Born White: Race, Religion, and the Conscientious Objector to Smallpox Vaccination in Britain and Natal

Monday, 15 August, 2022 - 16:00

Presented by : 
Seth
Koven

Note to Readers:  Thank you so much for reading this draft in progress. I have written it entirely during our long global lockdown under Covid, which has undoubtedly informed my approach.  I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to learn from your community of scholars and receive your guidance about errors of fact and interpretation, important gaps in my historiography, and ways to move forward to modify, jettison, strengthen, and sharpen my arguments. My book chapters are quite long and this one is no exception. The previous chapter of my book is set in the Deccan region of Maharashtra from c.1800 to the Indian Uprising of 1857 and I have published a version of it in Modern Asian Studies this year (“Brahman Wives and Pedagogies of Conscience.”)  In the interest of encouraging conversation, I hope that you will read the Introduction and then skip to Part 4, p.12-24. For those with more time, I included Part 2, “Objecting to Conscientious Objection,” which emphasizes the impact of questions of empire and race on metropolitan debates about conscientious objection to vaccination.  I hope that Part 2 conveys a sense of how the chapter attempts to connect the history of conscience, anti-vaccination, and vaccination in Britain with the story in Natal.  Part 3, “‘It was cruel, I admit:’ District Surgeons, African Healers, and the Management of Smallpox in British Colonial Natal” maps out the smallpox management system in Natal.  It draws heavily on newspapers, reports of district surgeons, published histories in medical journals documenting the use of militarized quarantines and compulsory “industrial-style” vaccination tours of Africans, the emergence of a powerful anti-vaccinator lobby coincident with the passage of the 1882 Vaccination Act, and the dynamic negotiations and exchanges between African healers and their therapeutics with district surgeons as public vaccinators. As will be clear to readers, I am entering into altogether new territory for me – and no doubt remain as yet unaware of the implications of what I am writing for those of you shaping this vibrant field and its future.   

Paper: 

PDF icon Koven2022.pdf

General seminar arrangements

  • The WISH seminar is hosted on-line every Monday afternoon at 16:00 - 17:00 SA during the teaching semester.
  • For the details of the Zoom meetings, please sign up for email notices at https://wiser.wits.ac.za/mail.
  • Participants must read the paper prior to the seminar, which is typically available by the Friday preceding the seminar.
  • The WISH seminar archive is available here
  • A printable version of the seminar schedule for the current year is available here.