Epidemics, Public Health, and Modernity in Late 19th- and Early 20th-Century Latin America: Regional Perspectives and Global Comparisons

AHA Session 19
Conference on Latin American History 3
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Room 403 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Matthew Esposito, Drake University
Mariola Espinosa, University of Iowa

Session Abstract

This panel examines the benefits and contradictions within the topics and themes of public health, modernity, and technology in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Mexico and Brazil, and offers comparisons with India.  Long recognized as an important time period for the development of international sanitation efforts and new forms of technology, the era under study reveals important contradictions that are especially apparent when viewing regions where the ideas and symbols of Western-defined progress were often contested or not readily visible.  The papers on this panel examine moments and processes that reveal these contradictions and will suggest links across regions both large and small.  Matthew D. Esposito will analyze the advances brought about by railroads and will discuss how this new technology facilitated the rapid spread of disease in Mexico and Brazil and by way of comparison, India.  Beau D.J. Gaitors will study the role played by the Mexican state of Veracruz in the international effort to combat yellow fever and will discuss the policies implemented by governor Teodoro Dehesa as well as the efforts led by New Orleans physician Rudolph Matas.  These policies, Gaitors suggests, place Veracruz as a key site in the fight against yellow fever.  James A. Garza will discuss the excavation of the Gran Canal in the Valley of Mexico, one of the major projects of the Porfiriato.  Garza positions the project as part of broader national and international efforts to sanitize cities and regions, an effort often violently contested by local communities.  Amanda M. López will examine the debate in Porfirian Mexico City surrounding cremation, and how leading advocates for the technology, such as noted hygienist Luis E. Ruiz, believed that cremation was the only option that was civilized, while other elite Mexicans saw it merely as a way to permanently cleanse the city of the bodies of the poor.  All the papers on this panel strongly connect with each other through the themes of hygiene and modernity, and suggest that small regional developments were tied to larger processes.  The panel also links local historical actors to larger movements.  The panel will thus be of interest to a wide range of scholars including historians of Latin America and Mexico, technology, and public health. Three of these scholars are actively working on new projects, and another is preparing his dissertation for publication. This panel will provide a valuable opportunity for an exchange of insights into how to best theorize and move forward with the projects. Commentary will be provided by Mariola Espinosa, who authored a study on yellow fever and Cuban independence in 2008.  Matthew D. Esposito will chair the panel.
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