Preface
Fifteen years ago it would have been unthinkable to even imagine a book on
history and disease in modern Latin America. Although the region was
vibrant in other historiographies, disease and health were not topics on
which scholars working on Latin American issues were focusing their re-
search. There were articles and books on certain issues, of course, but the
subfield as such was almost nonexistent.
Today the picture is quite di√erent. Innovative studies dealing with di-
verse agendas and from diverse perspectives on the history of disease in
modern Latin America are now available. A number of monographic works
are ready for publication, academic journals periodically feature articles on
the topic, and, if this could be taken as sign of the dynamic development of
the subfield, the 2000 Latin American Studies Conference o√ered sixteen
panels dealing with problems of health, disease, and society. It is now possi-
ble to gather in one volume a bibliographical essay assessing the state of the
subfield and eleven essays on di√erent diseases (malaria, hysteria, Chagas’
disease, tuberculosis, leprosy, hookworm, syphilis, hospitalism, mental ill-
ness, cholera, and aids) for six Latin American countries (Mexico, Colom-
bia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and Argentina).
Following persuasive examples set decades ago by Michel Foucault’s ab-
sorbing interpretations and the more empirically based Anglo-American
tradition, Latin American historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and cul-
tural critics have been unveiling a domain in which health, medicine, heal-
ing practices, and disease meanings are contestable, debatable, and subject
to controversy. They have increasingly been occupying a terrain previously
monopolized by traditional historians of medicine, physicians, and anti-
quarians. Today, nobody is surprised when diseases and illnesses are dis-
cussed as slippery, ambiguous, complex entities constructed and framed
historically taking into consideration the individual and the collective as
well as the sociocultural and the biological.
From the avatars of biomedical knowledge and therapies in the periphery
to the illness narratives o√ered by sick people and health care practitioners,
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