Ana Ugarte Seeks the Story of Disease

As a third year graduate student in Spanish and Latin American Studies, Ana Ugarte is investigating disease narratives in colonial countries.

Through her research Ugarte plans to look specifically at how different health factors, like the spread of disease and drug experimentation, are represented in Mexican and Puerto Rican literature.

“I’m focusing on the conquest of Mexico in the 16th century and on Puerto Rico, around the beginning of the 20th century when the U.S. occupation took place,” Ugarte said.

Ugarte, who is from Madrid, Spain, received a master’s degree at Complutense University of Madrid in 2010. There, she began her research on colonial disease narratives by studying the literary representation of plagues in the writings of Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Ugarte’s current research focuses on the medical and psychological effects of colonialism on the people, as represented through literature. For example, she looks at the relationship between the doctor—usually a colonizer—and the patient—one of the colonized, and how it affects the patient’s perception of their disease.

To expand her studies, Ugarte began studying indigenous languages such as Yucatec Maya.

“My interest in the indigenous cultures and languages of Latin America is related to the research that I am conducting on the intersection between colonialism, illness and literature in Mexico and Puerto Rico through the lens of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies,” Ugarte said. “The study of indigenous conceptualizations of the body and disease, as well as the study of their linguistic, artistic and cultural representations led me to start my training in Maya.”

During summer 2013, Ugarte participated in the Yucatec Maya Summer Institute, sponsored by the UNC-Duke Consortium, where she completed three levels on modern Yucatec Maya. Through two Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships, Ugarte had direct interaction with the Yucatec Maya community of Xocen, Yucatán, for two consecutive years.

Ugarte is currently a teaching assistant for the DukeImmerse Rights and Identities in the Americas program, a semester-long series in which all courses are small seminars, interdisciplinary and build on a single theme. She is assisting Liliana Paredes, associate professor of the practice of Spanish, with Paredes’ class Identity and Linguistic Rights.

“I would like to have a deeper sense of human rights in context of colonialism and have a deeper understanding of the dynamics of power domination and power over knowledge, bodies and health,” she said.

Aside from her research, Ugarte enjoys outdoor activities such as rock climbing, running and hiking at the Eno River. After completing her PhD, Ugarte hopes to pursue a career in academia.

Ugarte has received two fellowships from Duke Graduate School—the James B. Duke Fellowship and the University Scholars Program fellowship.

“The University Scholars Program fellowship is dedicated to fostering interdisciplinarity throughout Duke University's varied fields of study, service and extracurricular activities,” Ugarte said.As a graduate mentor in the program, Ugarte is also helping shape the program’s development, especially regarding the annual University Scholars symposium.