Vaccination: Foreign Bodies, Contagion and Colonialism

  • Alison Bashford


It is well recognised that epidemics of communicable disease have long been a ramification of contact between cultures and communities, accompaniments to exploration, migration and colonisation, one of the events of the ‘frontier’. Although what constituted the matter and the mode of contagion was constantly under dispute through the centuries of modern colonialism,1 it was clearly recognised at the time and in subsequent scholarship that indigenous populations in particular succumbed to any number of fevers and poxes.2 And, although the result of vastly different configurations of power, it was also recognised that the British — migrants, military, missionaries — suffered and died from ‘alien’ diseases in alien places,3 hence as I discuss in later chapters, the discipline and institutions of tropical medicine. A concomitant interest in isolated individuals and communities, their vulnerabilities and immunities, has accompanied colonial and global epidemiology and public health, from nineteenth-century studies of ‘pure’ native tribes to the ‘isolates’ of the 1960s International Biological Programme.4 Indeed, as we shall see through the book, public health administrators sometimes advocated enclosed segregation on public health grounds, in a way which mimicked this idea of natural isolates: indigenous people whose vulnerability sometimes justified a kind of health-based protective custody.


Nineteenth Century Late Nineteenth Century South Wale Social Body International Biological Programme 
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Copyright information

© Alison Bashford 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison Bashford
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of SydneyAustralia

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