3786 - Medical Crossroads: Latin America

Soon after their arrival in the New World, the Spanish learned about a potentially greater source of wealth than that of the gold and spices they were looking for: New World medicines and foods, primarily in the form of plants and animals. Conversely, the Spanish also introduced Old World foods and medicines, as well as diseases, to the New World.  As Alfred Crosby, William McNeill, and others have argued, these exchanges have had profound and continuing impact on world populations in positive and negative ways. Latin America served as the principal crossroads for all of these exchanges.  

While diseases and foods have received considerable attention in the historical literature, particularly their demographic impacts, exchanges of medical knowledge, treatments, and medicines, notably those derived from plants, are less well-known. Yet very soon after the Spanish encountered the islands of the Bahamas and Caribbean , they began to understand their biological potential as they learned from native peoples and from observations made by priests and others of the new lands they were exploring and conquering. Following the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English conquerors likewise embarked on the search for new medicinal remedies. That process continues even today as pharmaceutical companies, mostly from the United States and Europe, seek to mine the rainforests of Middle and South America for sources of new drugs. Such efforts raise important economic and political questions as peoples, countries, and companies spar over who owns the rights to these natural resources and who should benefit from their considerable potential economic benefit. Latin America, later joined by the rest of the Americas , has since 1492 been at the center of the exchange process and the debates it engenders.  

This paper will begin to assess the impact of this medicinal exchange focusing largely on the historical impact of medicinal plants from Latin America.

Palabras claves: Medical Exchanges, Medicinal Plants, Drugs, Disease

Autores: Thompson, Angela (East Carolina University, Ud States of Am / USA)


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