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Elena Llinas


My dissertation examines two state hospitals for the insane in Mexico City, one for men and one for women, during the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period of rapid modernization and economic growth known as the Porfiriato (1876-1910). I argue that the hospitals for demented patients were instrumental in the advancement of Mexico’s medicine and science because the mentally ill were used to test new medical treatments, including pharmaceutical compounds, technological innovations, and new ideas about nutrition and diet. Moreover, Mexican doctors used the insane asylums to implement new methods of nursing, which helped to ignite the professionalization of the practice. In addition, I demonstrate that while Mexican doctors used European categories of insanity, their definitions did not always coincide with those coming from Europe. Instead, Mexican scientists and doctors appropriated Western pathological definitions to scrutinize local costumes and re-emphasize class and gender differences. Finally, this project goes beyond analyzing the science behind the mental hospitals and it explores the role of the family, visitors, nursing staff, patients themselves, and the hospital's material culture as they also shaped the development of Mexican psychiatry.


Latin America, History of Medicine, History of Psychiatry