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Reviewed by:
  • La educación médica en Hispanoamérica y Filipinas durante el dominio español
  • Ana Cecilia Rodríguez de Romo
Francisco Guerra. La educación médica en Hispanoamérica y Filipinas durante el dominio español. Alcalá de Henares, Spain: Universidad de Alcalá, 1998. 224 pp. Ill. $20.00; Ptas. 3,000.00.

This book describes the teaching of medicine in Spain, its Latin American colonies, Portugal, Brazil, and the Philippines during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Although Brazil was not a Spanish colony, it is included because, for Guerra, it represents the “parallel and different [?]” medical evolution of a brother country (p. 11).

The author makes clear the following points: (1) The Spanish universities and the Medical Board (Protomedicato) in each one of the colonies regulated the teaching and practice of medicine in Latin America, Brazil, and the Philippines during the three centuries of Spanish domination. (2) The teaching of medicine appeared very early in the colonies: the first university was founded in Santo Domingo in 1536, and the first medical chair was created in Mexico in 1578. (3) The medical curriculum in the colonies was the same as that in Spain, particularly in the universities of Salamanca and Alcalá de Henares. The constitutions, regulations, and ceremonial practices were also the same. (4) The principal classes were prima, the study of the healthy human being; vísperas, the study of the sick human being; and methodo medendi, or therapeutics. The texts of Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna formed the basis of medical studies. (5) Teaching was principally theoretical, and the most valuable qualities in a professor were rhetoric and erudition.

Guerra states that his purpose in writing this book was to fill a large gap in the history of medicine—namely, the influence of Spanish medicine in Latin America and the Philippines (p. 6). This would be admirable if such a gap really existed, and if the book really filled it up.

The volume is replete with detail: professors’ names and dates, their years of service, medical curricula, numbers of students, constitutions, and rules for the teachers and students, with salaries and fines. This is valuable information, but in such quantity it makes this a difficult book to read. The use of tables or synoptic figures would have made the information easier to consult.

Amid all this detail, it is hard to believe that three centuries of medicine in Peru could be summarized in ten pages (pp. 135–44), or medicine in the Philippines in seven (pp. 189–95).

A serious flaw of the book is the complete lack of original citations. Guerra states that the archives were largely destroyed, or were not sent to the Archivo de las Indias (p. 6), so that consulting original sources is impossible. He seems not to know that there are still very important and complete archives in Latin America. In Mexico City, for example, there are the National General Archive (AGN) and the Historical Archive of the Faculty of Medicine at the National University, with documents waiting to be studied. Among other foreign scholars, Sherburne Cook, Donald Cooper, and John Tate Lanning have produced important books on colonial medicine based on their research on original Mexican sources. [End Page 505]

Other flaws include the absence of secondary sources: it would be good to know where the author has found some important details. Concerning Mexico, Guerra says he has corrected the mistakes of other authors—but he does not mention the location of those mistakes, nor does he detail his corrections and their sources (p. 76). Guerra says that the parents of Luis José Montaña, a well-known Mexican physician at the end of the eighteenth century, were Spaniards and not Indians. We cannot, however, know whether Montaña’s parents were Spaniards because he was abandoned at the door of an orphanage (p. 82); while this is a small point, Guerra should have read José Joaquín Izquierdo’s very complete biography, Montaña y los orígenes del movimiento social y científico de México (1955), which is based on original documents and also deals with medical education in New Spain.

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