This paper will interrogate the practices of recording cases and circulating news of the postmortem cesarean operation in different parts of Spain's Empire, focusing in particular on the contrast between the abundance of both published and archival cases in New Spain and Guatemala and their relative absence in Peru and ... (Show more)
This paper will interrogate the practices of recording cases and circulating news of the postmortem cesarean operation in different parts of Spain's Empire, focusing in particular on the contrast between the abundance of both published and archival cases in New Spain and Guatemala and their relative absence in Peru and other parts of Spanish South America. Indeed, for Peru and La Plata I have found only one published case, and its absence from corresponding archival records raises questions about how the operation was perceived and valued in that region. In early 1795, El Mercurio Peruano, Lima's enlightenment newspaper, included an account of a cesarean operation carried out in December of the previous year on a woman killed by a lightning strike in Tucumán, La Plata. Her death was dutifully registered in a mundane fashion in Tucumán in a parish libro de difuntos and her name, Antonia, was included in the entry alongside information about her background and marital status. However, unlike similar entries elsewhere in Spain's empire, in the parish record no mention was made of the operation performed after her death to extract and baptize the fetus inside her. Similarly, there is no record of the fetus' baptism in Tucuman's libros de bautismos, despite the presence of a priest at the operation, who presumably administered the holy water.
Building off of this disjuncture between archival and published sources, my analysis will seek to explain priestly reluctance to record such cases, or perhaps even have the operation performed at all, in Spanish South America while considering the reasons why they recorded and actively publicized such cases elsewhere. In particular, I ask how such differences might correspond to forms of priestly self-fashioning as Enlightened thinkers engaged in the production of new knowledge, and how it reflected ideas of their duty toward their flocks. It is notable that priests often authored accounts of the operation's performance in New Spain and Guatemala, while in Peru and La Plata they penned just one medical-theological text about the operation and otherwise tended to focus on other topics of research, knowledge production, and debate. While the Mercurio Peruano article, published as a lurid tale to inform and tantalize a reading public in Lima that sought news from other parts of Spain's empire, reflected the intrusion of priestly and male authority into a setting that was traditionally the domain of women, it did not reflect a larger, ongoing practice of surgical experimentation or the circulation of ideas concerning how the operation might be employed and modified. Likewise, it left reason to doubt the claim that priests in Peru and La Plata had accepted the operation as one of their fundamental duties toward the unborn. (Show less)