Crossroads Research

Upcoming TRANSPACIFIC workshop (23-24 May 2024): “Doctors, Drugs, and Medicinal Knowledge in the Asia-Pacific World (16th to 18th centuries)”

(venue in Leuven to be confirmed)

The creation of a mainly Spanish colonial space of trade and exchange across the Pacific Ocean, involving the establishment of initial footholds and subsequently permanent settlements, roughly between the 16th and 18th century gave rise to an increasingly globalizing connectivity and set the stage for a wide variety of official and unofficial traffic of human beings, goods and knowledge. In this context, the early modern medical profession and its related branches particularly underwent important developments through the exchanges via regional and intercontinental Asia-Pacific connections. Surgeons, barbers, doctors, pharmacists, and botanists lived, studied and practiced within the limits of a local geographical space in the developing urban centers of Manila, New Spain and the Vice-Royalty of Peru, including early medical institutions. Others traveled across the ocean, creating trans-Pacific socio-cultural and commercial networks. Pacific sea lanes, thus, developed as maritime highways for the circulation of medicinal specialists, commodities and knowledge, but equally as channels for the spread of epidemic pathologies. Moreover, trans-Pacific sailing formed the theatre of shipboard health and hygiene disasters during overstretched journeys to which (naval) surgeons attached to a galleon’s crew sometimes became unwilling witnesses and inevitable victims. In the wake of this growing interconnectivity, the commodification, circulation or exchange of medicinal products, medical professionals and proficiencies had a long-lasting, profound, and at times cross-fertilizing impact on the ethnomedical and socio-economic history of the early modern Pacific world with its adjacent Asian and American continental and insular hinterlands. In intricate ways, doctors, medicinal drugs, (ethno-)medical knowledge, and pathologies moved along these newly established networks, often integrating existing indigenous knowledge, trade and modes of connection, thus effectuating long-lasting globalizing and glocalizing imprints. 

This workshop aims to bring together micro- and macrohistorical expertise on these intertwining crossroads between medical profession(s) and crafts, the collection, manufacture and trade of drugs, the production and the diffusion of medical knowledge, the spread of epidemic pathologies, as well as its impacts on the wider Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, it strives to come to terms with the roles as well as official and unofficial operations of Spanish and non-Spanish actors, including the parallel worlds of pirate and buccaneering activity, in this overarching realm of interconnected regional and transregional spaces in the Braudelian sense, from China and Japan, over Southeast Asia to the Americas.

The workshop will be held on campus, but the option to join online will be provided.

Prof. Angela Schottenhammer (

Dr. Mathieu Torck (

(to be continued)


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