Circulating smallpox knowledge: Guatemalan doctors, Maya Indians and designing Spain's smallpox Vaccination Expedition, 1780-1803

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Abstract

Drawing on the rich but mostly overlooked history of Guatemala's anti-smallpox campaigns in the 1780s and 1790s, this paper interweaves an analysis of the contribution of colonial medical knowledges and practical experiences with the construction and implementation of imperial science. The history of the anti-smallpox campaigns is traced from the introduction of inoculation in Guatemala in 1780 to the eve of the Spanish Crown-sponsored Royal Maritime Vaccination Expedition in 1803. The paper first analyses the development of what Guatemalan medical physician José Flores called his local method of inoculation, tailored to material and cultural conditions of highland Maya communities, and based on his more than twenty years of experience in anti-smallpox campaigns among multiethnic populations in Guatemala. Then the paper probes the accompanying transformations in discourses about health through the anti-smallpox campaigns as they became explicitly linked to new discourses of moral responsibility towards indigenous peoples. With the launch of the Spanish Vaccination Expedition in 1803, anti-smallpox efforts bridged the New World, Europe and Asia, and circulated on a global scale via the enactment of imperial Spanish health policy informed, in no small part, by New World and specifically colonial Guatemalan experiences with inoculation in multiethnic cities and highland Maya towns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-537
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Science
Volume43
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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