The last two decades have seen a reawakening of scholarly interest in the history of smallpox prevention. Accounts of vaccination and others efforts at controlling smallpox have moved away from heroic narratives toward more nuanced and contextualized understandings. It is now accepted that several viruses traveled under the vaccine label from the outset, and it has been demonstrated that a variety of techniques were used to perform vaccination operations. The character of nineteenth century sea voyages that took the vaccine to distant territories has also been re-examined; sometimes the spread of the vaccine was caused by private networks and ad hoc decisions, while at other times it was the result of enterprises with close resemblances to contemporary centralized vaccination campaigns. Looking beyond Europe and North America we encounter a variety of state attitudes toward vaccination, ranging from concentrated efforts to spread the technique to efforts more uncertain and diluted. Although the reluctance to accept vaccination has been amply documented, recent studies emphasize this should not be attributed to simplistic dichotomies of modernity versus tradition or science versus culture; instead, instances of resistance are best studied as specific contextualized interactions. Indeed, factors like favorable geography, strong bureaucratic structures, and the absence of variolation seem to have helped the relatively smooth transfer of vaccination technologies. Perhaps most important, recent research encourages us to continue to study smallpox vaccination as a phenomenon that was simultaneously global and local.


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