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Unanue, José Hipólito


(b.Arica, Peru [now Chile], 13 August 1755; d. Lima, Peru, 15 July 1833)

natural history.

Unanue, the outstanding figure of the Peruvian enlightenment, began ecclesiastical studies at Are-quipa and Lima, but abandoned a church career for one in medicine. He received his medical degree under the direction of Gabriel Moreno around 1784 and by 1789 was professor of anatomy at the University of San Marcos.

From the beginning of his medical career, Unanue devoted himself to the cause of reform in medical and scientific education. In 1792 he succeeded in instituting an anatomical amphitheater in Lima, which the government had authorized nearly thirty-five years earlier. Lacking in equipment and funds, the amphitheater was nevertheless able to provide instruction in dissection for medical students, and Unanue lectured on anatomy there in 1793–1794. The following year Unanue inaugurated a series of clinical lectures in medicine, in which specialists instructed the students on specific diseases. During the same period (1791–1794) he was editor of the Mercurio Peruano, a prime conduit for the diffusion of modern scientific ideas in Peru and to which Unanue contributed a number of articles on medical and scientific subjects.

Between 1799 and 1805 Unanue collected data for his major work, Observaciones sobre el clima de Lima, a treatise in the Hippocratic tradition, purporting to explicate the climatic causes of disease in the city of Lima. To substantiate his thesis, Unanue correlated meteorolotgical data with clinical observations, combined with traditional and modern medical concepts. In spite of his frequent citations of Newton, Boerhaave, and other modern scientists, Unanue’s book has an archaic cast. He denied, for example, the relevance of chemistry to medical practice. The book comprises five sections. The first section describes the climate and physical setting of Lima. The second is an ecological discussion of climate and its influence on vegetation, animals, and human beings. The third expounds the influences of climate on disease. The fourth discusses what dietary and other curative recourses could be had to cure climate-induced diseases. The fifth, a medical profile of the year 1799 in Lima, is perhaps the most interesting part of the book, inasmuch as it provides a meteorological and epidemiological chronicle for that year. The book had tremendous influence, especially in Lima itself, where it appears to have been canonized by the local medical intelligentsia to the point that it inhibited the reception of new medical and scientific ideas.

In 1807 Viceroy José Abascal asked Unanue to submit plans for a new medical school and to serve as its first director. Unanue recommended, in a memorial of the same year, that a medical college be created in one of the hospitals of the city, where students could be instructed in anatomy, physiology, surgery, medicine, and pharmacy. The College of San Fernando opened in 1811 with ten professorships, many held by former students of Unanue. The curriculum, which included mathematics, psychology, and experimental physics, was decidedly modern, the texts having been selected by Unanue personally. At the same time (from 1807), Unanue also served Peru as medical inspector (protomédico general).

Like many Latin American men of science of the early nineteenth century, Unanue played a prominent role in his country’s struggle for independence, serving as negotiator and cabinet minister.


I. Original Works. Observaciones sobre el clima de Lima, y su influencia sobre los seres organizados, en especial el hombre (Lima, 1806; 2nd ed., Madrid, 1814). A more recent edition is found in Obras cientificas y literarias del doctor don J. Hiplólito Unanue, Eugenio Larrabure y Unanue, ed., 3 vols. (Barcelona, 1914), I . The standard modern edition is by Carlos Enrique Paz Soldán (Lima, 1940).

Articles of scientific interest originally published in the Mercurio Peruano, 12 vols. (1791–1794; facs, ed., Lima, 1964–1966), are reprinted in Obras científicasII .

II. Secondary Literature. Various aspects of Unanue’s scientific career are discussed in Luís Alayza y Paz Soldán, Unanue, geégrafo, médico y estadista (Lima, 1954); Juan B. Lastres, Hipólito Unanue (Lima, 1955); and “Hipólito Unanue y El clima de Lima, 54 (1937), 75–87; Hugo Neira Samanez, Hipólito Unanue y el nacimiento de la patria (Lima, 1967); Carlos Enrique Paz Soldán, Hímnos a Hipílito Unanue (Lima, 1955); Hermilio Valdizán, “El doctor don Hipílito Unanue (Apuntes bio-bibliográficos),” in Unanue. Revista Trimestral de Historia de la Medicina Peruana, II (Lima), nos. 1–2 (Mar.-June 1926), 3–57; and John E. Woodham, “The influence of Hipílito Unanue on Peruvian Medical Science: A Reappraisal,” in Hispanic American Historical Review, 50 (1970), 693–714.

Thomas F. Glick

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José Hipólito Unánue

José Hipólito Unánue

José Hipólito Unánue (1755-1833) was a Peruvian intellectual, educator, scientist, and journalist. He was one of the foremost physicians and thinkers of the transition period from the colonial to the independence era.

The 18th-century intellectual movement called the Enlightenment had its reflection in the viceroyalty of Peru, where a small group of individuals concerned themselves with developing and applying the revolutionary ideas of the emerging sciences. The ablest and most devoted student of these new trends in Peru was José Hipólito Unánue, an individual of diverse interests, a court physician, and an adviser of viceroys and presidents, whose life coincided with the transition from the 18th to the 19th century and from the viceroyalty to the republic.

José Hipólito Unánue was born in Arica on Aug. 13, 1755, of a well-to-do family who directed him toward an ecclesiastical career. The influence of an uncle, Father Pedro Pabón, a botanist, turned him, however, from theology to medicine and general science, in which fields he was a brilliant student. He soon won a professorship in the School of Medicine of Lima, where he instituted the systematic practice of dissection.

Seeking to apply the most modern procedures, Unánue established the San Fernando School of Medicine and was the first to introduce vaccination in Peru. Under the enlightened Francisco Gil de Taboado, thirty-fifth viceroy of Peru (1790-1796), the first scholarly periodical, the Mercurio peruano (1791-1795), was established in Lima. It was a vehicle for publicizing scientific, historical, economic, political, and statistical subjects, and together with a society called Amantes del País (Friends of the Country), of which Unánue was a founder, it stimulated a highly competent group of contributors.

Under the name "Aristo," Unánue contributed essays and scientific papers to the 12 volumes of the Mercurio peruano, but it was in 1806 that his most famous study was published in Lima. It was entitled Observations on the Climate of Lima and Its Influence on Organic Life, Particularly Mankind, and in it he anticipated many ideas of the science of anthropogeography. He wrote prolifically on education, metaphysics, and ethics, as well as on medicine, and he strongly defended Newtonian theories of physics and mathematics.

Unánue's intellectual distinction drew him into the political life of his time. He early embraced the cause of independence from Spain, writing a manifesto in its favor in 1812 and serving as secretary of the treasury in the provisional government. He was the presiding officer of the Constituent Congress, and as head of the Council of Ministers, he enjoyed the complete confidence of the "Liberator, " Simón Bolívar.

Always a man of deep moral and religious convictions and a dispassionate patriot, Unánue advocated a strong central control of public affairs. He was a member of the commission seeking to tender the government to a European prince. After the rejection of this concept of governing and the ensuing confusion in the public affairs of the new nation, he retired to private life and the resumption of his scientific interests. Greatly venerated and honored, he died on July 15, 1833.

Further Reading

Unánue figures in Bernard Moses, Spanish Colonial Literature in South America (1922), and Germán Arciniegas, Latin America: A Cultural History (1965; trans. 1967). For general historical background see Frederick B. Pike, The Modern History of Peru (1967). □

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"José Hipólito Unánue." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

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