Inoculation (Smallpox) For Native American Communities


Inoculation was a method used historically to prevent smallpox bydeliberately introducing antigens or pathogens in the blood system tostimulate antibodies production against smallpox virus. Manyhistorians advocated radical methodology to be applied to counteractthe spread of smallpox among the Native American communities. Thisparticular blog will examine and scrutinize the various methodsproposed for inoculation by historians and scholars, theirperspectives, effects of smallpox inoculation on religion, class,gender, occupation, social and economic effects.

James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton in their book After theFact, The Art of Historical Detection advocates for inoculation amongthe Native Americans. In their perspectives, inoculation is thedeterrent to the spread of smallpox among the Native Americans. Intheir view, solving historical mysteries or problems like smallpoxmenace needed observance of historical solutions by studying theanimosity of the past (Davidson &amp Hamilton, 2010). The art ofhistorical detection emphasizes on the collection of historical databased on assumptions, examining evidence, posting questions, and findout how to reach viable solutions.

According to the authors, historical methodology served asdetectives to historical problems. Smallpox being one of thehistorical injustices carried especially among the Native Americansneeded to embrace inoculation to tame and limit the spread of thevirus among the native population. Although the authors supportedinoculation, they tend to ignore the possible adverse effects ofinoculation on the native population, how the process would affecttheir way of life, cultural settings, social, economic problems, andthe reaction of the pathogen to their blood system.

According to Mary Wortley Montague, inoculation was one of thesafest ways to curb the spread of smallpox. She was a contributor tomicrobiology and immunology. In her views, the introduction ofpathogens and antigens would slow smallpox scrub which made the skinsurface when rubbed into an open scar, lacking eyebrows and scarredface. As a victim of smallpox and loss of her brother to the disease,she was convinced of the protective power of inoculation and adeterrent to the spread of smallpox. She, in fact, spearheaded theprocess of inoculation by popularizing her country-England afterleaving Istanbul where she was residing with her family.

Inoculation significantly contributed huge quantities of growingactive microorganisms from a two-week old pile material which wouldimmensely slow and stop the mutation of the virus. In her opinion,Montagu tended to believe that the Turkish culture was much superiorto her England culture. This is evident in her letters praising theIslamic medicine, and the fact that she claimed that Turkish womenpossessed more liberty when compared with British women. Montagu’snarrative raises dominant and critical discourses that naturalizeclass relationships during her times, especially in moments whereorientalists or gender expectations were profoundly subverted. I,therefore, conclude that even though the issue of class has over timebeen neglected especially in recent literature, discourses arisingfrom class play a vital role in constructing culture difference andfor that sole reason it should be accorded significant attention inthe historical literature.

In her view, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in A midwife’s Talebelieved in the power of science and the need to appreciatetraditional medicine. She narrates the events of two remarkablewomen one the eighteen-century healer and a midwife and the otherthe twentieth-century historian woman who was able to actualize herwords to light (Ulrich, 1991). During her time, America was a youngnation facing adverse social, economic and political turmoil. In myopinion, I believe that Thatcher supported inoculation by her loveand care of humanity. She embraces the value of human life and byextension, inoculation was one of the methods applicable to eradicateor slow the spread of smallpox virus.

Michael J. Salevouris and Conal Furay in their book, “TheMethods and Skills of History,” introduce the historical thinkingand multiple casualties. The authors have combined theory andhands-on practice which comprehensively present historical methodsbased on tested field exercise thus making research and applicationof historical methods more efficient. Multiple casualties in thiscontext form the basis of arguments that help explain past events.Although historians can devise ways to experiment or test theoriesthat would yield data to explain recent developments, they can basetheir arguments by interpreting partial primary sources in a frequentmanner which in return would offer series of explanations of a singlehistorical event. Therefore, application of historical thinkingmethodology provides an alternative to avoid multiple casualties.Given the scenario of inoculation, I believe authors would propose amethod that counteracts multiple casualties.

Although the above historians tend to support inoculation, theyhave however neglected to address possible contingency may result bythe above process. In conclusion, in my opinion, safeguarding humanlife is of utmost priority, but at the same, there is the need toexamine and evaluate any possible unexpected eventuality.


Davidson, J., &amp Hamilton, M. (2010). EducationAfter the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. Washington: Mc-Graw Hill Publishers.

Ulrich, L. (1991). A midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. Philadelphia: Amazon.