Bedlam in the New World

A Mexican Madhouse in the Age of Enlightenment

By Christina Ramos

266 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, 5 tables

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6657-0
    Published: March 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6656-3
    Published: March 2022
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6658-7
    Published: December 2021

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

2022 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize (Non Women & Gender Category)

2023 Philip Pauly Prize, History of Science Society

2023 Cheiron Book Prize, Cheiron, the International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences

2022 Bandelier/Lavrin Book Prize, Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies

Honorable Mention, Alfred B. Thomas Book Award, Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies

Shortlisted, 2023 Kenshur Prize, Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies

A rebellious Indian proclaiming noble ancestry and entitlement, a military lieutenant foreshadowing the coming of revolution, a blasphemous Creole embroiderer in possession of a bundle of sketches brimming with pornography. All shared one thing in common. During the late eighteenth century, they were deemed to be mad and forcefully admitted to the Hospital de San Hipólito in Mexico City, the first hospital of the New World to specialize in the care and custody of the mentally disturbed.

Christina Ramos reconstructs the history of this overlooked colonial hospital from its origins in 1567 to its transformation in the eighteenth century, when it began to admit a growing number of patients transferred from the Inquisition and secular criminal courts. Drawing on the poignant voices of patients, doctors, friars, and inquisitors, Ramos treats San Hipólito as both a microcosm and a colonial laboratory of the Hispanic Enlightenment—a site where traditional Catholicism and rationalist models of madness mingled in surprising ways. She shows how the emerging ideals of order, utility, rationalism, and the public good came to reshape the institutional and medical management of madness. While the history of psychiatry’s beginnings has often been told as seated in Europe, Ramos proposes an alternative history of madness’s medicalization that centers colonial Mexico and places religious figures, including inquisitors, at the pioneering forefront.

About the Author

Christina Ramos is assistant professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis.

For more information about Christina Ramos, visit the Author Page.


"Sharp, wonderfully analysed and researched, and delightfully written. . . . Ramos’ incisive historiographical interventions are supported by her outstanding source base."—Social History of Medicine

"A triumph . . . eloquent, provocative, highly synthesized, and compellingly theorized. Its brisk and accessible prose will lead to successful discussions with advanced undergraduates . . . [and will] doubtlessly be essential reading for historians of pre-modern histories of medicine, the behavioral and mind sciences, colonial histories of medicine, and colonial Latin American history."—Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

“A compelling study of the medicalization of madness. . . . Ramos provides a model of scholarship that will appeal to a wide range of scholars interested in histories of medicine.”—H-Sci-Med-Tech

"A welcome addition to the literature on colonial medicine in Spanish America. It builds on the work of María Cristina Sacristán while uncovering the institutional transformation of a unique site. . . . concise, clearly written, and well researched."—Reading Religion

"Ramos’s work will be of particular interest to scholars of religion and law, offering as it does evidence not only for reading colonies as ‘laboratories of modernity’ but legal archives as rich sources of such (multivalent, often ambiguous) work."—Religious Studies Review

“Introducing San Hipólito as a site that might have been at the forefront of processes of medicalization of insanity both in Europe and the New World, this fascinating study presents an alternative to Eurocentric narratives of Enlightenment and mental disease.”—Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, The University of Texas at Austin