Cover of Enlightened Immunity by Paul Ramírez
Enlightened Immunity
Mexico's Experiments with Disease Prevention in the Age of Reason
Paul Ramírez


August 2018
344 pages.

Cloth ISBN: 9781503604339



A history of epidemics and disease management in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Mexico, this book focuses on the multiethnic production of enlightened medical knowledge and traces shifts in how preventive treatment and public health programs were perceived and implemented by ordinary people. Paul Ramírez reconstructs the cultural, ritual, and political background of Mexico's early experiments with childhood vaccines, stepping back to consider how the public health response to epidemic disease was thoroughly enmeshed with religion and the church, the spread of Enlightenment ideas about medicine and the body, and the customs and healing practices of indigenous villages.

Ramírez argues that it was not only educated urban elites—doctors and men of science—whose response to outbreaks of disease mattered. Rather, the cast of protagonists crossed ethnic, gender, and class lines: local officials who decided if and how to execute plans that came from Mexico City, rural priests who influenced local practices, peasants and artisans who reckoned with the consequences of quarantine, and parents who decided if they would allow their children to be handed over to vaccinators. By following the public response to anti-contagion measures in colonial Mexico, Enlightened Immunity explores fundamental questions about trust, uncertainty, and the role of religion in a moment of medical discovery and innovation.

About the author

Paul Ramírez is Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University.

"Enlightened Immunity is the sort of book that should shape our field: a deeply researched, wholly original, and well-executed study with something important to say. Ramírez deftly illuminates multiple contexts that shaped responses to epidemic disease in New Spain, including Atlantic communities of learning, political networks, and local knowledge."

—Karen Melvin, Bates College

"In rich and imaginative prose, Enlightened Immunity immerses readers in the highly mediated world of preventive health in late colonial Mexico, with its smells of candle wax in processions, the sound of trumpets heralding the arrival of vaccine, the cookies and coins given the poor to entice their cooperation, the rumors and political rituals, indigenous vaccinators, barbers and clerics. This is a tour de force—a great read with great insight into the history of inoculation and vaccination, the immense complexities of suffering in late colonial Mexico, and the confusion and contradictions of the ordinary and extraordinary attempts to prevent it."

—Steven Palmer, University of Windsor