Assistant Professor, Department of History, Northwestern University
"Rumors, Speech Acts, and Medical Facts: An Oral History of Mexico's First Vaccination Campaigns"
Abstract: A global vaccinating expedition launched from Spain in the early 1800s made Jenner's cowpox vaccine available to communities of peasants throughout Spanish America. In Mexico, the vast majority of those Indian tributaries who were subsequently vaccinated had no prior experience with immunization technologies of any kind. What kinds of local, viceregal, or Atlantic knowledge contributed to the "domestication" of immunization in these early years of practice? Part of a book project on reforms in disease management during Mexico's Enlightenment, this talk draws on a cache of rumors reported in the months and years following the expedition, including charges of enslavement, sorcery, forced enlistment into Spain's armies, and kidnapping, to discern the domains of colonial knowledge and conventions of communication that were relevant to the introduction of immunization among non-literate peasants. In so doing it suggests how political processes at the village and parish level rendered this knowledge "fact" among patients and vaccinators alike.