Panels

(P18)

Seeing, observing, presenting: science and medicine in society

Location UP 4.211
Date and Start Time 12 April, 2013 at 09:00

Convenors

Fiona Clark (Queen's University Belfast) email
Patience Schell (University of Aberdeen) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This session will discuss intersections in the circulation of knowledge in Latin America and broader networks, from the early colonial period through to the twentieth century, particularly the modes and strategies employed in written and visual of scientific and medical information.

Long Abstract

This session will discuss a variety of important intersections in the circulation of knowledge in Latin America, including the trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific networks, from the early colonial period through to the twentieth century, focusing particularly on the modes and strategies utilised in the presentation (written and visual) of scientific and medical information. It will raise questions relating to the ways and means by which medical and natural sciences both shape and are shaped by the societies in which they are based. These questions include: the changing role of gender; the presentation of self within the knowledge communities or Republic of Letters; the acts and expressions of observation, impartiality, and objectivity; channels of communication and authority; and the reception / rejection / transformation / ordering of information between different locales.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The writing medicine woman: manuscript culture and conventual recipe collections in late colonial Mexico

Author: Yari Perez Marin (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines women's interaction with medical epistemology during the late colonial period in Mexico through an analysis of conventual recipe collections in manuscript sources. It highlights women's contributions as selective, critical readers and as authors of original information.

Long Abstract

While the majority of print medical texts that circulated in New Spain from the mid-sixteenth century through the end of the colonial period were written by male authors, medical information was also exchanged in manuscript form in ways that allowed for the active participation of women. Health advice and remedies shared by way of correspondence and in recipe collections provide an alternate vantage point from which to consider how women interacted with the medical establishment, not only as patients but also as selective, critical readers and as producers of information.

Taking as a point of departure the recipe collection of the Convent of the Purísima Concepción in Puebla, compiled in the early nineteenth century, I examine the epistemological framework behind the manuscript's organisation, which appropriates information from unnamed-yet-often recognisable print sources, juxtaposing them with innovative solutions authored by some of the convent's own sisters. My work also seeks to bridge the gap from a disciplinary standpoint between research that has been done on European recipe collections (see Lynette Hunter, Sarah Hutton and Elaine Leong), and the study of female authorship and conventual life in Spanish America (see Margaret Chowning, Asunción Lavin and Stephanie Kirk). In addition to considerations about genre and the intersection of the medical and culinary spheres, attention is paid to the link between women's writing and outside political events, with the collection's latter entries arguably reflecting the radical institutional changes experienced by Mexican convents as the colonial period came to a close with the War of Independence.

Appealing to the Republic of Letters: an autopsy of anti-venereal trials in eighteenth-century Mexico

Author: Fiona Clark (Queen's University Belfast)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will discuss the importance of understanding narrative techniques and style in the presentation of medical criticism, focusing on a report compiled by an Irish physician, Daniel O'Sullivan (1760- c. 1797), on drug trials held in the Hospital de San Andrés, Mexico City in the 1790s.

Long Abstract

This paper shall focus on a report compiled, at the request of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Madrid, by an Irish physician, Daniel O'Sullivan (1760- c. 1797), into trials held in the Hospital de San Andrés, Mexico City, in the early 1790s to judge the efficacy of a new, vegetable-based, anti-venereal cure. The document opens the doors to a hidden and murkier world than is made evident in any 'official' account that has formed a basis for our understanding of these events to date. I will discuss how the broader context of O'Sullivan's desire to participate in the Republic of Letters and the use of language employed in the creation of the work allow for a reading of the text focusing on narrative form. This enables us to elucidate the nuances and strategies that employed in the creation and presentation of a critical narrative and the role of the author. I will also highlight how his understanding of the function of 'critical history' and the 'historian' as eye witness, or autoptēs, is tied to early rhetorical concepts as well as his medical and theological training. This analysis will underline that any future discussion of the trials must take into account the details related by the Irishman, notwithstanding the particularly poor light he sheds on hospital practice in this period.

The Venerealization of Peru: Race and Medical Knowledge in the Andean Periphery

Author: Paulo Drinot (University College London)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the formation of medical knowledge on venereal disease in Peru in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the formation of medical knowledge on venereal disease in Peru in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this particularl Peruvian periphery of VD research, there was little 'scientific excellence' of the sort that Marcos Cueto and others have identified in the context of other fields of biomedical research and of other peripheries. But a close analysis of VD research in Peru shows that Peruvian physicians were actively involved in research, in touch with developments in VD research elsewhere, and no less receptive to such developments than their counterparts in the biomedical core. Of course, in Peru as elsewhere, biomedical attention on VD overlapped with a broader, non-medical, preoccupation with gonorrhoea and particularly with syphilis. Like few other diseases, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries commentators connected VD to anxieties over aberrant sexual behaviour and social and racial degeneration in a broader context of perceived uncontrolled, and possibly uncontrollable, social and political change. At the same time, VD emerged as a field in which policy makers, in alliance with physicians, could play a key role in moral and social governance. However, as Davidson and Hall note in their survey of the historiography of VD in Europe, "responses to VD have always been powerfully inflected by local and historical contingencies". In Peru, I argue in this paper, the making of medical knowledge on venereal disease was intimately tied to doctors' racialized understandings of the character of the Peruvian population, and particularly of its non-white population.

Cultivating Natural History Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Chile

Author: Patience Schell (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the creation of natural history knowledge in nineteenth-century Chile thanks to collaboration between career-minded naturalists, for whom 'unexplored' Chile proved irresistible, and non-naturalist supporters, for whom fostering the natural sciences aided national progress.

Long Abstract

Newly-independent Chile had limited local scientific expertise, no institutions dedicated to the natural sciences and little formal knowledge of its natural environment. At the end of the nineteenth century, Chile hosted multiple natural history museums, a research-active naval hydrographical office, natural history education in schools, government-funded natural history research and internationally-known publications. This paper will focus on the ways and routes through which this natural history knowledge was created, adapted and transmitted thanks to collaboration between career-minded naturalists, for whom Chile's 'unexplored' status proved irresistible, and non-naturalist supporters, for whom fostering the natural sciences aided national progress. The work of three foreigners was especially vital to this cultivation of knowledge. French Claudio Gay was hired in 1830 to survey Chile, write Chile's natural history and found a natural history museum. This work lasted the rest of his life, and his publications, both in the official newspaper El Araucano and through his own myriad volumes, trained Chile's literate public in the results and methods of natural history. Venezuelan Andrés Bello advocated for natural history through various government roles and, as the editor of El Araucano, disseminated Gay's writings and translated foreign work. Prussian Rodulfo Philippi, long-time director of the National Museum, built the collections, sponsored expeditions and published his results nationally and internationally. These foreigners contributed to an environment in which Chile sought to establish itself as a continental power and in which the natural world contributed to national identity.

Placebo, Candomblé, and the Art of Performative Healing

Author: Hannah Lesshafft (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

In biomedicine the physical effects of meaningful performances are often downplayed as 'only' a placebo effect, and therefore not 'real'. The example of Candomblé shows how a non-biomedical healing culture makes use of the performative aspects of healing in a more elaborate way.

Long Abstract

Although the influence of the placebo effect, or 'meaning response' (Moerman 2002), is well known in biomedicine, it is usually not seen as a healing resource but is instead rejected as deception or fake. In biomedical knowledge production, placebo effects are regarded as confounders that need to be eliminated in order to study the "real" efficacy of a drug. Meaning responses are part of any medical encounter and impact physical and psychological processes. However, biomedicine fails to employ them in an honest and skillful way.

Traditional healing methods are often depreciated as relying "merely" on the placebo effect. I turn this argument around by regarding ritual performances as creative ways to enact and support healing processes. An example of such ritual performances is Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion in which 'deep knowledge' is being produced through bodily experience including dancing, and elaborate rites of initiation. In Candomblé, dualisms like mind-body, subject-object, and construction-reality are being rendered useless. Humans create their deities by worshipping them and thereby cultivate axé, the vital force. In turn, they receive axé from their gods during trance possession and ritual performance.

The enactment of worship and healing in Candomblé can be seen as a model for creating meaning responses. The transformative performances include dance, ritual baths, dressing and eating like the gods, and ultimately embodying the deities through trance possession. Recognizing such practices as a healing art may help to understand the importance of imaginative, bodily performances in different medical contexts, instead of rejecting them as fraud.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.