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Framing a Lost City

Framing a Lost City
Science, Photography, and the Making of Machu Picchu

Drawing on science and technology studies, this book explores how photography transformed an Incan archaeological ruin into “Machu Picchu,” a world heritage site and crown jewel of Peruvian national patrimony.

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowment in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

December 2017
Active (available)
288 pages | 6 x 9 |

When Hiram Bingham, a historian from Yale University, first saw Machu Picchu in 1911, it was a ruin obscured by overgrowth whose terraces were farmed a by few families. A century later, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO world heritage site visited by more than a million tourists annually. This remarkable transformation began with the photographs that accompanied Bingham’s article published in National Geographic magazine, which depicted Machu Picchu as a lost city discovered. Focusing on the practices, technologies, and materializations of Bingham’s three expeditions to Peru (1911, 1912, 1914–1915), this book makes a convincing case that visualization, particularly through the camera, played a decisive role in positioning Machu Picchu as both a scientific discovery and a Peruvian heritage site.

Amy Cox Hall argues that while Bingham’s expeditions relied on the labor, knowledge, and support of Peruvian elites, intellectuals, and peasants, the practice of scientific witnessing, and photography specifically, converted Machu Picchu into a cultural artifact fashioned from a distinct way of seeing. Drawing on science and technology studies, she situates letter writing, artifact collecting, and photography as important expeditionary practices that helped shape the way we understand Machu Picchu today. Cox Hall also demonstrates that the photographic evidence was unstable, and, as images circulated worldwide, the “lost city” took on different meanings, especially in Peru, which came to view the site as one of national patrimony in need of protection from expeditions such as Bingham’s.

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note on the Text
  • Introduction: Seeing Science
  • Sight

    • Chapter 1: Epistolary Science
    • Chapter 2: Huaquero Vision
  • Circulation

    • Chapter 3: Latin America as Laboratory
    • Chapter 4: Discovery Aesthetics
    • Chapter 5: Picturing the Miserable Indian for Science
  • Contests

    • Chapter 6: The Politics of Seeing
  • Conclusion: Artifact
  • Notes
  • Reference List
  • Index



Amherst, Massachusetts

Cox Hall is a visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Amherst College and a research associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center.


“The archives of the Yale and National Geographic expeditions to Machu Picchu and Peru are a largely untapped treasure chest for the history of science, anthropology, and US–Latin American relations. Amy Cox Hall pulls open the lid, showing how the explorer Hiram Bingham used letters, cameras, and calipers to “develop” the Machu Picchu that tourists buy on postcards today.”
Christopher Heaney, Author of Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu

“This is one of those rare books that should be read and appreciated by scholars, students, and a broadly curious public alike—all who are interested in the part played by science in fashioning Peru’s monumental heritage site, Machu Picchu. Amy Cox Hall’s rendering of this powerful narrative is in itself a marvel of first-rate storytelling.”
Florence E. Babb, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of The Tourism Encounter: Fashioning Latin American Nations and Histories