Health and Healing — Boyle
By Margaret Boyle | Published on November 10, 2021
We initiated the book within a US academic context, and the rising consumer consciousness around “wellness” products and marketing. To what degree can individual practices shape health outcomes? I also mention in my acknowledgments the significant role my 2017 course at Bowdoin had at shaping this book project. As I sought to provide an overview of health and healing in the Iberian-Atlantic world, we connected with readings by Sarah Owens, Pablo Gómez, Alisha Rankin – and of course all of these scholars have had pivotal roles in shaping this book. The ten essays in this book are divided into three parts, focused around: treatment models, representations of health, and the intersection of faith & illness.
My own essay [“staging women’s healing: theory and practice”] falls into this section on representing health, and talks about the comedia as a genre and the reflexive relationship between fiction and readers, audience and actors, health practices and practitioners. I focus on a series of plays by Tirso de Molina including El amor médico, as well as representations of health and illness in Don Quixote. It also addresses the topic of women’s medical recipes as testimony to practice and experimentation as well as the importance of the genre overall. This corner of my essay is what led me to a Fulbright in Valéncia at the start of 2020 at the Instituto López Piñero for the history of science and medicine, and the start of the archival collecting for future projects. And of course we weren’t able to predict that we would leave Spain at the end of March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout this project, Sarah and I have been committed to the idea that engagement with early modern health experiences and practices allows contemporary readers to better engage with their current historical moment. At the time of writing, we engaged directly with Rita Charon’s 2018 NEH lecture “How the Humanities Have What Medicine Needs”. Of course, if we were to reissue the book just a few months later, I’d double down on the relevance in the moment we are all experiencing, specifically what a feminist approach to the cultural history of medicine means during the realities of our “twin pandemics”. Living with Covid-19 and structural racism has produced an upswell of global activism, inspiring and energizing—massive protests around the world demanding change—but also horrifying in the constant repetition and grappling with violence and suffering: George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, racial health inequities and the physical toll for communities of color unable to access needed medical treatment. And so, when we talk about early modern health in Spain and Latin America, we are engaging in needed cross-cultural and cross-temporal conversations that have the significance to shape tour own curricular experiences of the relationship between humanities and science broadly, and also our personal experience of health experiences past and futures, and the ever exciting exploration of how the intersection between scholarship and activism has the potential to improve health outcomes in our communities.