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While scholars in recent years have published extensively on the history of medicine in modern Latin America, few have examined medicine in Latin America's colonial period. Those who have done so, moreover, have tended to treat the colonial period as a discrete period separate from the modern period rather than investigating how medical thought and practices shifted across these periods in the nineteenth century. Collaborating with other members of the National University of Colombia's "Group for the History of Medicine and Health," Emilio Quevedo V. seeks to bridge this colonial-modern divide in the second tomo, or volume, of the Historia de la medicina en Colombia. In what amounts to a comprehensive guide to Colombia's medical history between 1782 and 1865, Quevedo and his colleagues expertly demonstrate that the roots of modern Colombian medicine lie in the colonial period and the transatlantic political and intellectual debates of the age of revolutions.
Contributors to the volume begin their analysis with the destructive smallpox epidemic of 1782 in the Viceroyalty of New Granada, a colonial territory that encompassed modern-day Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. They argue that the epidemic constituted a watershed moment because it prompted doctors and government authorities to begin calling for medical reforms as a means to refashion and improve the Spanish colonies. Although doctors carried out variolation, the epidemic exposed the weaknesses of medical knowledge and training within New Granada, a colony that lacked its own medical school. In the years that followed, doctors, intellectuals, and crown officials on both sides of the Atlantic proposed and implemented measures to improve health, including urban hygiene and sanitation reforms, burial reforms, the smallpox vaccine, and reform of medical education. They also organized botanical expeditions to gain knowledge of New World medicinal plants. [End Page 142]
According to Quevedo and his colleagues, New Granada's reform-minded doctors were strongly influenced by the European Enlightenment. Furthermore, many of their reform efforts were implemented during a period of acute political upheaval precipitated by waning royal authority in Madrid under Charles IV, by the Napoleonic invasion of Spain, and by subsequent calls for independence in the colonies. One of the true achievements of this volume is to reconstruct meticulously the politics of medical reform and the role of Creole doctors in politics during this period of unrest, which spanned from 1802 to 1822. The authors trace the rise of an enlightened medical movement within New Granada among doctors and intellectuals such as José Celestino Mutis, the father of modern Colombian medicine and science. Prior to the Napoleonic invasion of Spain, such figures published widely and advocated plans for medical education and reform. They continued their medical work and became influential in politics as the crisis of royal authority and the wars of independence dragged on.
The second half of the volume focuses on doctors' attempts to modernize medical teaching, expand medical knowledge, and extend medical practice throughout Colombia after independence from Spain. The volume's contributors emphasize the growing influence of French medical thought on Colombian medicine, a phenomenon that was facilitated by the travel of Creole scientists and intellectuals to France. Francisco Antonio Zea, in particular, organized an important mission to send doctors, scientists, and intellectuals from France and parts of the Americas to Colombia to improve scientific knowledge and reform teaching. The mission itself had mixed outcomes but contributed to the diffusion of French scientific knowledge there. French doctors, for example, introduced the teachings of Broussais and engaged in conflicts over authority with local doctors. Despite ongoing political instability, doctors founded a medical school at Bogotá's university in 1826 and initiated medical reforms. They eventually expanded university-based medical teaching in the 1840s.
According to the volume's authors, by the 1850s Colombian doctors had embraced and appropriated French anatomo-clinical medical theories and practices. Such...