Alberto Flores Gaiindo, “Tito” to his friends, died in Lima in March of 1990 after a year-long battle with brain cancer. The most important Peruvian historian of his generation, Tito was formed in that boiling cauldron of ideas that was Peru in the late 1960s and 1970s. While the left debated the lessons of the Cuban revolution, a decade of agrarian and Andean social movements helped bring to power a reformist military government in 1968. These were also the years in which Andean social history and ethnohistory first flourished; by the mid-1970s it was no longer possible to confuse a history of Lima with a history of Peru. A student at Lima’s Universidad Católica in the late sixties, Tito Flores was very much a part of this rebellious and poetic generation whose writings and actions would forever change the course of national intellectual and political life.

But Tito was more than a representative member of his unusual generation: with his combination of crisp analytical clarity, literary and even poetic flair, passionate human commitment, and astounding temporal and spatial range, he transcended it. In this combination, the historian he most evokes is Jorge Basadre, with whom he shares the pinnacle of Peru’s historical profession. Throughout his long and distinguished career, the best-known product of which was his monumental Historia de la República del Perú, Basadre set the foundations and the criteria for Peruvian history as a systematic field. He demonstrated why and how Peruvian history had to move beyond the study of a few great men and texts, contributing a broad and humane vision of Peruvian society, both as it was and as he hoped it could become. Alberto Flores Galindo has most clearly and most completely realized—and extended—the promise of the field as envisioned by Basadre.

Over his short yet productive intellectual life (all told, he wrote over half a dozen books and countless articles), Tito Flores struggled to integrate, in a compassionate and committed way, the social and historical experiences of coastal and highland Peru. His three most challenging and powerful books express most effectively this unity of coast, highlands, and politics that marked his intellectual trajectory. In Aristocracia y plebe (1984), he examined the effects of colonialism and ethnic domination on colonial Lima’s society and political culture. A finely grained social history, the book brought to the fore the undercurrents of violence and social distance that provided a certain foundation for urban aristocratic life, while at the same time fragmenting and marring plebeian life and political expression. It is a sobering work that resonates with recent experiences of everyday life and violence in the multiracial metropolis of Lima-Callao, arguably the most important and challenging social history of a Latin American city yet written. In La agonía de Mariátegui (1980), Tito related José Carlos Mariátegui’s political creativity and heterodoxy to a commitment to rethink highland culture and the “Indian problem.” Tracing the influence of Georges Sorel and other European thinkers on Mariátegui, Tito connected Mariátegui’s deep differences with other Latin American communists and the Communist International to his desire to build a uniquely Peruvian socialism. And finally, in Buscando un inca (1986), the polemical and controversial best-seller that earned him the Casa de las Américas prize, Tito Flores took the most radical position on his general intellectual project at a moment of grave political crisis. On the basis of a historical vision that spanned the period from the Spanish conquest to the Shining Path wars of the 1980s, he argued that the core of a Peruvian political future must be found in the utopian indigenous traditions of the Andes.

In characteristic Latin American style, Tito never separated academic and political work. He was an integral part of Peruvian political and intellectual debates throughout the 1970s and 1980s, writing in and directing newspapers and periodicals and helping advance the work of younger historians while he opened avenues for socially committed academic research in institutions like the Archivo del Fuero Agrario, the Instituto de Apoyo Agrario, and SUR (Casa de Estudios del Socialismo). Many of his shorter pieces may be read in Tiempo de plagas (1988). In this vein, he was consciously polemical, challenging friend and foe to put their intellectual capacities to work for social and human justice. In so doing, Tito believed, they would become better intellectuals as well—this was certainly his own experience. “We are too accustomed to reading and repeating,” he wrote in his political testament published after his death. “We know how to quote. But if we wish to have a future, now more than ever, we must let go of our fear of creativity.” It was this encounter with creativity and uncertainty, this leap into the void, that most marked Tito’s own work.

Alberto Flores Galindo did not spend much time in dialogue with historians in the United States. Beyond his studies at the École des Hautes Études, he remained stubbornly and passionately rooted in Peru, challenging those of us who wished to maintain our intellectual relationships with him to do the same. When we managed to accept his sometimes aggressive criticism, turned as much against himself as others, we were immeasurably enriched by his friendship and intellectual inspiration. As he explained in the conclusion to his political testament, written in the last lucid moments of his life,

Always with my aggressive style, but this does not cancel out the love and gratitude I have for all of you, especially for those with whom I have debated most. Disagreement is another way of getting closer. And of course when you came forward to help me you were not interested in what position I held on issues of culture or politics.

And yet the positions Tito took did matter, precisely because they challenged all of us to move forward with an intellectual project whose meaning extends beyond conferences and footnotes, grants and promotions, to the passionate imagining of a better future. It will be much harder to move on without him.