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Article

Brazil’s environmental history is often told as a tale of irresponsible exploitation and societal indifference. However, a broader perspective must consider the country’s diverging traditions of environmental thought and practice. During the 19th century, several naturalists wrote about the need for the rational use of natural resources, founding a conservationist cultural tradition. In the 1920s and 1930s, a group of naturalists from the National Museum produced various initiatives related to biological research and conservationism. In the 1950s, another group of scientists, agronomists, and journalists founded the National Foundation for the Protection of Nature, active until the 1980s. Although none of these initiatives led to a continuous environmental mobilization, they shaped public policies and cultural sensibilities toward the environment. Beginning in the 1970s, a new wave of environmentalism emerged in several cities—with protests against pollution, nuclear energy, and deforestation—but also in rural areas and forests, with demands from traditional peoples. Over the years, several conservation units and federal institutions were founded to implement environmental policies. Finally, the 1992 Earth Summit gave a special boost to these movements in an era of growing NGO activism. All of these fueled the feeling that environmental activism in Brazil had entered a golden age of dialogue and negotiation. Contrary to this view, some activists claimed that major political advances were still needed. Through the lens of socio-environmentalism and environmental justice, they denounced the displacement of communities by mining companies and the construction of hydroelectric plants, as well as the unhealthy and violent conditions faced by inhabitants of urban peripheries and areas where agribusiness was expanding. Skepticism toward gradual advances was warranted following the election of Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration threatened environmental legislation and institutions and prior achievements. To confront these perils, environmental activism must become a political, scientific, and cultural movement.

Article

Alexandra Minna Stern

Eugenics emerged in Latin America in the early 20th century on the intellectual foundations of 19th-century social Darwinism and positivism, and expanded in contexts influenced by Catholicism, nationalism, and transnational scientific exchange. Although the extent and objectives of eugenic policies, practices, and organizations varied across the region, Latin American eugenicists tended to subscribe to neo-Lamarckian principles of environmental modification, foreground puericulture or infant and maternal care, and support new techniques of human measurement associated with biotypology. Overall, eugenics in Latin America was less extreme than in Anglo and Nordic countries, rarely resulting in sanctioned policies of compulsory sterilization or euthanasia. It was an integral component of programs designed to combat infectious ailments, especially sexually transmitted diseases, and to ameliorate national health indicators. This overlap meant that eugenics sometimes was less visible as a stand-alone movement, and that its tenets were absorbed with little friction into public health and social welfare infrastructures and campaigns. At the same time, eugenic racism was expressed in calls for immigration restriction that reverberated across Latin America, most notably in the 1910s and 1920s. In retrospect, eugenics in Latin America contributed both to exclusionary policies that stigmatized certain social groups and to overarching campaigns for health and wellness that were backed by a diverse political spectrum that could include feminists, Socialists, and military leaders.

Article

Sterilization is an increasingly familiar phenomenon to women worldwide, and it is the most prevalent contraceptive practice in the world. Costa Rica, where the use of contraceptives is generalized, is among those countries in the world with the highest prevalence of female sterilization. In Costa Rica, female sterilization is homogeneously distributed, common among women living in rural and urban zones, as well as among those of diverse educational levels. In contrast to what one may expect given the legacy of abusive birth control practices in Latin America, the “problem” of sterilization in Costa Rica has been framed by women and doctors alike not as the “need” for curbing its use but rather as a “struggle” for broadening access as much as possible. Interestingly, current rates of sterilization have been attained in the absence of a formal program offering sterilization for contraceptive purposes and in the context of a very restrictive legal framework for its provision. It was not until July 1999 that sterilization for contraceptive purposes was explicitly regulated and permitted. Before that year, it was only so-called therapeutic sterilization that was legally allowed. Sterilization was supposed to be offered only for health reasons. Notably, successive moves intended precisely to broaden access to this surgery within the state hospital system have been realized through regulation formally restricting its provision. This sometimes counterintuitive history of the provision and regulation of sterilization in Costa Rica is analyzed.

Article

At the beginning of the 19th century, Colombian physicians thought of food as an essential factor in shaping human character and corporeality. Framed in a neo-Hippocratic system, health and racial differences were related not only to climate but also to the connection between food qualities and humoral fluids. For example, it was believed that the tendency to eat cold and moist food, as well as greasy substances, was one of the reasons why people in warm regions of Colombia were choleric, phlegmatic, and indolent. By midcentury, it was further argued that each regional type—a local racialized categorization based on geographic determinism—had certain diet habits and physiological characteristics that explained its character (sober, obedient, lazy, industrious, etc.), and that made this type “naturally” suitable for different kinds of work. During this period, the working population’s diet was not perceived to be a social problem requiring regulation, at least not by the government. In the midst of liberal reforms, the political elites were more focused on the economic and genetic integration (“whitening”) of highland Indians, and to a lesser extent blacks, than on producing a supposed “better race” through nourishment. But by the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, however, a new cultural framework that crossed the boundaries of thermodynamics, political economy, experimental physiology, and eugenics had begun to emerge in Colombia, converging in the social problem of nutrition. Centered on the analogy of the human body as a heat engine that transforms energy, local scientists began to conduct surveys of the eating habits of the “working classes,” analyses of the chemical and caloric composition of their foods, and studies on the metabolic characteristics of different regional populations. The results of these investigations were used to push the government to “restore the energies” of an impoverished population that was consistently thought to be weak and racially inferior, but capable of physiological and hereditable improvement. The cry of conservative elites for political and moral “regeneration” at the turn of the century also had a biological component—the optimization of the human motor. In the 1920s and 1930s, several campaigns and institutions were created for this social engineering, aimed at producing a modern, healthy, and industrious citizen. These campaigns gained special political force after the Liberal Party returned to power in 1930.

Article

Latin America and Latin Americans played a pivotal role in the 20th-century reconstruction of the global food system. This process is often remembered as the “Green Revolution,” a loaded phrase forged in the Cold War furnace of 1968 and referring to the adoption of high-yielding and disease-resistant seeds, petrochemical inputs, and mechanization in the agriculture of what was then referred to as the “Third World.” Here, the purpose is to introduce this process and the contentious politics of historical narrative that are inseparable from material stories about plant breeding. The Green Revolution in Latin America has a deeper and more complex history than the US-centric post–World War II narrative that long set the terms of the field. Beginning in the late 19th century, “creole pre-histories” set the intellectual and material principles for the later growth and internationalization of agricultural development work. An important shift occurred in the 1940s as the Rockefeller Foundation in particular turned to these preexisting sites of agricultural science and linked them via state partnerships in a new era of “coordinated country programs.” As the international Cold War matured, these country programs offered a network upon which to further globalize research agendas, in many cases disassociating agricultural research from the specific regional and political contexts at the sites of the scientific institutions. The resultant network of “placeless” agricultural research is perhaps best understood through the creation of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in 1971, which at its 50th anniversary in 2021 maintained three important research centers with Latin American addresses, oriented toward the goals and funding mechanics of agricultural science on a global scale.

Article

Agrarian societies in Latin America and the Caribbean have accomplished some of the most important and influential innovations in agricultural knowledge and practice in world history—both ancient and modern. These enabled indigenous civilizations in Mesoamerica and the Andes to attain some of the highest population densities and levels of cultural accomplishment of the premodern world. During the colonial era, produce from the region’s haciendas, plantations, and smallholdings provided an essential ecological underpinning for the development of the world’s first truly global networks of trade. From the 18th to the early 20th century, the transnational activities of agricultural improvers helped turn the region into one of the world’s primary exporters of agricultural commodities. This was one of the most tangible outcomes of the Enlightenment and early state-building efforts in the hemisphere. During the second half of the 20th century, the region provided a prime testing ground for input-intensive farming practices associated with the Green Revolution, which developed in close relation with import-substituting industrialization and technocratic forms of governance. The ability of farmers and ranchers to intensify production from the land using new cultivars, technologies, and techniques was critical to all of these accomplishments, but often occurred at the cost of irreversible environmental transformation and violent social conflict. Manure was often central to these histories of intensification because of its importance to the cycling of nutrients. The history of the extraction and use of guano as a fertilizer profoundly shaped the globalization of input-intensive agricultural practices around the globe, and exemplifies often-overlooked connectivities reaching across regional boundaries and between terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Article

Giuseppe M. Messina

In Argentina, the provision of health care is divided into three components: a highly decentralized universal public sector, funded from general taxation; a constellation of compulsory collective insurance schemes, financed by contributions withdrawn from the salaries of workers in the formal labor market; and a system of private insurance companies used primarily by the middle and upper classes. Regarding the delivery of medical services, the configuration is mixed, as the weight of public and private providers is roughly equal. This complex structure, which derives from the historical development of particular institutions, produces high costs and unequal access to care according to a person’s geographical residence, occupational status, and purchasing power.

Article

Since the early 20th century, Brazilian public health has focused on rural areas, the people living there, and the so-called endemic rural diseases that plague them. These diseases—particularly malaria, hookworm, and Chagas disease—were blamed for negatively affecting Brazilian identity (“a vast hospital”) and for impeding territorial integration and national progress. For reformist medical and intellectual elites, health and educational public policies could “save” the diseased, starving, and illiterate rural populations and also ensure Brazil’s entry into the “civilized world.” In the mid-20th century, public health once again secured a place on the Brazilian political agenda, which was associated with the intense debates about development in Brazil in conjunction with democratization following World War II (1945–1964). In particular, debate centered on the paths to be followed (state or market; nationalization or internationalization) and on the obstacles to overcoming underdevelopment. A basic consensus emerged that development was urgent and should be pursued through modernization and industrialization. In 1945, Brazil remained an agrarian country, with 70 percent of the rural population and a significant part of the economy still dependent on agricultural production. However, associated with urbanization, beginning in the 1930s, the Brazilian government implemented policies aimed at industrialization and the social protection of organized urban workers, with the latter entailing a stratified system of social security and health and social assistance. Public health policies and professionals continued to address the rural population, which had been excluded from social protection laws. The political and social exclusion of this population did not change significantly under the Oligarchic Republic (1889–1930) or during Getúlio Vargas’s first period in office (1930–1945). The overall challenge remained similar to the one confronting the government at the beginning of the century—but it now fell under the umbrella of developmentalism, both as an ideology and as a modernization program. Economic development was perceived, on the one hand, as driving improvements in living conditions and income in the rural areas. This entailed stopping migration to large urban centers, which was considered one of the great national problems in the 1950s. On the other hand, disease control and even campaigns to eradicate “endemic rural diseases” aimed to facilitate the incorporation of sanitized areas in agricultural modernization projects and to support the building of infrastructure for development. Development also aimed to transform the inhabitants of rural Brazil into agricultural workers or small farmers. During the Cold War and the anti-Communism campaign, the government sought to mitigate the revolutionary potential of the Brazilian countryside through social assistance and public health programs. Health constituted an important part of the development project and was integrated into Brazil’s international health and international relations policies. In the Juscelino Kubitschek administration (1956–1961) a national program to control endemic rural diseases was created as part of a broader development project, including national integration efforts and the construction of a new federal capital in central Brazil (Brasilia). The country waged its malaria control campaign in conjunction with the Global Malaria Eradication Program of the World Health Organization (WHO) and, to receive financial resources, an agreement was signed with the International Cooperation Agency (ICA). In 1957 malaria eradication became part of US foreign policy aimed at containing Communism. The Malaria Eradication Campaign (CEM, 1958–1970) marked the largest endeavor undertaken by Brazilian public health in this period and can be considered a synthesis of this linkage between development and health. Given its centralized, vertical, and technobureaucratic model, this project failed to take into account structural obstacles to development, a fact denounced by progressive doctors and intellectuals. Despite national and international efforts and advances in terms of decreasing number of cases and a decline in morbidity and mortality since the 1990s, malaria remains a major public health problem in the Amazon region.

Article

Following independence in the early 19th century Argentina went through decades of internal political and social turmoil. During this time the sciences traversed a dormant period and operated at the amateur level, such as through collectors and hobbyists. Beginning in the 1850s and continuing through the 1860s, many of Argentina’s internal problems eroded. The newly consolidated state undertook a process of extending its influence throughout the nation and fostering a closer and collaborative association with the nation’s interior to foster national unity. Under the banner of ‘civilization, order, and progress’, ruling liberal elites looked for ways to herald social and economic development. The sciences, through practice and institutionalized places, played a critical role for the state. By the beginning of the 20th century, the state had invested in scientific ventures into Patagonia and other areas of the nation to collect and catalogue materials, such as fossils and plants, and had supported the construction of museums to display scientific collections to the public as a means to develop a national identity. Beyond museums and naturalists, the state financed the maturation of the medical sciences to respond to the waves of epidemic diseases that assaulted the nation and the numerous regional endemic diseases that elites presented as evidence of underdevelopment, such as malaria in the northwest and recurrent cholera and smallpox outbreaks throughout the nation. Fields such as meteorology and engineering provided the physical infrastructure to further integrate the nation, through railroads, the standardization of national time, and a space for local Argentine scientific actors to establish national and international careers. With the increased professionalization of numerous scientific fields, the bond between the state and scientists matured. Many used this as a platform to enter into politics, such as Eduardo Wilde, hygienist and Minister of the Interior. Others provided their services to the state to form public policy, as happened for example with the work of psychiatrists, criminologists, engineers, and hygienists. Collectively, these fields demonstrated that the sciences witnessed significant growth into the first quarter of the 20th century.

Article

In 2019, the Institute of Geology celebrated its ninetieth anniversary as part of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). The main establishment in Mexico for the teaching, research, and dissemination of the geological sciences, it is an institution with a long history and a great scientific legacy. It dates back to the 19th century, since it is the heir to the Geological Institute of Mexico (1888), the first institute in the Mexican republic to carry out research in the geological sciences and to study the country’s territory from three points of view: scientific, technical, and industrial. It was conceived by the mining engineer Antonio del Castillo (1820–1895) to meet the need to scientifically explore the country’s latent mineral wealth, for which reason its functions included: mapping regions whose lithology and resources were unknown, providing specialized services to the public—the analysis and classification of water, rocks, land, fossils, minerals, and oil—and creating a geological and paleontological museum for the nation. From 1888 to 1917, the institution was part of the Ministry of Development, Colonization, Industry, and Commerce (Ministerio de Fomento, Colonización, Industria y Comercio). In 1917, the Venustiano Carranza administration promulgated a new constitution, reformed governmental administration, and created the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Labor (Secretaría de Industria, Comercio y Trabajo), which was responsible for all questions related to industries such as mining and oil. Although it lapsed somewhat between 1917 and 1929, during the armed conflict of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), the Institute of Geology of Mexico was assigned to the Department of Geological Studies and Explorations, with the task of carrying out applied science through the study of new and old mining areas and the location of aquifers. A new scenario emerged in 1929 when the administration of President Emilio Portes Gil enacted the Organic Law of the National University, granting the latter university autonomy, which also allowed institutions of a scientific nature such as the National Astronomical Observatory, the National Library, the Department of Biological Studies, and the National Geological Institute to carry out research as one of their substantive activities. On November 16, 1929, the former Department of Geological Studies and Explorations was incorporated in the most important scholarly institution of Mexico under the name of the Institute of Geology.

Article

Christopher R. Boyer

Human interaction with nature has shaped Latin American ecology and society ever since the first people arrived in the Americas more than fifteen millennia ago. Ancient Native Americans made use of the region’s immense biological diversity and likely contributed to a massive extinction of large animals at the end of the last ice age. Over the ensuing centuries, their descendants took cautious steps to shape the landscape to suit their needs. Colonialism ruptured this process of ecological and social co-evolution, as Europeans conquered the Americas, bringing with them new plants, animals, and diseases as well as a profit motive that gave rise to two economies that further reshaped the environment: the sugar plantation complex and silver mining/hacienda complex. These socio-environmental structures foretold the dynamic of resource extraction and reliance on a single major export destined to more developed countries that characterized most Latin American economies and ecologies after independence. Although most nations sought to break away from this neo-colonial syndrome during the 20th century, they typically did so by increased reliance on agro-industry and the extraction of minerals and petroleum, all of which came at a predictably high ecological cost. At the same time, calls for conservation of resources and biodiversity began to be heard. By the turn of the 21st century, scientists, urbanites, and rural people had become increasingly concerned about the costs of economic “development” and alternative ways of coexisting with nature.

Article

Paola Sesia

Today, the death of women during pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum is considered simultaneously a public health, social inequality, and gender discrimination problem. In Mexico, approximately one thousand women die each year during pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum or from an unsafe abortion, experiencing a premature and sudden death in the midst of their most productive years, often with lasting consequences for their families and surviving children. As elsewhere, the great majority of these deaths would not have occurred if women had had prompt and unlimited access to quality emergency obstetric care, as well as easy access to contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Most deaths are related to the substandard quality of available maternal healthcare services; services that are provided for free to most Mexican women in an overly saturated and underfunded public health system that also tends to overmedicalize and pathologize normal births. Their prematurity and abruptness, their occurrence in the process of giving life, the fact that these deaths exclusively affect women, and their avoidable nature make maternal mortality unacceptable in today’s social, political, and ethical arenas. From an historical perspective, deaths in childbirth were much more common in past centuries than today; these deaths were considered inevitable and were accepted as natural occurrences until the late 19th century. However, surrounding rituals, the meaning attached to these deaths, related notions of womanhood and motherhood, and practices to prevent or avoid them, underwent changes according to broader sociocultural, political and religious transformations from Pre-Hispanic times to the 20th century. As elsewhere, in Mexico maternal deaths declined considerably in the 1930s–1950s with the discovery of penicillin and the concomitant decline of puerperal fever; they reached a plateau in the 1960s and 1970s and began to slowly decline again in the 1980s–1990s with an even steeper decrease after the signature of the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals in the year 2000; time when the reduction of maternal mortality became one of eight high-priority global public policy objectives, closely monitored by UN bodies. Maternal deaths are a reflection of ingrained multiple social inequalities that characterize Mexican society at large; poor, rural, marginalized and Indigenous pregnant women face a 2–10 times higher risk of dying than the rest of Mexican women, because their access to contraception and to prompt and high quality obstetric emergency care is more limited. Today, research in the field of maternal mortality etiology, measurement and reduction includes the call for women-centered respectful maternal care, the elimination of discrimination in the provision of obstetric services and the application of a human rights perspective to health policies, programs, and care.

Article

Nicole L. Pacino

During the pre-Columbian and colonial periods, Andean cosmological understandings shaped indigenous approaches to maternal health. Women typically gave birth at home with the assistance of a midwife (also called a partera or comadrona in Spanish). Birthing and post-partum care relied on local herbal remedies and followed specific social rituals. Women drank teas derived from anise or coca during the labor process, gave birth in a squatting position (toward Mother Earth, or Pachamama), and drank sheep soup after labor to replenish strength and warm the body. Rooms were kept dark because the common perception was that bright light injured newborn babies’ eyes. After labor, families buried or otherwise disposed of the placenta to keep the baby and mother healthy and facilitate lactation, as per Andean tradition. Changes in maternal health rituals began in the 18th century, as colonial rule became more consolidated. The rise of a distinct medical profession and government interest in population growth gradually shifted responsibility for maternal health from the Catholic Church and charitable organizations to the state. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the growing power and authority of the state and the medical profession led doctors and urban-based reformers to attempt to change long-standing Andean birthing practices, which they considered archaic and unsanitary. These reforms emerged from a desire to reduce infant mortality rates and to replace traditional healers with medical professionals who were trained, licensed, and regulated by the state. As reformers looked to replace Andean maternal health and healing practices with new scientific understandings of the female body and birthing process, they also worked to discredit and displace midwives’ knowledge and practices. In particular, they encouraged women to give birth in newly constructed hospitals and to seek the guidance of medical professionals, like obstetricians. However, these reforms met with limited success. In the Andes today, midwives still attend to roughly 50 percent of all births, and in some remote areas, the figure is as high as 90 percent. It is also more common today to see the merging of biomedical and ritual practices to increase women’s access to and acceptance of health services and to reduce overall mortality rates.

Article

In Brazil, the national public health apparatus became one of the most agile and expansive regulatory mechanisms of control and care during the 19th and early 20th centuries. As Brazilian doctors and social thinkers made public health central to their ideas of modernizing the nation, they simultaneously sought to challenge the notion that Brazil’s sociocultural and racial-ethnic diversity was an insurmountable obstacle to modernization. They conceived of public health as something greater than the sum of its parts, seeing it is as the best prescription for national unity and fundamental to the project of nation-building, not only as a series of practices, outcomes, and beliefs. Proto-psychiatrists, recognizing the ideological momentum and bureaucratic strength of public health, seized upon it as a means and a rationale to ground their therapeutic ideas and treatments. Their characterization of the indigent mentally ill on city streets in Rio de Janeiro as a public health issue politicized both the mentally ill and mental illness as subjects of public intervention. Fashioning themselves as the leading experts in this effort, they garnered the support of state officials and other doctors to create a series of public institutions, organizations, and other measures to treat the mentally ill as unitary intersections of psychiatry and public health. While Brazilian psychiatrists during the late 19th and 20th centuries surely went into private practice, professional psychiatry in Rio as a field turned toward returning irrational minds to reason and “civilizing” the publicly unwell—dual and deeply complex goals of the profession. Public health offered them a preexisting muscular infrastructure through which to practice their medical knowledge and, in so doing, allowed them to expand and legitimize their professional reach. So, under the auspices of an enterprising psychiatric field, mental health largely became public health.

Article

Myrna Santiago

Before there was Mexico, there was oil. Millennia of organic matter that collapsed and liquefied into fossil fuel rested deep underground and underwater along the half-moon territorial formation that 19th-century geographers named the Mexican Gulf. Hidden by the lush tropical rainforests, marshes, and mangroves that occupied the landscape from the Pánuco River on the border between modern day Tamaulipas and Veracruz and the Bay of Campeche on the South, the oil seeped to the surface in small ponds, sometimes blackening the waters of streams and lagoons from Tabasco to the Huasteca. The human communities who inhabited that part of the globe thousands of years later knew about and utilized nature’s oozing sticky black tar. The Olmec, who flourished in southern Veracruz from 1200 to 400 bce, collected the viscous liquid. They used it to seal canoes and aqueducts, to paint and decorate clay figurines and knife handles, to pave the floors of their homes, and to glue materials. There is evidence they boiled and cooked the petroleum for better usage, a process that would become known as refining in the 19th century. At the northern end of the rainforest, the region called the Huasteca, the Teenek also gathered the syrupy fluid from its natural springs into the 15th century and used it in ways similar to the Olmec of yesteryear: as sealant for canoes, paint for pottery, perfume, gum for chewing and teeth cleaning, illuminant for torches, and aromatic incense for religious ceremonies. Yet it was the Aztec who gave petroleum the native name that survives to this day, chapopote, the hispanicized version of tzaucpopochtli, meaning fragrant (popochtli) glue (tzauctli). As humans did globally, those who lived with chapopoteras utilized what nature created and transformed it according to their cultural needs and inventions. There is no evidence that anyone living along the coastal range of the Gulf of Mexico in the pre-Columbian era went beyond collecting the oil that percolated from the subsoil naturally. In other words, there is no evidence of extraction of petroleum by indigenous people. Oil extraction, and its environmental consequences, is a 20th-century story, layered over a 15th-century ecological revolution.

Article

With its diverse ecological zones and varied public health threats that ranged from lowland epidemic to highland endemic diseases, Central America is a challenging place to practice healthcare. In addition to topography and geography, social relations have also influenced the dynamic, contested, and negotiated process of healthcare in developing countries. Adversarial relations among indigenous people, African immigrants and slaves, and the state marked the region’s pasts. After the Spanish conquest established racist structures that favored Hispanic citizens by instituting forced labor mechanisms and limiting access to political, economic, and social power, colonists extracted land and labor from indigenous communities. Although most countries assumed that adopting Hispanic customs would improve the lives of indigenous and Afro-Central Americans, many elites felt such workers’ health was important only insofar as it did not impede their ability to labor. Characterized by holistic approaches to health that took into account psychological, emotional, and physical well-being, indigenous and other traditional healing practices flourished even after states embraced the fields of bacteriology and parasitology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Primarily served by curanderos, midwives, bonesetters, and other traditional healers for generations, some remote rural communities were isolated from schooled medicine and its practitioners. In other rural communities and cities, hybrid healthcare offered patients palatable and efficacious healing options. As doctors became politicians and states embraced science to modernize their nations, politics and public health became inextricably linked. Often with the assistance of multinational companies and nongovernmental organizations, governments deployed scientific medicine and public health campaigns to undergird assimilationist projects. Based on assumptions that traditional medicine was impotent and indigenous people and African descendants were vectors of disease, public health campaigns often discounted, rejected, or persecuted the healing practices of such peoples. When authorities embraced rather than problematized the confluences of race and health, they enjoyed some success. Yet neither authoritarian nor democratic governments could establish a medical monopoly.

Article

Although their history can be traced further back to the study of heredity, variability, and evolution at the beginnings of the 20th century, studies on the genetic structure and ancestry of human populations became important at the end of World War II. From 1950 onward, the tools and practices of human genetics were systematically used to attack global health problems with the support of international health organizations and the founding of local institutions that extended these practices, thus contributing to global knowledge. These developments were not an exception for Mexican physicians and human geneticists in the Cold War years. The first studies, which appeared in the 1940s, reflect the emerging model of human genetics in clinical practice and in scientific research in postwar Mexico. Studies on the distribution of blood groups as well as on variant forms of hemoglobin in indigenous populations paved the way for long-term research programs on the characterization of Mexican indigenous populations. Research groups were formed at the Ministry of Health, the National Commission of Nuclear Energy, and the Mexican Social Security Institute in the 1960s. The key actors in this narrative were Rubén Lisker, Alfonso León de Garay, and Salvador Armendares. They consolidated solid communities in the fields of population and human genetics. For Lisker, the long-term effort to carry out research on indigenous populations in order to provide insights into the biological history of the human species, disease patterns, and biological relationships among populations was of particular interest. Alfonso León de Garay was interested in studying human and Drosophila populations, but in a completely different context, namely at the intersection of studies on nuclear energy and its effects on human populations as a result of World War II, with the life sciences, particularly genetics and radiobiology. In parallel, the study of chromosomes on a large scale using newly experimental techniques introduced by Salvador Armendares in Mexico in 1960 allowed researchers to tackle child malnutrition and health problems caused by Down and Turner syndromes. The history of population studies and genetics during the Cold War in Mexico (1945–1970s) shows how the Mexican human geneticists of the mid-20th century mobilized scientific resources and laboratory practices in the context of international trends marked by WWII, and national priorities owing to the construction movement of postrevolutionary Mexican governments. These research programs were not limited to collaborations between research laboratories but were developed within the institutional and political framework marked at the international level by the postwar period and at the national level by the construction of the modern Mexican state.

Article

In Mexico, there were hospitals for the “demented” from the early years of the Spanish colony. It was not until the second half of the 19th century, however, that the first physicians interested in alterations of the brain published articles on the etiology, symptomatology, and treatment of mental illnesses. Within a larger context of health reforms launched during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911), known as the Porfiriato, healthcare officials decided to close the hospitals for the insane and construct a modern institution where psychiatry could grow as a discipline and where patients could be treated using scientific methods. Furthermore, along with the economic and cultural development that took place during the Porfiriato, there was an increase in the number of patients admitted to hospitals for the insane, while at the same time the number of doctors interested in the clinical treatment of mental illnesses increased, as well. The officials’ decision became a reality on September 1, 1910—just two months before the Revolution broke out—when La Castañeda General Asylum was opened. It was a complex of twenty-four buildings in the town of Mixcoac. In addition to being an institution for patient care, it was also where the first generations of Mexican psychiatrists and neurologists were trained. As early as the 1930s, the asylum began to have problems with overcrowding, unhealthy conditions, and deterioration of the facilities. The doctors there repeatedly called for the patient care system to be restructured. In 1944, a psychiatric reform called the “Castañeda Operation” began, seeking to decentralize psychiatric care and to use agricultural work as a therapeutic tool. The result was the creation of seven new hospitals and the permanent closure of the asylum in 1968. Recent historiography on psychiatry from its beginnings in the Porfiriato to the time of that reform have shown that it was a period marked by the rise and fall of a utopian dream, that of the therapeutic effectiveness of psychiatric internment. It was a transition from the single, large asylum in the capital city to a network of hospitals that relied on outpatient care, early detection, and medication as a way to dismantle the asylum model. As a result, La Castañeda General Asylum has held a privileged place in historical study as the stage for the beginning, the development, and the consolidation of Mexican psychiatry.

Article

The prevention of communicable diseases, the containment of epidemic disorders, and the design of programs and the implementation of public health policies went through important transformations in Mexico, as in other Latin American nations, between the final decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. During that period not only did the advances in medical science make possible the identification and containment of numerous contagious diseases; it was also a time when the consolidation of formal medical institutions and their interaction with both national and international actors contributed to shape the definitions and solutions of public health problems. Disease prevention strategies were influenced by medical, scientific, and technical innovations and by the political values and commitments of the period, and Mexico experienced profound and far-reaching political, economic, and social transformations: the apogee, crisis, and downfall of the long Porfirio Díaz regime (1876–1910), the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), and the period of national reconstruction (1920–1940). Thus, during the period under consideration, and alongside the consolidation of an official medical apparatus as an integral part of public power, the promotion of public health became a crucial element to reinforce the political unification and the social and economic strength of the country.

Article

Marcos Chor Maio, Robert Wegner, and Vanderlei Sebastião de Souza

Race is a fundamental theme in the sciences and social thought of 20th-century Brazil. The republican regime, inaugurated in the country in 1889, was already born troubled by questions concerning the viability of the nation, which, from the viewpoint of European scientific theories on race, was doomed to fail due to the high contingent of black and indigenous people, and its racial mixture. The solution proposed by the country’s scientific and political elites was characteristically the theory of whitening, which, without breaking completely from scientific racism, established its own path for nation building. The 1910s were marked by the growth of the sanitarist movement led by the medical elite, the country’s leading scientific community at the time, which shifted the explanation for the country’s ills from its racial constitution to parasitic diseases. The eugenics movement emerged in Brazil closely connected to the sanitarist movement and was dominated in the 1920s by a Lamarckian conception of heredity, seeking to improve the “Brazilian race” through social medicine. This eugenics framework did not signify the absence of more racial interventionist proposals, however, such as the sterilization of the “unfit” and immigration restrictions. The latter proposition acquired the force of law under the 1934 Constitution and was maintained under the 1937 Constitution, which lasted throughout the Estado Novo. Nevertheless, the first Vargas government (1930–1945) invested in strengthening the image of a country with harmonious race relations and the identity of the Brazilian as miscegenated, an idea sustained by the social thought and intellectual production of the period. Following the end of the Estado Novo dictatorship and the Second World War, Brazil became a field for research on race relations promoted by UNESCO. The project’s starting point was the notion that the country could provide an example of harmonious race relations for a world traumatized by war and the Holocaust. The research findings, though, pointed to the existence of racial prejudice and discrimination. From the 1950s, research in the social sciences and the black movement deepened the investigation and the denunciation of racial inequalities in Brazil. Concurrently, research in the genetics of human populations insisted that the Brazilian population was characterized by racial mixture and biological diversity. After the 1970s, during the military dictatorship still, the black movement emphasized negritude as an identity and denounced racial democracy as a myth that concealed inequality. In this context, the sociology of race relations began to affirm race as one of the determinant variables of class structure in Brazil. In the 1990s, some sectors of the black movement and the social sciences asserted that antiracism should strengthen race as an identity and the black/white polarization. At the same time, in dialogue with the tradition of social thought and with modern research on the human genome, other intellectuals highlighted miscegenation as characteristic of the Brazilian population and advanced the need to combat prejudice and discrimination. The clashes of the 20th century eventually resulted in affirmative actions and quota policies being implemented by the Brazilian government from the 2000s.