Fevered Measures

Public Health and Race at the Texas-Mexico Border, 1848–1942

Fevered Measures

Book Pages: 440 Illustrations: 17 illustrations, 9 tables Published: August 2012

American Studies, Chicanx and Latinx Studies, Medicine and Health > Public Health and Health Policy

In Fevered Measures, John Mckiernan-González examines public health campaigns along the Texas-Mexico border between 1848 and 1942 and reveals the changing medical and political frameworks U.S. health authorities used when facing the threat of epidemic disease. The medical borders created by these officials changed with each contagion and sometimes varied from the existing national borders. Federal officers sought to distinguish Mexican citizens from U.S. citizens, a process troubled by the deeply interconnected nature of border communities. Mckiernan-González uncovers forgotten or ignored cases in which Mexicans, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and other groups were subject to—and sometimes agents of—quarantines, inspections, detentions, and forced-treatment regimens. These cases illustrate the ways that medical encounters shaped border identities before and after the Mexican Revolution. Mckiernan-González also maintains that the threat of disease provided a venue to destabilize identity at the border, enacted processes of racialization, and re-legitimized the power of U.S. policymakers. He demonstrates how this complex history continues to shape and frame contemporary perceptions of the Latino body today.


“This very detailed and thoroughly reference work will be of greatest interest to students or scholars of the history of public health or the history of public policy, particularly immigration policy. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers/faculty.” — M. A. Thompson, Choice

Fevered Measures is an engaging and multi-layered historical narrative that underscores the centrality of public health to daily life, social relations and power dynamics along the TexasMexico border over one century. . . . What makes this story particularly compelling is that Mckiernan-González frames it with a compassionate and informed plea for greater awareness of Latina/o health disparities.” — Alexandra Minna Stern, Global Public Health

“John Mckiernan-González's impressive work Fevered Measures reminds us that the intertwining connections of race, health, and exclusion have a long history in the United States.” — Amy M. Hay, Southern Spaces

“Mckiernan-Gonzalez . . . adds substantially to the large literature on the history of public health, particularly its role in controlling immigration into the United States.” — Stephen J. Kunitz, American Historical Review

“The vivid and rich narrative of Fevered Measures should reach both an academic and popular audience on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border.” — Miguel A. Levario, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Fevered Measures is a wonderful and significant contribution to Latina/o studies, medical history, and borderlands history.” — Mark Allan Goldberg, Pacific Historical Review

“Mckeirnan-González provides a sophisticated and ?ne-grained analysis of the work of overzealous public health of?cials on the border, but he also places these efforts in a global imperial context.” — Elliott Young, Journal of American History

“For those interested in public health, Fevered Measures will be an exemplar of how to observe the complexities of ethnic and national identity in borderland settings.  These readers will benefit from the book’s presentation of the multiple and shifting meanings of the term Mexican in South Texas and the ways these unstable meaning were ultimately collapsed by public health officers to define an exclusionary national community.” — Mariola Espinosa, Journal of Southern History

Fevered Measures is a sophisticated book that will be useful to borderlands and public-health scholars, as well as to historians looking for models of how knowledge and institutions perform social and cultural work.” — Nancy Berlage, Texas Books in Review

Fevered Measures gives us a penetrating view of the intersections between race and public health policies, bringing new insights to the history of both the borderlands and US public health. It will be valuable to students and researchers in Chicano/Latino studies, in social sciences and humanities. Appealing also to a broader audience, this welcome book contributes significantly to the current debates about Latinos and American public health. . . .” — Ana I. Ugarte, Latino Studies

“The broad scope of the themes explored in the text ensures that the work will find a welcome audience well beyond those interested in frontier and borderland histories. Specifically, this text will find a receptive audience for those interested in the history of public health. Advanced undergraduates and graduate students will find the narrative accessible and enjoyable.” — Bridget Maria Chesterton, Canadian Journal of History

“...this detailed study of the evolution of public health measures in the Texas borderlands provides a fascinating discussion of racial formulation and nation-building through public health.” — Mary Melcher, Journal of Arizona History

Fevered Measures is a path-breaking work of scholarship that will shape our understanding of the relationship between borders and public health within and between the United States and Mexico.” — Geraldo L. Cadava, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

“Mckiernan-González provides us with valuable historical context, which is too often missing, for current debates about immigration regulation. His book deserves to be read widely by historians and sociologists of immigration, race, and public health in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as those in the public health and policy-making arenas.” — Deirdre M. Moloney, Reviews in American History

“The clear achievement of Fevered Measures is Mckiernan-González’s excavation of an under-examined archive about public health at the Texas–Mexico border.”  — Misun Dokko, American Studies

“John Mckiernan-Gonzalez...tackles a daunting list of topics in Fevered Measures, including race, ethnicity, national identity, shifting borders, the meaning of citizenship, and state formation...Drawing upon extensive archival resources in both the United States and Mexico, he provides a different way of approaching racial, cultural, and even diplomatic relations in the borderlands.” — Don M. Coerver, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This work is significant in that it draws attention to a neglected aspect of border history, another instance of life disregarding arbitrary lines set for human convenience, of humans using one tool, the quarantine, for another purpose, racism.” — John H. Barnhill, Journal of the West

"The questions he asks and the ways he answers them sensitize us to the scapegoating and medical victimization of a populationassociated with the eruption of devastating illness." — Linda Hall, Journal of American History

"Fevered Measures makes a compelling read and will be thought-provoking for historians of medicine and public health, as well as those interested in state-citizen interactions in both Mexico and the United States." — Julia Rodriguez, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"Fevered Measures succeeds in documenting the long, fraught, and uneven dialogue about the meaning of good health between people in two countries that share a porous border. It is important reading at a time when Mexican officialdom has changed its tune regarding Mexicans in the United States." — Raul Necochea, Journal of Latin American Studies

"Fevered Measures remaps the border as a space in which ideas of race and nation take on new meanings in relation to the development of the state and science. The book serves as a superior model for analyzing and narrating the transnational flow of people, ideas, and policies." — Raúl A. Ramos, , author of Beyond the Alamo: Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821–1861

"In Fevered Measures, through dramatic case studies, John Mckiernan-González brings exciting new insights to the intersection of state formation, racial formations, and medical discourse. Using archives on both sides of the border, he complicates our analysis of federal and local dynamics, earning a place among the best of the new borderlands historians." — Sarah Deutsch, author of No Separate Refuge


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John Mckiernan-González is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas, Austin.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Notes on Labeling Places, Peoples, and Diseases ix

Introduction 1

1. From the U.S.-Mexican War to the Mexican-Texas Epidemic: Fevers, Race, and the Making of a Medical Border 18

2. The Promise of Progress: Quarantines and the Medical Fusion of Race and Nation, 1890-1895 59

3. The Appearance of Progress: Black Labor, Smallpox, and the Body Politics of Transnational American Citizenship, 1895 78

4. The Power of Progress: Laredo and the Limits of Federal Quarantines, 1898-1903 123

5. Domestic Tensions at an American Crossroads: Bordering on Gender, Labor, and Typhus Control, 1910-1920 165

6. Bodies of Evidence: Vaccination and the Body Politics of Transnational Mexican Citizenship, 1910-1920 198

7. Between Border Quarantine and the Texas-Mexico Border: Race, Citizenship, and National Identities, 1920-1942 236

Epilogue. Moving between the Border Quarantine and the Texas-Mexico Borderlands 274

Acknowledgments 285

Notes 289

Bibliography 363

Index 403
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5276-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5257-0
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