Global Contagions, Local Contexts. Inoculating Smallpox in Istanbul, Florence, and Jamaica (1721-1805)
The essay focuses on an intersectional analysis of contagion addressing smallpox inoculation within a transcontinental circulation of medical knowledge and practices. In this wider framework, three different contexts are analyzed: Istanbul, Florence, and Jamaica. Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters from Turkey are the starting point for analyzing an oriental practice in the hands of women soon appropriated and westernized by English male physicians. The same pattern is evident in Florence, where English medical texts were translated rapidly, and medical experimentation involved orphaned children. The third context, Jamaica, is explored through the journal of Mary Nugent and sheds light on a colonial society where inoculation was practiced on the children of the élite and experimented on the slave population working in the sugar plantations. Issues of gender, inequality and race take center stage questioning the reinforcement of such hierarchies through medical practice, and experimentation.
keywords: smallpox inoculation; circulation of scientific knowledge; medical experimentation; women’s writings; race; gender; inequality