Next Seminar Meeting: Pablo Gomez

Our next Seminar meeting will be held on Friday, December 9, 2:00pm– 4:00pm in Room C203 at the CUNY Graduate Center. We will be discussing:

“Afro-Atlantic Empiricism and the Circulation of Bodily Knowledge in the Seventeenth Century Spanish Caribbean” by Professor Pablo F Gomez

Please read the pre-circulated paper (available here until the end of December and for the full year to registered seminar participants at The Center for the Humanities’ website.)

Our discussant for this paper will be Professor Tamara Walker, Department of History, University of Pennsylvania.  Please see below for an abstract and bio.


This paper explores the routes followed by ideas and rites about the body emerging in seventeenth century black Atlantic Caribbean locales like Cartagena de Indias and Havana. Data related to the circulation of bodily knowledge in the Spanish Caribbean evinces a largely ignored process in which black ritual practitioners experimented with new materials and techne they found in the Americas and transmitted a corpus of “bodily knowledge” during the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Perambulating and interconnected black health practitioners, using oral tradition, performance, and material culture, functioned as the primordial links for the diffusion of black ideas about corporeality in the Spanish Caribbean. They shared information across ethnic lines and occupations in Spanish Caribbean locales using social practices traceable to Sub-Saharan African traditions. Within their epistemological realms, these healers probed the Caribbean landscape for medical products and explored the particular socio- cultural make up of the places where they would deploy their practices. As their European counterparts, seventeenth century Spanish Caribbean ritual practitioners of African origin –– coming from Europe and Africa or born in the New World –– engaged in procedural, conceptual, material, and social practices that had the specific objective of inquiring about the human body . Through these practices Caribbean black communities entered a larger conversation about the very nature of knowledge in the early modern era. For all the cries about their supposed primitivism and inferiority, black ritual specialists were at the forefront of the production of empirical knowledge related to the body.


Pablo Gomez PhD, MD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Geography at Texas Christian University. He works on the history of medicine and corporeality in the early modern African and Iberian Atlantic worlds. For the 2011-12 academic year Dr. Gomez is on leave on a Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship at the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown University working on his manuscript Imagining Atlantic Bodies: Health, Illness, and Death in the Early Modern African-Spanish Caribbean.