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Diagnosing empire: Refiguring disease in the early modern Hispanic world

By Meghan McInnis-Dominguez


During the early modern period, medical discourse and practice reflected the changing political and social climate of the emerging Spanish empire. Both political and literary authors employed these concepts as critical tools in examining the health of their society. The popular use of body imagery to refer to the State and its members allowed political writers to somatize the dangers of potentially contagious members of society such as women, Jews, Moors, recent converts, the newly conquered populations of the New World. These subaltern figures were viewed as physically deficient beings in an effort to legitimize their marginalization or expulsion from the empire. My thesis examines how authors of literature take a different view toward subaltern alterity through their allusions to contemporary medicine and through their creation of successful subaltern healer figures. As figures that could harm the political and medical good of the society, any subaltern who practiced medicine experienced difficulties in treating members outside of his/her race or gender. These practitioners were limited and policed by imperial legislation and the Royal Medical Tribunal, the Protomedicato. Furthermore, medical, political, and literary authors often likened these healers to agents of mobile contagion that could infect as many as they cured. In the dissertation, I argue that authors such as Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, the anonymous author of the Viaje de Turquia, Francisco Delicado, and Miguel de Cervantes recognized the subversive potential of subaltern medical practitioners to diagnose and critique the Spanish Empire. By validating the illegitimate practices of subaltern healers both within the borders of the empire and in the territory of the Other, these authors questioned the very structure of the imperial hierarchies of power

Topics: Romance literature
Publisher: ScholarlyCommons
Year: 2006
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Provided by: ScholarlyCommons@Penn
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