For decades, tuberculosis in Buenos Aires was more than a dangerous disease. According to Associate Professor of History Diego Armus, it was also an anxious state of mind shaped not only by fears of contagion and death but also by broader social and cultural concerns. These worries, he says, included changing work routines, rapid urban growth and its consequences for housing and living conditions, and efforts to build a healthy "national race."
In The Ailing City (Duke University Press, 2011), Armus explores the metaphors, state policies, and experiences associated with tuberculosis in Buenos Aires between 1870 and 1950. During those years, the disease was conspicuous and frightening, and biomedicine was unable to offer an effective cure. Against the background of the global history of tuberculosis, Armus focuses on the making and consolidation of medicalized urban life in the Argentine capital. He also discusses the state's intrusion into private lives and the ways that those suffering from the disease accommodated and resisted official attempts to care for them and to reform and control their morality, sociability, sexuality, and daily habits.
Armus, currently on a fellowship at Harvard's Center for Latin America Studies, based his study on a wide array of sources, including literature, journalism, labor press, medical journals, tango lyrics, films, advertising, imagery, statistics, official reports, and oral histories. The result is a compelling perspective on the emergence of modernity in a cosmopolitan city on the periphery of world capitalism. A Spanish edition was published by Edhasa, a press based in Buenos Aires and Barcelona, earlier this year. An Italian edition is forthcoming next year from Milan-based Mimesis.
Armus is the editor of Disease in the History of Modern Latin America: From Malaria to AIDS (2003), as well as a number of other works in Spanish and English. Armus, who joined Swarthmore's faculty in 2001, teaches courses on Latin American history with an emphasis on urban and sociocultural issues. He also coordinates the Swarthmore in Buenos Aires Program.