Madness and selfhood: creating ‘docile vassals’ in Bourbon Mexico
Madness in eighteenth-century Mexico was understood as both a medical and a religious or spiritual problem. This paper analyses two widely circulated medical publications to explore how madness became an important term for governing Spanish subjects in Mexico. The publications are Juan de Esteyneffer’s Anthology of all illnesses (Mexico, 1712) and Juan Manuel Venegas’s Compendium of Medicine or Medical Practice (Mexico, 1788). These texts are used to discuss how medical authors theorised madness to establish their profession as the authority on governance of the useful, orderly and moderate Enlightened subject.
The paper engages with scholarship on the history of selfhood to offer a new interpretation of medical perspectives on madness in Bourbon Mexico, the relationship between existing ideas of madness and changing scientific theories, and the importance of madness for regulating individuals and society. A key focus is the medicalisation of moral aspects of madness, such as the ‘passions of the soul’, which were traditionally subject to religious authority.
This paper is based on a wider project that uses the concept of madness to explore what it was to be human in Bourbon Mexico.