Conquering Sickness


Conquering Sickness

Race, Health, and Colonization in the Texas Borderlands

Mark Allan Goldberg

Borderlands and Transcultural Studies Series

258 pages
6 photos, 4 figures, 1 map, index


February 2017


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

February 2017


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

February 2017


$60.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Published through the Early American Places initiative, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Conquering Sickness presents a comprehensive analysis of race, health, and colonization in a specific cross-cultural contact zone in the Texas borderlands between 1780 and 1861. Throughout this eighty-year period, ordinary health concerns shaped cross-cultural interactions during Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo colonization.

Historians have shown us that Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo American settlers in the contested borderlands read the environment to determine how to live healthy, productive lives. Colonizers similarly outlined a culture of healthy living by observing local Native and Mexican populations. For colonists, Texas residents’ so-called immorality—evidenced by their “indolence,” “uncleanliness,” and “sexual impropriety”—made them unhealthy. In the Spanish and Anglo cases, the state made efforts to reform Indians into healthy subjects by confining them in missions or on reservations. Colonists’ views of health were taken as proof of their own racial superiority, on the one hand, and of Native and Mexican inferiority, on the other, and justified the various waves of conquest. As in other colonial settings, however, the medical story of Texas colonization reveals colonial contradictions.

Mark Allan Goldberg analyzes how colonizing powers evaluated, incorporated, and discussed local remedies. Conquering Sickness reveals how health concerns influenced cross-cultural relations, negotiations, and different forms of state formation. Focusing on Texas, Goldberg examines the racialist thinking of the region in order to understand evolving concepts of health, race, and place in the nineteenth century borderlands.

Author Bio

Mark Allan Goldberg is an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston.


"Taking up a history with a number of diverse actors and epistemologies, Goldberg demonstrates the ways in which native, European, Mexican, and US health practices were deeply entangled, even as the framework of health was repeatedly marshalled in the service of conquest. Conquering Sickness . . . illuminates a cruel paradox: oppressed communities produced medical knowledge that buttressed both the authority of colonial medicine and the health of colonists, who in turn used ideologies of wellness to conquer and to oppress."—Michael J. Piellusch, Early American Literature

Conquering Sickness is, in many ways, a classic borderlands study, as Goldberg highlights how indigenous people circumvented, undermined, coopted, and rerouted the impulses and programs of imperial and national powers. Goldberg's analysis, however, is sharpest—and most significant—when he explores the connections between identity formation, everyday life, and discourses of healthy living. . . . Conquering Sickness offers an excellent blueprint for locating subaltern cultural markers among the conquerors and colonizers of the borderlands."—Paul Barba, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"Conquering Sickness makes a significant contribution to our understanding of health and colonization in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands."—Heather Sinclair, Pacific Historical Review

“A stunning achievement, Conquering Sickness tells a compelling multiethnic and transnational story about culture and power rooted in the everyday lives of people in Texas.”—John Mckiernan-Gonzalez, associate professor at Texas State University and author of  Fevered Measures: Public Health and Race at the Texas-Mexico Border, 1848–1952

“As Mark Goldberg’s well-researched and detailed work moves from the first smallpox inoculations in the region and the widespread use of medicinal hot springs to cures for cholera and other diseases that utilized local plants such as peyote and maguey, he illuminates in new ways the cross-cultural encounters of this multiracial border region.”—Martha Few, author of For All of Humanity: Mesoamerican and Colonial Medicine in Enlightenment Guatemala

“I can imagine Conquering Sickness finding its way onto many reading lists. It’s clear that this is a book from which historians of the American West, Native American history, colonial and early national Mexico, and Texas now have much to learn.”—Thomas Andrews, author of Coyote Valley: Deep History in the High Rockies

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



A Note on Racial and Ethnic Terminology

Chapter 1: Medicine and Spanish Conquest: Health and Healing in Late Colonial Texas

Chapter 2: The Health of the Missions: Spanish Friars, Coastal Indians, and Missionization in the Gulf Coast

Chapter 3: Cholera and Nation: Epidemic Disease, Healing, and State Formation in Northern Mexico

Chapter 4: Making Healthy American Settlements: U.S. Expansion and Anglo American, Comanche, and Black Slave Health in Nineteenth-Century Central Texas

Chapter 5: Healthy Anglos, Unhealthy Mexicans: Health, Race, and Medicine in South Texas




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