Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey / New Brunswick
A World with no Doctors: Gender and Race in the History of Popular Medicine in New Granada, 1700-1850

My dissertation reconstructs the lives and medical practices of unlicensed midwives, healers, and surgeons in New Granada (present-day Colombia) from 1700 through 1850. Using the insights of feminist science studies and critical race studies, I examine how race and gender affected the practice of popular medicine and the construction of medical expertise. I argue against teleological narratives that have dismissed popular practitioners as being allegedly ousted in the relentless progress towards medical modernity. Instead, I focus on popular practitioners’ role as medical experts in criminal trials, civil trials, and their participation in cabildos (municipal councils), all instances in which they provided medical certifications to townspeople. Two central questions are at the core of my project. First, how did these unlicensed medical practitioners obtain so much social respect as to be acknowledged by the state, and how did medical practices look like on the ground? Second, how did race and gender shape the medical practice of popular practitioners? My archival methodology operates in two different registers. First, I consult archives in three cities of Colombia (Medellín, Popayán and Ibagué) to investigate how different socioracial configurations in each of these places shaped medical practices. Second, I move to Bogotá and analyze cases that pass to a higher administrative level, instances that demonstrate that popular medical practitioners were not located “in the margins” of communal life but were central to Colombia’s social fabric. In a context of stark socioracial hierarchies, I argue, medicine provided a “leveling field” in which popular practitioners garnered social respect and recognition in the courts, circumventing the socioracial and patriarchal order of their time. Medical knowledge was a tool that unlicensed practitioners used to suspend the predominance of birth as a factor that determined status, giving traction to character and behavior as traits that defined their place in society.