Do Diseases Talk? Writing the Cultural and Epidemiological History of Disease in Latin America
by Ian Read
Diseased Relations: Epidemics, Public Health, and State-Building in Yucatán, Mexico, 1847–1924McCrea Heather Diseased Relations: Epidemics, Public Health, and State-Building in Yucatán, Mexico, 1847–1924. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011.
Enemy in the Blood: Malaria, Environment, and Development in ArgentinaCarter Eric Enemy in the Blood: Malaria, Environment, and Development in Argentina. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012.
The Vigorous Core of Our Nationality: Race and Regional Identity in Northeastern BrazilBlake Stanley The Vigorous Core of Our Nationality: Race and Regional Identity in Northeastern Brazil. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.
Patologías de la Patria: Enfermedades, enfermos y nación en América LatinaHochman Gilberto,di Liscia María Silvia & Palmer Steven Patologías de la Patria: Enfermedades, enfermos y nación en América Latina. Buenos Aires: Lugar Editorial, 2012.
The history of disease is witnessing a “renaissance of interest” among scholars working in Latin America (Armus et al., 2003: 1; Birn and López, 2011: 504). Active communities of scholars in Mexico and Argentina present and publish on the subject, and about 25 professors support a respected graduate program in the history of science and health at the Fundação de Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro. Furthermore, disease takes the spotlight in many popular books on Latin American history. For example, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (1998), which won a Pulitzer Prize and spent almost 200 weeks on the New York Times “Best Seller List,” describes germs implanted in virgin soil as a key factor in the speed and shape of European colonialism. A top-selling, acclaimed book by Sir Hugh Thomas (1997: 92) argues that catastrophic demographic collapse brought about by plagues led to the forced importation of millions of African slaves in order to solve the European colonists’ “problem of labor.” It is odd, therefore, that disease gets little attention from academic historians writing in the most influential history departments in the North. Among the 80 to 100 historians of Latin America who teach in graduate programs in large history departments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, fewer than 5 specialize in health and medicine. For this reason, when several North American university presses publish monographs on the history of disease in Latin America, it deserves our notice. Furthermore, these monographs exemplify the advantages and problems of what we can call the “cultural turn” in the history of medicine.
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