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“Epidemics and Epistemologies: Experiencing Illness in Colonial Yucatán,”Ryan Kashanipour, University of Arizona
From decade-long outbreaks of smallpox and measles to recurrent eruptions of typhus and influenza, epidemic crises shaped the everyday experiences of the inhabitants of colonial Yucatán. So endemic were these diseases that Diego López de Cogolludo, the great chronicler of the seventeenth century, remarked that “it was rare for someone to even pass through the land and without falling sick with one epidemic disease or another.” Across the colonial period, from the sixteenth and into the nineteenth centuries, the region served as the mainland entry point for Old World diseases, which often came alongside ecological disasters, such as droughts and hurricanes. This paper address how indigenous populations of colonial Yucatán lived with and negotiated interwoven recurring crises of epidemic diseases, environmental disasters, and economic calamities. In particular, using Mayalanguage medical records from the Ayer collection (see below) detailing sixteenth and seventeenth century outbreaks, I examine how syndemic crises of disease and natural disasters shaped the nature and production of knowledge alongside colonial relations. Shared experiences with disease, I argue, allowed for cross-cultural interactions that positioned native peoples—supposedly subjugated populations—at the center of colonial systems of medicine that were rooted in indigenous ideas, traditions and practices.