revolution. They did this via carefully constructed terraces, land management, and agricultural practices which were long forgotten after the Spanish colonised them. Kendall and her team sought to reconstruct these ancient practices, to benefit people living in the present. One of the most distinctive and enduring features of the Trust’s work was collaboration with contemporary Andean farming communities to restore pre-Hispanic systems of irrigation canals and agricultural terraces. Rehabilitating the remains of the past in this way, to help improve the economic conditions of poor farmers in the present, has made Cusichaca’s work an example of ‘applied archaeology’.

Archaeologists on the Cusichaca Trust Project
Archaeologists from the Cusichaca Trust Project working onsite

Quishuarpata canal

As a part of their initial archaeological survey, Cusichaca found most of the ancient irrigation canals in the Cusichaca area were in surprisingly good condition. The most impressive was the 4-kilometre Quishuarpata canal that had once watered extensive pre-Inca and Inca terraced lands. The Cusichaca trust proposed that they and the local community work together in a cooperative labour project to restore the canal and return neglected agricultural land to productive use. This allowed members of the community to be trained the necessary maintenance skills for the future. Work began in 1981 and two years later restoration work on the Quishuarpata canal had extended back to its original intake off the Huallancay River. By then the local beneficiaries had taken over and ran the implementation of the project, their own supervisor managing 20–25 local workers. 

In October 1983, the canal became operational in its entirety. Since the mid-1980s, the community has consistently been able to export a sizeable agricultural surplus that was made possible by the early work of the Cusichaca Trust. This would give Cusichaca the confidence and motivation to undertake future projects in Patacancha, Ayacucho, and Apurimac over the next 30 years. 

Cusichaca community working on the canal
Photos of the Cusichaca community working on the canal

The Archive

The surviving papers of the Cusichaca Trust are a wonderful record of the administrative effort involved in sustaining major projects in archaeology, rural development and other disciplines. They reveal the evolving aims and practices of the Trust over several decades. The archive contains a number of substantial preparatory environmental studies that were done at Cusichaca, the collection includes land reports and soil studies that were essential to the restoration work which took place. The photographic materials wonderfully illustrate the immense work undertaken by the Cusichaca staff and the sheer scale of their achievements over the years. There is also a wonderful array of audio-visual materials. Ann Kendal’s work is wonderfully brought to life in a BBC Horizon documentary that aired in 1984. This documentary is in the archive, and includes fascinating interviews with former Trust staff, bringing Kendall’s and the Trust’s work to life, showing the scale of the operation, the challenges and the achievements, and the transformative community bonds and infrastructure developed in harmony with the stunning Peruvian landscape & environment. 

Celebrating the life & work of Dr Ann Kendall OBE - video footage from Cusichaca Archives

Edited compilation of video footage from the Cusichaca Archives

Cusichaca: A ‘Happy Bridge’

A common theme throughout the story of Ann Kendall and Cusichaca, was Kendall’s impressive ability to influence people and share her tremendous vision. All of Kendall’s main achievements were only possible if she worked well with others and harnessed the abilities of those around her. This could include her fellow archaeologists, the specialists she brought to Peru such as engineers, and the locals who would help reconstruct old Inca infrastructure. This required Kendall to lead by example, and do everything she could to share her wonderful vision and foresight. Her former colleagues and peers were full of stories about her infectious enthusiasm and energy. 

Ann Kendall was also superb at getting people in authority on her side, as she was able to do with the Peruvian authorities whose support was critical. This was also not guaranteed, especially during the Falklands war where a British presence in the region may have been suspicious. Moreover, Kendall was a brilliant fundraiser, and the funds she raised were the lifeblood of the various projects that required immense people-power, technology, and investment. The Cusichaca archive includes various papers relating to fundraising and demonstrates how effective Kendall was at selling her vision and getting support. One of Kendall’s former colleagues said that Ann was once sitting beside a wealthy stranger on a flight to Peru, and by the end of the flight, the stranger had pledged £20,000 to her cause. This story is a great example of Ann’s perseverance and ability to influence people. Kendall’s wonderful energy and personality is best summed up in a quote about her, from her sister Sarita Kendall: 

“Ann loved landscape; she revelled in exploring the Peruvian mountains and valleys and looking for evidence of sites and the connections between them. We went on some of these trips together - we both spent much of childhood in the farmland of inland Brazil and we did not mind discomfort. In Andalucia, where we shared a small farm, we went on local trips, Ann gazing out of the window and commanding sudden stops whenever she saw terrace work.She also had an extraordinary eye for detail - general, banal comments about views or pictures irritated her, she would be focusing on a particular cliff, a shade of blue in the top left corner of a painting or the texture of a pot.”

Ann Kendall’s story should be a lesson that enthusiasm is infectious, and you travel furthest when you are able to convince others to come on the journey with you. 

Sean Macmillan
Archives Manager, Senate House Library

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