OLAGN Seminar Series: ‘Against the climate, who can contend?’ Disease in the Peruvian War of Independence, 1820-1824

Speaker: Ben Rymer

Discussant: Professor Natalia Sobrevilla Perea


In 1820, at the height of the Spanish American Wars of Independence, Argentine general José de San Martín led an expedition of 5,000 soldiers from Chile to Peru, with the aim of liberating the last bastion of Spanish power in South America. However, after a promising start, San Martín’s liberating expedition lost momentum, and it wasn’t until 1824, now under the leadership of Venezuelan Simón Bolívar, that the rebels finally secured a decisive victory over the royalists. An often-overlooked cause of the apparent stagnation of liberating expedition is the disease environment of Peru. The fevers endemic to Peru’s coastal valleys took a toll on the rebel army and contributed to the difficulty of dislodging the royalists from their highland heartlands from a base on the coast.


benjamin rymer

Ben Rymer is a first year DPhil student studying disease in the Wars of Independence in Spanish America. He is interested in tracing what effect diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, and altitude sickness had on the course of the wars, together with how the experience of disease in warfare shaped ideas around disease causation and race. Ben has previously researched British business and investment in Spanish America in the early nineteenth century.








Natalia Sobrevilla Perea is Professor of Latin American History at the University of Kent. Her interests include state formation and political culture in the Andes from the end of the colonial period throughout the nineteenth century, as well as issues of identity, race and ethnicity, and military culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in South America. She has published on a wide range of issues, from economic to social history, and has a special interest in intellectual history and constitutionalism. Her published work includes a study of Andrés de Santa Cruz, the president of the Peru-Bolivia Confederation, and an edited volume on the impact of the 1812 Cádiz Constitution in the Atlantic world. She is currently working on a monograph on the history of the army and the origins of the state in Peru from 1800 to 1860.