Interview by Lisa Smith
As April draws to a close and the temperature is already pushing one hundred degrees here in the desert of Southern Arizona, it is my great pleasure to introduce my fellow co-editor here at the Recipes Project (not to mention fellow Tucson local) Ryan Kashanipour. Ryan is an ethnohistorian of medicine and science, specializing in Latin American history and the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Lisa Smith recently caught up with Ryan for an interview on his research and his new role here at the Recipes Project:
Welcome to your new role as co-editor of the Recipes Project, Ryan! What interests you most about recipes?
I love recipes of all sorts: cookery, medicinal, magical, and the like. I see recipes as a unique genre of records, which can simultaneously be deeply personal accounts that can create family connections, local identities, and a sense of belonging, while also being grand references on everything from metaphysics to the environment to the nation. As everyday records, they can offer rare glimpses at personal and family traditions, along with gendered relations that cut across generations. Because many of them deal with food and health, they are often intimate accounts of emotions and the body. All the while, recipes can be regimented and formalized works that are state-level programs that aim to carry nationalist agendas and campaigns. I have to admit that my life is already filled with recipes. In my home, I have a growing collection of modern and historical print cookbooks. My six-year-old daughter, in fact, has been writing and leaving recipes all around our kitchen:
We know that you work on medicine and science in colonial Mexico. How do recipes feature in your research?
My work operates at the intersection of magic and medicine in colonial Latin America. In particular, I look at manuscript books of medicine written by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most of the works that I deal with are written in the local language, Yucatec Maya, which is what first attracted me to them as an historical anthropologist. The records deal with everything from common skin ailments to epidemic diseases to afflictions caused by curses and sorcery. There are cures for broken legs and broken hearts. The remedies themselves often appear in recipe format, that is to say, as a fairly orderly set of instructions on how to make or perform the cure. However, because these sorts of practice fell outside of the sanctioned practices of Spanish colonial society, these records were highly protected and secretive. The representatives of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, along with the organization that certified physicians and healers, regularly prosecuted those deemed to be malicious or false healers. Nevertheless, one of the interesting things that I have found is that these recipes circulated among different ethnic and social groups. There was a constant lack of medical professionals within the colonies and, as a result, people developed their own systems of healing that reflected the social make up of local communities. In the case of the Yucatán, this meant that natives, African peoples, and Europeans exchanged ideas and practices. As such, I treat these remedies as democratic records that show everyday exchanges and encounters.
We’re excited about new developments here at the Recipes Project. What kinds of posts are you hoping to commission for the RP?
As a longtime collaborator (and fan) of the Recipes Project, I am very excited by this role. Having written for and occasionally edited for the site in the past, I am really thrilled to have the opportunity to actively shape its future directions. As a Latin Americanist interested in everything from ancient practices to modern traditions, I hope to continue to highlight the breadth and depth of work being done on the Spanish and Portuguese worlds. My aim, at some core level, is to bring together scholars regardless of the geographic divisions that are often ingrained in our professional and academic training. For me, the Recipes Project is a venue to create connections and foster collaborations about scholarship and teaching through the hybrid of traditional and digital mediums. I have to say, though, that I am really just excited to try to bring people together from diverse backgrounds and approaches.