Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“In his arm the scar”: Medicine, race, and the social implications of the 1721 inoculation controversy on Boston
by Thomas Hurford, Christianna Elrene, Ph.D., The Ohio State University, 2010, 304; 3435037
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the convergence of Atlantic World medicine and disease with the 1721 smallpox epidemic in Boston and controversy that arose over the practice of inoculation. In Boston, Puritan beliefs intersected with the growing importance of theoretical medical training in Europe, and also with medical practices from Africa. As a result, the controversy over accepted medical treatment highlighted competing views of disease: as an act of the supernatural, as a result of an external pathogenic agent, or some combination of both. This dissertation places the African practice of inoculation at the matrix of what became an Atlantic-wide debate on the efficacy of Europeans obtaining valuable knowledge from Africans. I explore the consequent social upheaval in which issues of race, culture, and concepts of self, body, and “the other” all surfaced.

My project is significant in several ways. By viewing the controversy through the lens of race I add a new dimension to the historiography on the inoculation controversy that moves beyond the medical – religious debate over the proper response to disease, to an assessment of how medical changes in the Atlantic World affected the daily lives of both white and black Bostonians. In addition, I also explore how the epidemic and corresponding controversy in Boston later affected the larger Atlantic World. I also add to the recent scholarship which challenges the long-standing historiography that presents Europeans as largely uninfluenced by Africans, while the latter quickly discarded their own culture. I contend that the Atlantic-wide debate over European adoption of an African medical practice led many Europeans and Euro-Americans to consider Africans in a new light, while Africans resisted European attempts to culturally assimilate them.

This study draws on a variety of sources including newspapers, diaries, church records, pamphlets, sermons, letters, shipping records, travelers accounts, court records, and town records from both sides of the Atlantic. Using an interdisciplinary approach and both quantitative as well as qualitative methods enables me to ask new questions of old sources and view the crisis, controversy, and subsequent social upheaval through the lens of race, and to read many of the nuances in black-white relations in early eighteenth-century Boston.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gallay, Alan
Commitee: Gallay, Alan
School: The Ohio State University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Black history, American history, Science history
Keywords: Boston, Inoculation, Massachusetts, Race, Smallpox
Publication Number: 3435037
ISBN: 9781124336879
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