Colonial Latin American Historical Review

Volume 8, Issue 3 (Summer 1999)

From the Editor's Desk

This special issue of CLAHR is dedicated to the history of medicine in Spanish America during the colonial period. Richard Greenleaf's portrayal of a sixteenth-century doctor in Mexico offers a glimpse into the life and times of Dr. Pedro López. Given the shortage of doctors in Mexico, physicians led somewhat privileged lives. When Inquisition officials investigated charges that Dr. López was a "relapsed Jew," they refused to have him arrested because he was a much needed member of society. In the following years, Dr. López proved his worthiness as a Christian through "his conspicuous good works and philanthropy."

Francisco Guerra's study traces the evolution of typhus in Mexico. He compares the pre-Columbian type of typhus with the strain introduced by the Europeans in the Americas and focuses on the death toll of this new strain among the indigenous population. Guerra, a medical doctor, couples his scientific knowledge with descriptions about the disease given by chroniclers and other colonial-period sources.

Yolanda Texera Arnal has uncovered another side to the licensing of medical personnel in colonial Venezuela. Due to the shortage of European doctors in 1777, Black curanderos, especially those who had practiced surgery, were permitted to work as doctors in Venezuela. After sixteen years, in 1793, it was decided by the Protomedicato, the royal medical board, that conditions had changed and that the service of Black curanderos were no longer needed. Texera Arnal investigates the ethnocentrism that contributed to the reversal of permitting Blacks to practice medicine in the general public.

Jan G.R. Elferink focuses on the use of poison among the Incas, who invoked social controls against those who used their medical knowledge to "obtain a certain effect," such as murder, at a time when poisonous concoctions could not be traced in the human body.

Finally, Joseph P. Sánchez's unedited transcription reveals the story of José Miguel Múñnoz who invented a metal prosthesis that could imitate the action of a human leg. That it was invented in Mexico in 1816 has been largely overlooked by researchers of science and medicine.

Medicine as practiced by physicians in Spanish America is a much ignored subject. The image of the country doctor that exists in the English tradition often gies way to te image of the curandero in the Spanish realm. Similarly, the folk medicine practiced by both Europeans and native groups in the Americas has created at least one stereotype that depicts Latin American colonial society as unscientific in regard to health care. This volume is unique in its effort to present sources for future studies on the history of medicine in colonial Latin America.


Book Reviews

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Full Issue
Spanish Colonial Research Center


Joseph P. Sánchez
Managing Editor
Angélica Sánchez-Clark
Associate Editor
Patrick J.F. Killinger
Editorial Assistant
Pacífica Casáres
Editorial Assistant
Erlinda Maes