Technologies of Inoculation
This chapter examines the interlinked histories of inoculation and print during the 1721 Boston inoculation controversy. Cotton Mather claimed that he learned about inoculation from his slave Onesimus, and he advocated for it as a treatment during smallpox epidemics. Following the lead of William Douglass, anti-inoculists engaged Mather and his supporters in a wide-ranging exchange that Perry Miller eventually dismissed as a “tiff about style.” While the controversy initially focused on the procedure’s effectiveness and safety, it quickly devolved into an exchange of satires and parodies of opposing viewpoints. This chapter investigates the formal and stylistic concerns at the heart of the controversy, and reveals how these rely on representations of Native Americans and Africans, who unwittingly became vehicles for medical arguments. The formal qualities of African speech took on epistemological significance, and were held up as proof of the relative truth and falsity of scientific evidence. The positioning of Africans in the debate engages modern assumptions about the liberalizing tendencies of eighteenth-century medicine and print culture, underscoring the exclusionary practices that mark those Africans as the objects—rather than subjects—of liberalism.
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