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Tropes of Expertise and Converso Unbelief: Huarte de San Juan’s History of Medicine


Examining the perceived relationship between medical expertise and Jewish history, this essay demonstrates that late medieval Christian anxiety about Jews and Conversos on the Iberian Peninsula matured over the course of the early modern period into a useful tool of professional self-definition.

Kimmel, Seth. “Tropes of Expertise and Converso Unbelief: Huarte de San Juan’s History of Medicine.” After Conversion: Iberia and the Emergence of Modernity. Ed. Mercedes García-Arenal. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016. 336-57. Print

Most striking about the early modern author and doctor Huarte de San Juan’s model of what a modern pedagogue might optimistically call ‘enlightened tracking’ is his candidness about the importance of Jewish and Converso history for demarcating the discipline of medicine and, by extension, for offering a taxonomy of other professions and their attendant bodies of knowledge. Such forthrightness demonstrates that by the late sixteenth century, anxiety about the illegibility of Converso belief was more than a stimulus for the blood purity statutes of the previous decades. This anxiety also produced a newly flexible and skeptical scholarly language for addressing some of the period’s most pressing epistemological questions, such as the relationship between inherited nature and acquired practices and the role of narrative in medical practice.

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