Catching Cowpox: The Early Spread of Smallpox Vaccination, 1798–1810


The introduction of smallpox vaccination after the publication of Edward Jenner's An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of Variolae Vaccinae depended on the spread of cowpox, a relatively rare disease. How Europeans and their colonial allies transported and maintained cowpox in new environments is a social and technological story involving a broad range of individuals from physicians and surgeons to philanthropists, ministers, and colonial administrators. Putting cowpox in new places also meant developing new techniques and organizations. This essay focuses on the actual practices of vaccination and their environmental contexts in order to illuminate the dynamic exchanges of materials, images, and ideas that made the spread of vaccination possible.