Jessica Rutherford

Graduate Teaching Associate
Graduate Student

My research lies at the intersection of the fields of colonial Latin America, cultural studies, and the history of science and medicine. My dissertation examines the discourse of sorcery that Jesuit missionaries used to represent indigenous healers and spiritual specialists in their letters and natural histories from colonial Mexico and Brazil. I focus on the complex dynamic that arose at the junction of sorcery, spiritual authority, and smallpox as indigenous communities negotiated and resisted Christianization. In the case of sixteenth-century Mexico, for example, colonizing Jesuits sought to Christianize indigenous groups, but their engagement with local traditions also yielded insights into local healing rituals and natural medicines. Those insights revealed a rich botanical history of local pharmacopeia, which proved to be valuable on transatlantic markets. I argue that missionary intervention in the Americas—and their demonization and appropriation of indigenous knowledge—worked to restructure early modern empires, local communities, and the natural world.

Several fellowships and grants from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and the Center for Latin American Studies at OSU have contributed to this project’s preparation and research, including two Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships to study Portuguese. Most recently, I spent the month of July (2016) on fellowship at The John Carter Brown Library where I continued my research on Jesuit missionaries in colonial Brazil. Based on the archival work that I did at the National Library in Rio de Janeiro and the JCB Library, I have recently submitted an article on “Jesuit missionary correspondence in colonial Brazil: Sorcery, spiritual authority, and smallpox” to Colonial Latin American Review. In addition to converting my dissertation into a book manuscript, my next project will focus on the role of dance as medicine in Mesoamerican healing rituals from the colonial period to the present; I will publish an article related to this project in Frederick Aldama’s forthcoming edition of The Routledge Companion to Gender, Sexuality, and Mass Culture in Latin America.

Digital Humanities Projects:

Cozinhar em Português

Old World/New World: Beyond the Tagus (a documentary)

Early Modern Science and Medicine

Areas of Expertise
  • Colonial Latin American Literature and Culture
  • History of Science/Medicine
  • Luso-Hispanic Studies
  • Ph.D., The Ohio State University, (in progress)
  • M.A., The University of Iowa, 2010
  • B.A., The University of Iowa, 2006

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(614) 247-8828
(614) 292-7726
288 Hagerty Hall
1775 College Road
Columbus, OH 43210

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