Healing the Nation

Healing the Nation: Healthcare, Philanthropy, and Ethnicity in Argentina, 1880-1955

At the turn of the twentieth century, five immigrant-run hospitals formed a fundamental part of the overall health network of Buenos Aires. The Italian, Spanish, British, German, and French hospitals treated 20 percent of all patients in the city. These hospitals shared a common goal of providing free services to working-class immigrants of a common cultural background. Through their philanthropic work and paternalistic ideas, the affluent directors and funders of these institutions tried to bring workers under the umbrella of their leadership. The efforts of individual groups of immigrants to provide charitable services to workers fundamentally changed the state’s position in the overarching liberal regime.

This new research project examines the role of immigrant-run hospitals and mutual aid societies in providing social welfare services in Argentina. It engages with debates about the relationship between liberalism and pluralism, the welfare state, and the importance of non-governmental actors in state formation. The elasticity of what liberalism could mean in the Americas is precisely what created this system of charity and philanthropy in Argentina. The push of wealthy men and women to create institutions that functioned in foreign languages and that focused on working-class immigrants of a common ethnic heritage shaped the nature of Argentine liberal governance. In the large and growing body of literature on the creation of the welfare state in Europe, North America, and Latin America, scholars often build a narrative beginning with the earliest forms of state intervention and government policies in areas such as child welfare, health insurance, soldiers’ benefits, or family allowances. In this project, I will instead demonstrate that before the welfare state, there was a liberal regime shaped by public, religious, and ethnic interests.

I have published an article about the German hospital in the Argentine capital in the Argentine journal Estudios Migratorios Latinoamericanos. To read that article, click here.

This project is funded by an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2016-23).