Jews and Early Modern Medicine in the Atlantic World

Jews and Early Modern Medicine in the Atlantic World (JEMMAW) is a digital humanities database aimed at highlighting the circulation of medical knowledge among crypto-Jewish medical practitioners in the Spanish viceroyalties.


Historical Context:

Expulsions:

Early sixteenth-century decrees issued by Ferdinand of Aragon and Juana of Castile restricted Jews, Muslims, converts from either faith, and their children from travelling to Castile’s newly claimed territories.[1] These decree followed ordinances of either expulsion or forced conversion in Spain and Portugal in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.[2] In spite of attempts to prevent non-Christians from entering the territories of New Spain and Peru, the sheer size of viceregal territories coupled with roundabout means of traveling to the viceroyalties, facilitated clandestine emigration to the viceroyalties and thwarted the crown’s efforts to restrict or halt such travels.

La Gran Complicidad [The Great Plot]:

Early seventeenth-century tribunals of the Holy Office sought out and persecuted judaizing New Christians and crypto-Jews with fervor. After Portugal’s independence in 1640, Spanish officials feared an attempted coup, the ‘Great Plot’ to “subvert” the Spanish Crown.[3] The conspiracy theory resulted in widespread denunciation and prosecution of suspected judaizing activities, particularly in larger cities boasting tribunal seats. Still, these men engaged in the dynamic medical landscape of the early modern Atlantic, existing as both colonizers and as marginalized figures in the viceregal world. Each practitioner disseminated their educational knowledge, while also absorbing new practices encountered from Indigenous and Afro-descended practitioners.

Scope:

JEMMAW highlights medical practitioners who appeared before the Lima, New Spain, and or Cartagena tribunals of the Holy Office in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In no way do the practitioners herein represent all of the barbers, surgeons, and physicians who came before the Holy Office. Rather these are the practitioners for whom  most documentation exists.

Looking ahead:

Currently, JEMMAW focuses on the three Spanish tribunals of the Holy Office in Spanish America. Future research and collaboration will hopefully expand this database to the Lisbon tribunal and to others in Spain as well.

If you have practitioners from these or any other Atlantic tribunals that fit the parameters of this project and would like to collaborate, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We would love to have you!

historianhisey@gmail.com


[1] Karoline P. Cook, Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 56.

[2] Yirmiyahu Yovel, The Other Within: The Marranos, Split Identity and Emerging Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 181, 192-194.

[3] Paolo Bernardini and Norman Fiering, eds., The Jews and the Expansion of Europe to the West, 1450-1800 (New York: Bergham Books, 2001), 08–09.


This database is currently under construction and will be consistently in flux.

For questions contact Aimee Dávila Hisey: historianhisey@gmail.com