Initially, this book set out to provide a “total history” of tuberculosis in Buenos
Aires: a history capable of opening a window from which to see how disease
and health became part of life in the city through metaphors and discourses
as well as through actual, concrete policies and experiences. It started out as a
doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Tulio Halperín Donghi at the
University of California, Berkeley. As soon as the investigation started, it be-
came evident that those intentions were overly ambitious due to my own limi-
tations and, more importantly, the scarcity or absence of sources and docu-
Many questions I posed, greatly influenced by the new histories of tubercu-
losis and the exciting interpretative frameworks provided by social history and
cultural studies, could only be answered on the basis of generalizations and
without a specific human and temporal anchoring in the history of Buenos
Aires. And I was looking for something else, certainly different, a narrative
where a strong empirical foundation could dialogue with broader questions
relevant in any effort to understand the coming of modernity. In other words,
I wanted to avoid producing a narrative articulated around stimulating and
provocative issues but with few literary texts, some journalistic references,
and a couple of quotes taken from medical academic journals. The disserta-
tion ended up expressing these necessary concessions and adjustments: initial
attempts at totality were somewhat left aside and I had to accept a narrower,
more modest horizon through my interpretation of the fragmentary world
that could be reassembled by means of the available sources.
After years in the making, a period in which I focused my work on other
projects that also, often times, touched on the history of health and disease,
I decided to refine and expand the dissertation and transform it into a book.
First published in Spanish as La ciudad impura: Salud, tuberculosis y cultura
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