Paul RamírezJun 24, 2019
Mexico’s Experiments with Disease Prevention in the Age of Reason
Stanford University Press 2018
Paul Ramírez’s first book explores how laypeople impacted the new medical techniques and technologies implemented by the imperial state in the final decades of Spanish rule in colonial Mexico. More than a scholarly intervention, Ramírez seeks to answer a very pragmatic and timely question: how and why do successful public health measures succeed? Through his surprising, nuanced, and complicated answer, Ramírez broadens our understanding of who counts as a vital actor in public health programs. Whereas historians have long thought of enlightened reform in the terms of absolutist monarchical power, Enlightened Immunity: Mexico’s Experiments with Disease Prevention in the Age of Reason (Stanford University Press, 2018) cracks the nut to find within a effervescent world of competitive and cooperative medical cultures. Through careful analyses of the Royal Vaccination Campaign of the early 19th century as well as prior public methods of responding to epidemic disease, Ramírez demonstrates a consistent pattern of mutual exchange and influence between professional communities and lay populations, both indigenous and not. Refreshingly, he also reassesses the role of the Catholic Church: despite common assumptions of an inherent antipathy between science and religion (especially Catholicism), we see here the integral role of religious ideas, practices, rituals, personnel, and political power in the implementation of modern public health initiatives. The resulting picture of negotiation, conciliation, and experimentation is essential reading for both historians of public health, science, and Latin America, as well as readers in the medical humanities generally.