Monthly Archives: October 2016

Friday, 21 October 2016—12:00 noon—WAG 316

Lina del Castillo, UT

“New Granada Elites in the Making of Republican Vanguard Science, 1840s-1850s”

In the wake of the wars of independence, nineteenth-century New Granada elites, regardless of political party, saw themselves as embarking on a project that was on the vanguard of democratic republicanism in the world. James Sanders has recently, and masterfully, explored this discourse emanating from elite Spanish Americans and negotiated with subalterns, but the impact that this discourse had in the constitution of local sciences has yet to be examined. This talk explores how a tightly-knit, if often conflictive, group of ruling elites produced remarkable, innovative sciences. Much of their creativity came from their desire to tackle a problem they believed most intractable: the legacy of the colonial period. Obstacles to creating republican equality were legion, and political elites over the course of the 19th century believed sciences offered feasible ways of overcoming the worst problems that had been supposedly caused by Spanish colonialism, especially among popular sectors. This talk focuses on just one of the many scientific and technological innovations New Granada elites produced: the calculus involved in turning colonial-era ‘indios’ into republican ‘Indijenas’ that in turn would be transformed into New Granada citizens. Land surveys, especially those conducted to map out and distribute indigenous common lands, or resguardos, offered a detailed cartographic and mathematical method that allowed for the calculations that would produce republican equality. The kind of land divisions proposed by the republican state required the invention of a republican-era miserable indíjena. They also, in the abstract, called for a radical program of land reform and wealth redistribution that would ensure republican equality through material means for those who received their ‘fair’ share of resguardo land.  The practices as developed for New Granada would break the colonial legacy of inequality at last. It would transform New Granada — and the rest of Spanish America that implemented these land reforms — into the democratic vanguard that it needed to become. Interminable conflicts and litigation that emerged when this ideal calculus was implemented on the ground underscores how conflict resolution occurred not through civil wars, but rather through the assorted and emerging levers of the state, local, provincial, and national. This unintended effect helped undergird the republican state’s legitimacy through litigation, much like the Spanish colonial state had done in the past.


Lina del Castillo received her B.A. from Cornell University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Miami. She currently holds a joint appointment in History and Latin American Studies at UT Austin. Her work focuses on the intersections between science, cartography, the development of democratic republicanism and early nation-state formation in Spanish America during the 19th century, with a focus on the case of Colombia. Del Castillo’s publications include “Cartographies of Colombian Independence” in James Akerman, ed., Decolonizing the Map (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming) and short pieces in Jordana Dym and Karl Offen, eds., Mapping Latin America: A Cartographic Reader (University of Chicago Press, 2011). Her manuscript, forthcoming with the University of Nebraska Press, is provisionally titled Sciences of the Republican Vanguard: Battling Inventions of the Spanish American Colonial Legacy in Colombia’s 19th century.

Friday, 14 October 2016 — 12:00 noon — GAR 1.102 — joint event with the Symposium on Gender, History, and Sexuality

Elizabeth O’Brien, UT

“Rebellion in the General Hospital: Medical Experimentation, Forced Sterilization, and Revolutionary Doctors in Mexico City, 1932”

Following the armed phase of Mexico’s political revolution (1910-1917), the country undertook a cultural revolution that reached its peak during the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940). The revolutionary spirit apparently- reached the General Hospital in 1932, when medical students staged an armed coup and ousted the long-standing hospital director. Citing excessive numbers of “experimental” and “unnecessary” hysterectomies, the students claimed that clinical professors committed human rights abuses for their own economic and professional gain. During the conservative regime during 1928–1934, four factors contributeed to this crisis: (1) After the reorganization of the National University, university­–affiliated practitioners experienced little bureaucratic oversight. (2) The doctors in question received their professional training during the autocratic dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, when racialized medical experimentation was the norm. (3) The anti­-clerical federal climate led some officials to ignore forced sterilizations, which they saw as acts of defiance against the Catholic Church. (4) Many authorities viewed working class people as culturally backward, and promoted efforts to scientifically reform their behavior. This paper foregrounds letters of complaint from patients, which reveal that their appeals utilized post­revolutionary rhetoric about the state’s duty to protect citizens from injustice. At the same time, however, not all patients identified as victims: many women sought to control their fertility, and the operations became particularly contentious when women themselves requested sterilization.


Elizabeth O’Brien is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at UT Austin. Her dissertation examines Church, State, and popular struggles to control reproduction in Mexico between 1800 and 1936, with a particular emphasis on the cultural politics of surgical interventions. O’Brien’s work has been supported by grants from the Fulbright program, the National Science Foundation, the Foreign Language and Area Studies program, and the Tinker Foundation, as well as a University Continuing Fellowship. She holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MA from UT’s Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.