Zeb J. Tortorici F'17, F'11, F'09

Zeb J. Tortorici
Associate Professor
Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures
New York University

ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowships 2017
Assistant Professor
Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures
New York University
Postmortem Cesarean Operations and the Spread of Fetal Baptism in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires
(with Martha Few, Pennsylvania State University, and Adam Warren, University of Washington)

In 1751, a friar named Francisco Emmanuele Cangiamila published “Embryologia sacra” (Sacred Embryology), a medical-theological treatise on the duty of priests and laypeople to receive instruction in the cesarean operation and perform it on women who died while pregnant. The procedure, he argued, was a crucial and necessary means to save the life of the fetus and cleanse it of original sin through baptism. Forty-eight years later an unidentified indigenous barber-surgeon in a Guatemalan mission performed a cesarean operation––one of many at this time––on a deceased Maya woman to remove a fetus, which the supervising priest then baptized. In 1862, cesarean operation manuals became available in the Cebuano and Tagalog languages, in addition to Spanish, in the colonial Philippines. In this project, historians Martha Few, Zeb Tortorici, and Adam Warren trace the global networks of Spain’s and Portugal’s empires during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that allowed for the rise and spread of the postmortem cesarean operation as a medico-religious practice from Europe to the Americas and Asia. Furthermore, it interrogates how different kinds of historical actors perceived and gave meaning to the operation and to baptism as they received and implemented instruction in distinct colonial settings. The project analyzes the way that manuals, legal mandates, and accounts of the performance of postmortem cesareans illuminate new ideas and assumptions about women and unborn fetuses as colonial subjects at the local level and across different imperial spaces. Drawing on Few’s expertise in ethnohistory and the history of medicine, Tortorici’s specializations in gender and sexuality and archival theory, and Warren’s background as a historian of colonial political culture and early modern medicine, their monograph argues that the postmortem cesarean operation constituted a contested tool of empire through which colonialism was enacted on the female body and the unborn fetus in its womb. Award period: January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019

ACLS New Faculty Fellows Program 2011
New Faculty Fellow
Stanford University
PhD, History, University of California, Los Angeles appointed in History at Stanford University

Dissertation: "Contra Natura: Sin, Crime, and 'Unnatural' Sexuality in Colonial Mexico, 1530-1821"

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2009
Doctoral Candidate
University of California, Los Angeles
Contra Natura: Sin, Crime, and Unnatural Sexuality in Colonial Mexico, 1600-1800

This project is a cultural history based on some 250 colonial Mexican Inquisition and criminal cases from 1600-1800 concerned with the Spanish regulation of sexual practices deemed “unnatural” by biblical standards, Church Fathers, and medieval theologians. Analysis of these cases (in which term “contra natura”—against nature—was used in reference to sodomy, bestiality, masturbation, solicitation, and abortion) places “unnatural” acts and their meanings within larger historical contexts to examine tolerance and repression, changing notions of heresy and criminality, erotic expressions of religiosity, and the boundaries between humans and animals. Ultimately, this research offers a nuanced understanding of the thoughts, behaviors, and genders under colonialism in early Mexico.