Luna Nájera, Ph.D.
Research Associate Scholar
Senior Lector and Co-Director of the Spanish and Portuguese Language Program
Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Yale University

About the speaker
Luna Nájera is Senior Lector and Research Associate Scholar in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Yale University. Her specializations are Early Modern Spanish and Colonial Latin American literature, history, and culture. Her work has focused on early modern theories of war, state violence, gender, and surveillance. She has published articles on these subjects in various journals. In her current research project, Luna is turning her attention to Central American studies, from the vantage point of her prior work as an early modernist and colonialist. Drawing on assemblage theory, Latour’s actor network theory, and Jane Bennett’s vital materialist theory of distributive agency, she is pursing a study of Spanish and European interactions around disease and catastrophe in Guatemala, from 1519 to 1840. Click here for more information about her research.
agency and the force of Medicine in Early Modern Spanish medical treatises on plague

In Plague and Public Health in Early Modern Seville, Kristy Wilson Bowers offers an overview of the scholarship in studies of early modern plague. There she identifies two aspects that have been emphasized in the literature: the first is the “dramatic and terrifying aspect of the Black Death,” which focus on plague “as a disruptive historical factor, creating chaotic breakdown that continued in repeated cycles over” centuries. A second approach has focused on the “development of medical response in the century following the Black Death,” and investigations on how dealing with the plague laid the “groundwork for modern concepts and practices” in public health management (4-5).
The approach I take in the present study is closer to the latter insofar as it investigates what historians of science and technology refer to as “the force of science” and “how it is put together (and taken apart) in the everyday activities of scientists” (Callon, Law, and Rip 3). In my examination of writings about pestilence by physicians, I trace the groundwork that was laid for the concept of empirically-based medicine and its articulation in what sociologist Alain Touraine calls “strategic loci.” The term refers to “the hubs of change where developments are shaped and society is transformed” (Callon, Law, and Rip 4). In early modern Spain, strategic sites included monasteries, hospitals, the royal court, and publishing houses. Though my study is based on a limited sample,the writings on pestilence by physicians suggest that controversies surrounding the epidemic encouraged new human and nonhuman associations in the search for certainty through empirically-based medical practice.
Drawing from Actor Network Theory (ANT from hereon), I will identify the human and nonhuman actors and agencies that made up the emerging force of medicine as an empirically-based practice. In ANT, controversies and uncertainty are an ideal starting point for researches because “they provide the analyst with an essential resource to render the social connections traceable” (Latour 30). By following the actors, as Latour urges, the idea is to follow them “‘…in their weaving through things they have added to social skills so as to render more durable the constantly shifting interactions’” (68). Patronage relations or social ties are obviously important, but are in themselves too thin and weak of a foundation for the construction of the force of medicine. Thus, attention is given to the multiplicity of actors whose mobilization “allow power to last longer and expand further” (Latour 70).   

Primary texts
Andosilla Salazar, Valentín de. Libro en que se prueba con claridad el mal que corre por España ser nuevo y nunca visto. Mathías Mares: Pamplona, 1601.
Pérez, Antonio. Breve tratado de pestes con sus causas, señales y curación: y de lo que al presente corre por Madid, y sus contornos. Luis Sánchez: Madrid, 1597.
Porcell, Joan Tomás. Información de la peste de Zaragoza y praeservación contra peste en general. En casa de viuda de Bartholomé Nágera: Zaragoza,1565.
 texts that inform the presentation
Michel Callon, John Law, Arie Rip (Eds.), Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter

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