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Hippocratic bodies: Castas and temperament in the New Spain

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Resisting the predominant European view that imputed inferior physiological characteristics to inhabitants of the Americas, between the 17th and the early 19th centuries, Creole (criollo) savants developed an understanding of nature which emphasised not only the novelty and richness of the New World but its superiority and independence with respect to the Old one. Their interests, aims and resources, which diverged from those of their European counterparts, pushed criollo scientific enterprises into directions and results that opened an alternative space in the scientific field, and challenged the deeper strata of European theoretical consensus. Against this backdrop, Carlos López Beltrán considers the emergence of racial classification in the New Spain, with particular attention to the tensions and conundrums generated by the proliferation of what eventually came to be known as mestizaje, or racial admixture, in the region. The complex social and “biological” situation of the Sociedad de Castas in Spanish America, he argues, exposes the tensions and ruptures in western discourses about the natural.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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