Stories in the Time of Cholera
Racial Profiling During a Medical Nightmare
by Charles L. Briggs with Clara Mantini-Briggs
2007 J. I. Staley Prize
A distinguished committee of anthropologists convened by the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, NM, recently selected Charles L. Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs, authors of Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling During a Medical Nightmare (University of California Press, 2002), as winners of the 2007 J. I. Staley Prize for outstanding books in anthropology. In 1992-93, some five hundred people, primarily indigenous “Warao,” died from cholera in the Orinoco Delta of Eastern Venezuela. In some communities, as many as one-third of the adults died in a single night. Briggs and Mantini-Briggs were in the midst of the nightmare, he as an anthropologist with long connections to the indígenas and she as a public health physician attempting to treat the victims of the outbreak.
Cholera is preventable and easily treated. Yet in Venezuela in the 1990s and in 21st century refugee camps, the disease proves unrivaled in the breadth and speed with which it kills. Stories in the Time of Cholera untangles in harrowing detail how inadequate medical services, failures in public health administration, and deeply rooted prejudices against indigenous peoples combined to allow a modern medical tragedy to unfold.
First awarded in 1988, the annual J. I. Staley Prize recognizes innovative books that go beyond traditional frontiers and dominant schools of thought in anthropology to add new dimensions to our understanding of the human species. It is the largest cash prize in the field. Each year SAR convenes an anonymous committee of specialists representing the four subfields of anthropology (socio-cultural, biological, linguistic, and archaeology) to scrutinize and select a winner from among the field of nominated books.
In making the announcement SAR president James F. Brooks quoted the authors’ statement on accepting the award: “We are deeply honored to accept the Staley Prize. In recognizing a book that traces how hundreds of people died unnecessarily more than a decade ago — as much from global indifference as from an easily treatable bacteria — the School for Advanced Research highlights the intellectual and moral challenges when anthropologists are called upon to confront complexity and injustice. SAR’s generosity will extend our alliance with Warao communities in advancing health and human dignity.”
Charles L. Briggs, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
Clara Mantini-Briggs, MD MPH