From Body to Community: Venereal Disease and Society in Baroque Spain

From Body to Community: Venereal Disease and Society in Baroque Spain

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By Cristian Berco
Toronto Iberic
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2016
World Rights
288 Pages
ISBN 9781442649620
Published Mar 2016
Online discount: 25%
 $65.00    $48.75
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442620698
Published Apr 2016
Online discount: 25%
Full purchase $65.00

Known in early modern Europe by many names – the French Disease, the Bubas, and, eventually, syphilis – the Great Pox was a chronic disease that carried the stigma of sexuality and produced a slow and painful death. The main institution which treated it, the pox hospital, has come down to us as a stench-filled and overcrowded place that sought to treat the body and reform the soul.

Using the sole surviving admissions book for Toledo, Spain’s Hospital de Santiago, Cristian Berco reconstructs the lives of men and women afflicted with the pox by tracing their experiences before, during, and after their hospitalization. Through an innovative combination of medical, institutional, and notarial sources, he explores the physical and social lives of the patients. What were the social repercussions of living with a shameful disease? What did living with this chronic illness mean for careers and networks, love and families, and everyday relationships? From Body to Community is a textured analysis at once touched by the illness but not solely defined by it.

Cristian Berco is the Canada Research Chair in Social and Cultural Difference and a professor in the Department of History at Bishop’s University.



Chapter 1. Getting Sick: Signs, Sin, and Social Worth

Chapter 2. Encounters of the Third Kind: Medical Assumptions and Patients

Chapter 3. Melting Pot: The Hospital de Santiago’s Patients

Chapter 4. Safeguarding Reputation: Gender, Hospitalization, and Textiles

Chapter 5. Between Body and Soul: Treatment at the Hospital de Santiago

Chapter 6. Getting Hitched: Pox, Sexuality and Marriage

Chapter 7. Making Ends Meet: Disease, Work, and Family

Chapter 8. Playing Nice with Others: Pox and Community


From Body to Community is a fresh, well-written, and approachable social history of disease, gender, and social relations in early modern Toledo. Berco’s sensitivity and empathy make his writing on the experience of undergoing treatment at a syphilis hospital the most vivid history of syphilis I have read.”

Laura J. McGough, author of 'Gender, Sexuality, and Syphilis in Early Modern Venice'

“Through his thorough reading of the only extant patient admissions book for Toledo’s syphilis hospital, Berco provides an insider’s view of the procedures, policies, and ideologies that shaped syphilitics’ experiences during their internment. One can only be impressed by Berco’s ability to tease every shred of useful information from hospital records that are notoriously difficult to work with and frustratingly limited as a source.”

Michele Clouse, Department of History, Ohio University

‘Berco is to be commended for making such diligent and fruitful use of what are generally quite dry and often tedious records to scour… This book contributes an important perspective for both medical and social historians.’

Kristy Wilson Bowers, Canadian Journal of History vol 51:03:2016

‘Berco’s writing style is commendable as it avoids medical jargon…. Despite the subject matter, it was a fun to read suitable for advanced undergraduate and graduate student.’

Daniel A. Crew, Renaissance Quarterly vol 70:02:2017

‘Berco’s study provides an important contribution for any future comparative work. Scholars should benefit from and extend Berco’s innovative use of sources.’

Mona O’Brien, H-Histsex, H-Net Reviews August 2016

Wallace K. Ferguson Prize awarded by the Canadian Historical Association

(Canada) - Short-listed in 2017