The Unseen Vaccine: Trans-Imperial Networks, Medical Exploitation, and State Formation in Nineteenth-Century South America (1795-1825)
Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Following Edward Jenner’s vaccine discovery, leaders entered the nineteenth century with the renewed hope of curbing the smallpox epidemic. In 1803, Spain’s Real Expedición Filantrópica de la Vacuna (Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition) set sail to disseminate the smallpox vaccine throughout Spanish America and Asia. Scholarship on vaccination in nineteenth-century Latin America has focused on this expedition; however, historians have neglected peripheral regions untouched by the mission. The Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was one such area. This thesis examines how the inhabitants of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata obtained a vaccine for smallpox, despite the Spanish Empire’s failure to ensure the vaccine's arrival in the region. I argue that Río de la Plata’s trans-imperial commercial networks and pervasive local agency, anchored in the regional fusion of Catholic-Enlightenment ideas, made possible the successful dissemination of the smallpox vaccine in the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata and was instrumental in the creation of the newly independent state in the region after 1810. While unofficial expeditions were active in the Caribbean and Brazil, the vaccine’s pathway in the Río de la Plata was uniquely commercial, with trade precipitating the vaccine’s arrival and mercantile interests driving vaccination campaigns. Commercial, administrative, and religious elites centered these mercantile-medical ventures within a Catholic-Enlightenment ideology, through which they used the language of humanitarianism to justify profitable vaccine enterprises and the medical exploitation of enslaved people as commodified vaccine carriers. These elites’ autonomy persisted into the revolutionary period, where elites’ standardization of vaccination and distribution procedures, in which administrative actors and individual elites disseminated the vaccine, legitimated the revolution and contributed to processes of state formation.
Macias, Sigi, "The Unseen Vaccine: Trans-Imperial Networks, Medical Exploitation, and State Formation in Nineteenth-Century South America (1795-1825)" (2023). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1926.
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