At the Hour of Our Death: Reinterpreting Illness in Iberian Empires
Conference on Latin American History 64
This panel draws upon the work of social and cultural historians alongside an historical anthropologist and a historian of science to examine physical and spiritual illness and death among native people and Spaniards in colonial Latin America. Three generations of historians have already explored the ways in which epidemic disease facilitated American empire for both Spain and Portugal. These scholars have plotted the introduction and spread of Old World pathogens, identified particular diseases, estimated population sizes and mortality rates, and charted the transformation of disease ecologies. This panel shifts focus. Presenters instead respond to recent work in history, anthropology, and historical epidemiology to explore disease from the viewpoints of people who lived and died with it. In contrast to more general narratives stressing virgin soil epidemics and demographic collapse, these papers address the particular—even idiosyncratic—perspectives of individuals and communities caught up in the throes of imperial expansion and epidemic disease. The experience of illness varied widely across the Americas. But everywhere it posed complex emotional, medical, and epistemic challenges whose solutions transgressed conventional boundaries between Iberian and Indian, medical and spiritual, sacred and profane.