iCHSTM 2013 Programme • Version 5.3.6, 27 July 2013 • ONLINE (includes late changes)
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Women and chocolate: representations of female hysteria during the eighteenth century
Mauricio Sanchez Menchero | UNAM , Mexico
Teresa Ordorika | UNAM, Mexico

Like many of his colleagues, New Spain’s physician José Ignacio Bartolache published articles on contemporary topics that were of interest for European readers, one such topic had to do with the disease of hysterics that plagued women in the 18th century. According to him and other experts, one of the causes of that particular malady was the consumption of chocolate. By the 18th century the production and consumption of this American beverage had extended throughout the Western world. Its popularity had led to the increase of land for its cultivation, the creation of new culinary recipes and even the manufacture of utensils specially designed for its preparation and consumption. People from all walks of life sang its praises, it qualities were researched by scientists, particularly chemists, and artists pictured it in their works. However, because chocolate came from a land regarded as exotic, it was easily linked, through symbolic attributions, to diseases such as hysteria. Academic treaties dealing with “diseases of the soul” stated that women`s ailments were the result, among other things, of the consumption of this American drink, a notion lasted up to the end of the XIX century. Although opinions such as Mexican thinkers such José Antonio Alzate disputed the idea that hysteria was an exclusively a female malady, this view would remain until the emergence of disciplines such as neurology (Jean-Marie Charcot) and psychology (Sigmund Freud). The link between chocolate and female diseases allows us to raise questions about the Atlantic circulation of academic knowledge as well as natural and manufactured goods: What medical discourses relating the consumption of this beverage to hysteria were established and used by Americans and Europeans? To what extent were they similar? How did “scientific” knowledge influence the production and consumption of chocolate? How did physicians and academics of both sides of the Atlantic participate in the debates about the benefits or evils of this product? Finally, it also raises questions about the cultural specificities given to women diagnosed with this disease and how these related to differences pertaining to race, religion and geography.