Cristian Berco (Ph.D. Arizona, 2002) joined Bishop’s in 2004. His research focuses on the social history of the body, mainly through work on sexuality, disease and ethnicity. His first book Sexual Hierarchies, Public Status (2007) examines sodomy trials in the Aragonese Inquisition, while his second one, From Body to Community, focuses on venereal disease as a lived reality. He has also published in various academic journals and edited collections on the social dimensions of the early modern syphilis epidemic. Currently, he is working on the neurophysiological processes undergirding the Spanish Inquisition. Dr. Berco teaches the history of medieval and early modern Europe, and colonial and modern Latin America.
Dr. Berco’s research program focuses on the body and society in the early modern Hispanic world. Though he has published widely on a variety of topics, including the decriminalization of sodomy in nineteenth-century Argentina and gender identity and self discipline in Baroque Spain, his main interests entail the following:
- The Body, Sexuality and Society, specifically male homosexual behaviour, its reliance on gendered constructs, and its uneasy relationship to social status in early modern societies. Gleaned from Spanish trial records, this research focuses on the border between the hierarchies constructed through the sexed body and those available from public understandings of status. Dr. Berco’s book on the subject, Sexual Hierarchies, Public Status: Men, Sodomy, and Society in Golden Age Spain argues that, though homosexual behaviour was widespread due to a penetrative conceptualization of masculinity, public anger was mobilized into trials when these sexual relationships violated normalized power relations, as in the case of Muslim slaves sodomizing Christian adolescents. At the same time, because of the diffuse nature of an inquisitorial trial, magistrates did not always follow through on the public intent to punish, effectively shielding some groups like the clergy from harsh sentences. Dr. Berco has also published separately on the intimate connection between patriarchal forms of power and sodomy, both in practice and in terms of the constructs informing them.
- The Body, Disease and Society. This research focuses on syphilis and its sociocultural implications as a lived illness. By combining institutional and notarial records, this research examines this chronic disease in its full personal and social dimensions. Dr. Berco’s book From Body to Community: Venereal Disease and Society in Baroque Spain traces the complex lives of syphilis patients at Toledo’s Hospital de Santiago, moving from the somatic aspects of infection and treatment to the sociocultural implications for patients living with this chronic illness in terms of marriage, work, and community relationships.
- The Body, the Brain and Inquisitors. This new research interest grew out of combining Dr. Berco’s recent work on the perception of the clothes body and his collaboration with choreographer Isabelle Van Grimde on the body and its relationship to vision and movement. Relying on novel methodologies from the burgeoning field of neurohistory, Dr. Berco is thus currently focusing on historicizing the inquisitorial brain. Focusing mainly on sensory perception, motor-emotional control, and cognition, this research has already led to the publication of “Perception and the Mulatto Body in Inquisitorial Spain: A Neurohistory,” Past & Present 231, no. 1 (2016): 33-60”. Dr. Berco is currently continuing this work with an eye to writing a monograph on the inquisitorial brain.