You are here:

2021 marks exactly 300 years since the very first inoculation against smallpox on English soil. Most often relegated to the status of fallible precursor to Jennerian vaccination, mass immunisation and evidence-based medicine, inoculation represents a major – if not the major – turning point in the history of preventative medicine, and as such it should be accorded no less scholarly attention than vaccination. This anniversary year provides the ideal opportunity not just to celebrate inoculation, but to re-examine its legacy alongside its successor. With so much of the historiography on inoculation and vaccination relying on Mary Wortley Montagu’s interpretation of events, and on the print cultures that attacked both practices, this panel re-examines these practices from the perspective of those who embraced them, and in doing so sheds important new light on how inoculation and vaccination were conceptualised on the ground. 

The first paper, by Helen Esfandiary (KCL) - ‘A thankless enterprise’: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s campaign to popularize inoculation amongst her female peers, 1721-1724’ - re-examines Lady Mary Wortley’s campaign to popularise the Turkish practice of inoculation amongst her female peers in England. It contrasts Montagu’s insistence on forgoing conventional medical treatment against a united resolve on the part of her female peers (not just physicians) to advance an English version that was acceptable to them, thereby significantly nuancing Montagu’s inoculation legacy as we know it. 

The second, by Mary Clare Martin (University of Greenwich) - ‘Smallpox, childhood and youth: hospital, home and workhouse, 1721-1800’ - analyses how children outside of the aristocracy and institutional settings were provided for and experienced inoculation. It contrasts successful cases with the experiences of families who were forced to resort to other protective measures, including isolation and quarantine: with those whose children “took it the natural way”, or those who experienced disability or death. The paper  thereby facilitates a greater understanding of the complex social processes and human relationships involved in disease prevention and treatment during this period. 

The final paper by Owen Gower (Jenner Museum) - ‘Cowpox champions: embracing vaccination in England, 1798-1830’ - explores the transition of inoculation to Jennerian vaccination by switching the focus of study from its opponents, to its early proponents and champions, giving voice to a strong contingent of individuals in communities across England who worked tirelessly to promote it, to carry it out, and, and to be willing recipients of it.  It thereby enables a more accurate picture of the immediate popular response to this novel medical intervention than that afforded by conventional vaccination narratives


All welcome- this seminars is free to attend but registration is required.