Medicina/Medicine: A Special Nursing Clio Series on Latin America and the Caribbean

When I started writing for Nursing Clio in late 2014, I was excited to bring a Latin American focus to the blog. Since then, I’ve written about the history of gender, medicine, and race in the region with an emphasis on Brazil. I’ve tested out new research ideas, polished old ones, and ranted about things that really ticked me off. Over the years, the blog also has published important new work from guest writers who work on the region.

Nora Jaffary explained the significance of women’s hymens to constructions of nineteenth-century Mexican nationalism — and how uncomfortable the topic made present-day listeners.

Rocio Gomez explored how the history of public health, gender, and colonialism in modern-day Mexico and the U.S. could be explained through the tortilla. Elena McGrath drew our attention to late twentieth-century Bolivia, where housewives used their identities as mothers to stage a successful hunger strike against a military dictatorship. Leah Lagrone Ochoa showed us how the history of prostitution changes the meaning of the international border between the U.S. and Mexico. (Perhaps someone should tell Donald?)

All of this exciting work left me wanting even more. So when the blog’s editorial team proposed a Latin American and Caribbean series, I jumped at the opportunity to participate as a guest editor, eager to help bring the growing field of the history of gender and medicine in Latin America to a wider audience. The range of time periods, geographic areas, and topics in this series demonstrate the explosion of scholarly interest in the history of medicine in the Americas.

Photograph of the courtyard of a Spanish-style convent. There are short trees in the foreground, and a dome in the background.
Church and convent of Santo Domingo in Lima, Peru. (bobistraveling/Flickr)

From the Catholic convents of sixteenth-century Peru to the streets of twentieth-century Mexico City, this series shows the intertwining of gender, race, ethnicity, and healing in the history of Latin America. The essays look at the colonization of the region, the violence of slavery, and the suppression of indigenous healing practices. Perhaps, most importantly, the series underscores the gendered experience of health itself.

Kathleen Kole de Peralta asks us to imagine how it felt to take mercury to treat syphilis in sixteenth-century Peru. Rocio Gomez invites us into the gendered experience of head-shaving as a response to typhus in Mexico. Karolina Kuberska explores the embodied experience of the postpartum period in current-day Bolivia. These are just a few examples of the wealth of stories that will appear in the coming weeks.

These posts also highlight the range of sources scholars of Latin America, in particular those of the colonial period, use to understand gendered and racialized histories of medicine. Recipe books, town council meetings, travel memoirs, oral histories, convent records, monuments — these are just a few of the many our writers analyze in this series.

Taken together, this series showcases the innovative work of a core group of scholars who work on medicine and science in Latin America and the Caribbean. They are bringing this story to the world of public history, making clear how global the history of medicine truly is.

Please join us every Thursday for our new series.

Further Reading

Anne-Emanuelle Birn and Raúl Necochea López, “Footprints on the Future: Looking Forward to the History of Health and Medicine in Latin America in the Twenty-First Century,” Hispanic American Historical Review 91, no. 3 (2011): 503-527.

Julia Rodriguez, “A Complex Fabric: Intersecting Histories of Race, Gender, and Science in Latin America,” Hispanic American Historical Review 91, no. 3 (2011): 409-429.

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