Tikal, Guatemala

Martha Few is Associate Professor of Latin American history at the University of Arizona. Her research and teaching focus on Guatemala and Mexico, Mesoamerican ethnohistory, the history of medicine, and human-animal studies. She is currently Director of Graduate Studies in the history department, and faculty coordinator of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Latin American Studies.


Prof. Few's book Women Who Live Evil Lives: Gender, Religion and the Politics of Power in Colonial Guatemala (University of Texas Press, 2002) draws on accounts of the lives and practices of primarily Mayan, African, and casta (mixed-race) female sorcerers, clandestine religious leaders, and magical healers and midwives in the capital. Community members from all segments of colonial society consulted these women in the multi-ethnic urban community of Santiago, and asked them to intervene in a variety of conflicts in daily life: in sexual and familial relations, disputes between neighbors and rival shop owners, instances of abusive public officials, employers, and husbands, and in cases of incurable and often strange illnesses. She utilized a microhistorical approach to analyze a rich but relatively limited documentary source base of seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Inquisition records to uncover information about the city's multi-ethnic female population and their ritual ties to other social groups, supplemented with sources such as Church sermons and correspondence, secular laws, travel accounts, and colonial-era histories.


Prof. Few is also co-editor with Zeb Tortorici of Centering Animals in Latin American History (Duke University Press, 2013). Centering Animals writes animals back into history of colonial and postcolonial Latin America. This collection reveals how interactions between humans and other animals have significantly shaped narratives of Latin American histories and cultures. The contributors work through the methodological implications of centering animals within historical narratives, seeking to include nonhuman animals as social actors in the histories of Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Chile, Brazil, Peru, and Argentina. The essays range from discussions of locust killing campaigns in colonial Guatemala to canine baptisms, weddings, and funerals in Bourbon Mexico to imported monkeys used in medical experimentation in Puerto Rico. Some contributors examine the role of animals in colonization efforts. Others explore the relationship between animals, medicine and health. Finally, essays on the postcolonial period focus on the politics of hunting, the commodification of animals and animal parts, the protection of animals and the environment, and political symbolism.


Prof. Few has a new book nearing completion, Signs of Life: Mesoamerican and Enlightenment Medical Cultures in Colonial Guatemala. This book analyzes the development of local medical knowledge applied to early public health campaigns in the Audiencia of Guatemala, an area that encompasses what is today Central America and the Mexican state of Chiapas, and its transatlantic circulations in eighteenth- and early-ninteenth-century Enlightenment cultures. The work highlights how Enlightenment era colonial medicine in theory and practice absorbed and responded to Mesoamerican, gendered, religious, and hybridized medical cultures, even as it may have presented itself as the autonomous product of Spanish Peninsular and Creole elites connected to European metropoles. And, under the stress of resistance to public health campaigns, the practice of Enlightenment medicine in Guatemala often had to make tacit and even at times explicit concessions to the complicated nature of local medical cultures.


During spring 2009, Prof. Few was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. She has also held research fellowships at the Newberry Library in Chicago (1999-2000 as a Rockefeller Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, and summer 2006), the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University (fall 1995 and fall 2005, both as the Ruth and Lincoln Ekstrom Fellow), and at the Huntington Library in Pasadena (spring 2006 as an Evelyn S. Nation and Andrew W. Mellon Fellow).


Some journal articles and book chapters that Prof. Few has recently published include "Circulating Smallpox Knowledges: Guatemalan Doctors, Maya Indians, and Designing Spain's Royal Vaccination Expedition, 1780-1806," special issue "Circulation and Locality in Early Modern Science," British Journal for the History of Science (Fall 2010); "Atlantic World Monsters: Monstrous Births and the Politics of Pregnancy in Colonial Guatemala," in Vollendorf and Kostrun, eds., Gender and Religion in the Atlantic World (2009); "Medical Mestizaje and the Politics of Pregnancy in Colonial Guatemala, 1660-1730" in Daniela Bleichmar et. al., eds., Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800 (2008); "'That Monster of Nature': Gender, Sexuality, and the Medicalization of a 'Hermaphrodite' in Late Colonial Guatemala," special issue "Sexual Encounters/Sexual Collisions: Alternative Sexualities in Colonial Mesoamerica," Ethnohistory 54:1 (Winter 2007), pp. 159-176; "'Our Lord Entered His Body': Miraculous Healing and Children's Bodies in Colonial New Spain," in Susan Schroeder and Stafford Poole, eds. Religion in New Spain (University of New Mexico Press, 2007), pp. 114-124; and "Chocolate, Sex, and Disorderly Women in Late-Seventeenth and Early-Eighteenth-Century Guatemala," Ethnohistory 52:4 (fall 2005), pp. 673-687. For a complete list of Prof. Few's publications, please see the link to her CV on this page.


During fall semester 2013, Prof. Few teaches History 498, a capstone seminar on the History of the University of Arizona, and History/LAS 696J: Research Seminar in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology in Latin America. During spring semester 2014, she teaches History 301: Introduction to the Study of History, a required course for beginning history majors.


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