S E N I N A R
Humanitarianism in the Spread of Vaccine around the World during the Napoleonic Wars
Presented by Professor Michael Bennett, University of Tasmania
Friday 16 September 2016, 3.00-4.30 pm
Room 548 Humanities Building, Sandy Bay Campus
About the seminar:
During 1800, Jenner’s idea of inoculating cowpox as a preventative of smallpox gained ground in England and sparked interest overseas. A rare disease found in English dairies, the first vaccine (cowpox) was largely propagated by inoculating children and using lymph from their vesicles for further inoculations. The transmission of cowpox around the world was nonetheless rapid. In the course of 1805, for example, the arrival of cowpox in Canton from both east and west completed its circumnavigation of the world; its introduction in Lima involved a slaving voyage from Africa to Brazil and a merchant vessel around Cape Horn; and the vaccination of children in Hobart represented its furthest reach from is origins in England’s dairies and the first place where cowpox arrived ahead of smallpox. The globalisation of vaccine involved the mobilisation of large numbers of people, elite and non-elite, male and female. Though medical careerism, political economy and imperial projection were all motive forces, this paper seeks to explore humanitarian impulses. It finds them in new emphases on child welfare, charitable medicine, a socially engaged clergy, the obligations of wealth and power, and projects for human betterment. It observes a new discourse of philanthropy, more secular, reasoned and universalist than older ideas of charity, and the idea of the humanitarian hero. Vaccination was an ideal cause for a generation disillusioned by revolution and frustrated by the slow progress of antislavery. Thomas Jefferson put it in a nut-shell: ‘every friend of humanity must look with pleasure on this discovery by which one evil more is withdrawn from the condition of man; and contemplating the possibility that future improvements and discoveries may still more and more lessen the catalogue of evils.’
About the presenter:
Emeritus Michael Bennett, University of Tasmania, has published four books on late medieval and early modern Britain and Ireland. He has in press a chapter in the new Cambridge History of Ireland, vol. 1, forthcoming 2017. He has published numerous articles on smallpox and early vaccination, including ‘Smallpox and Cowpox under the Southern Cross: The Smallpox Epidemic of 1789 and the Advent of Vaccination in Colonial Australia’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 83 (2009). He is currently completing a book entitled Wars against Smallpox. Edward Jenner and the Early Global Spread of Vaccination for Cambridge University Press.
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