Ventricles S1 E9: Jungle Laboratories

This is the final episode of Season One! Thank you for listening.

We continue our series on politics in the history of technology in this episode. Professor Gabriela Soto Laveaga explains the central role that Mexico played in the creation of the birth control pill, a history that has often been told about a few people in the US. From Ernesto Miramontes, a Mexican scientist whose name is on the patent for a compound used in the first oral contraceptives, to Syntex, the company co-founded by chemist Russell Marker in Mexico City, Mexico takes center stage in the history of oral contraceptives. But what about the hundreds of thousands of peasants in the South of Mexico, who dug up and even manipulated the barbasco roots from which steroid hormones were being synthesized? And are the dense jungles from which they found and dug up tons of these wild barbasco roots a laboratory? Professor Laveaga discusses how this industry revolutionized the lives of the peasants in this region, and how they in turn enabled and shaped the history of the pill.

Audio credits: Thanks as always to The Overseas Ensemble, a collaboration between composer Paed Conca and Sarigama, for use of their music

Image credit: To learn about the history of the photograph which is featured on the cover of Jungle Laboratories by Professor Laveaga, please listen to the episode!

Bibliography:

  • Gabriela Soto Laveaga, Jungle Laboratories:  Mexican Peasants, National Projects and the Making of the Pill . Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2009.