UCSB history associate professor Gabriela Soto Laveaga recently released a book examining the origins of the oral contraceptive pill.

Titled “Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects and the Making of the Pill,” the book details the research Soto Laveaga completed during a seven-year stint in Oaxaca, Mexico studying the development of the pill. In her book, Soto Laveaga discusses the social, economic and political history of the barbasco — a type of yam indigenous to the Mexican region that can be processed to produce an oral contraceptive pill. The book also highlights the relationship between Mexican peasants and pharmaceutical companies that evolved to contribute to the formation of the contraceptive industry.

According to a press release, Mexican chemists first discovered the contraceptive properties of barbasco in the 1940s. The researchers found that the barbasco plant contains chemical components capable of replacing human steroids, chemicals that can eventually be used to mass produce synthetic hormones such as the contraceptive pill.

Soto Laveaga said she first learned about the discovery in one of her Ph.D. dissertation classes in Oaxaca, Mexico.

“It’s an irony,” Soto Laveaga said. “Mexico has a huge population problem and this is where the pill was created. … When we think about history and the pill, we don’t associate it with Mexican peasants.”

Soto Laveaga said the phenomenon intrigued her so much that she began dedicating the majority of her time to investigating the history of the pill.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Soto Laveaga said. “I knocked on locals’ doors asking if they had newspapers from the ’70s. I interviewed people from the U.S. and Mexico: scientists, peasants, bureaucrats. I tired to find out as much history as possible about the story behind the pill.”

After reading the book, Soto Laveaga said she hopes people will adopt a different perspective of the discovery of the oral contraceptive pill.

“In reality, they were collecting this plant for over 30 years, but it has not been until recently that this simple effort has made its way from the jungles of Mexico, to foreign laboratories, to women’s medicine cabinets across the world,” she said.

Soto Leveaga will lecture on her new book on April 14 at 4 p.m. in HSSB 4041. She is currently working on her second book.