- Medical Cultures of the Early Modern Spanish Empire ed. by John Slater, Maríaluz López-Terrada, and José Pardo-Tómas
The past eight years or so has seen an explosion in English-language work on medical history in the early modern Spanish Empire from both American and Spanish scholars. In spite of such scholarly diligence, a gap remains. As the editors suggest, and as William Eamon has noted elsewhere,1 English-language work in the history of early modern Spanish medicine has been received with certain disbelief or disdain. Audiences delight at the novelty of Spanish medicine, yet resist incorporating Spain’s medical history in broader early modern narratives. It has been characterized as “insular and backward, parasitic and largely derivative of developments elsewhere in Europe, sinisterly effective or condemnably disorganized” (p. 1). Recent scholarship has begun to chip away at that iron wall, placing Spanish medicine squarely within, if not at the forefront of, developments in medical methodology, practice, training, and literacy in a broader European context.
This collection of essays (some of which I would characterize as works in progress) builds upon this emerging body of work. More important, however, it seeks to push the boundaries of more traditional narratives in the history of Spanish medicine in its methodological diversity, innovative use of sources, and theoretical frameworks. In short, its purpose is to expand the regional focus of the first empire where the sun never set, to introduce new source materials that require scholars to redraw the boundaries of medical cultures, and to demonstrate the fruits of cross-pollination through an exploration of broadly defined concerns with the human body and its natural order. The essays are geographically and topically diverse, ranging from Spaniards among humanist circles in mid-sixteenth-century Trent to a natural history of hypertrichosis to a study of astrological medicine in Golden Age drama. This diversity brings to the discussion more voices and more actors whose concerns with the human body highlight rivalry and collaboration across political, religious, legal, literary, and medical frameworks.
The collection is organized into three distinct sections that provide a particular context for the intersection of medical cultures in the Spanish empire. The first [End Page 148] section focuses on New Spain and argues that the intersection of metropole and periphery in this region provided a space for the development of distinctly new medical cultures. The existence of so many different peoples (Asians, Africans, mestizos, mulattos, creoles, native-born Spaniards, etc.) with their own systems of thought about the human body, the limited academic medical presence and lack of formal institutions of medical governance (guilds, colleges, universities), compounded by the consistent public health demands of the region created numerous options for addressing concerns about health and body. As evidenced by the three essays in this section, inhabitants of New Spain did not need to choose between two binary medical systems, but rather borrowed or rejected a multiplicity of medical practices and beliefs based on specific circumstances at a given time. Angélica Morales Sarabia demonstrates this agency and diversity of belief in her study of Petrona Babtista. Morales Sarabia argues that Babtista’s use of peyote as a medicinal and as a means to acquire hidden knowledge is at the intersection of a number of overlapping medical cultures: indigenous practices and uses of hallucinogens, Inquisitorial concerns defining the use of such herbs as diabolical or tied to witchcraft, gendered and racial concerns about her place in the social hierarchy as a mulatto, and her own sense of self and empowerment. Contributing further to the methodological richness of this section is Ralph Bauer’s study on dragon blood and José Pardo-Tomás’ work on native mortality in the Relaciones Geográficas de Indias.
The second section is dedicated to tracing itineraries across medical geographies as a means of expanding our understanding of medical cultures across the Spanish-dominated world and the many ways medical knowledge...