by: Kristin Brigg
On March 16-18 at the Southern Association for the History of Medicine and Science (SAHMS) 2017 conference at Coastal Carolina University, I presented my recent work on the late nineteenth-century Cape Colony medical community. Through a constructed fear of leprosy communicability via smallpox vaccination, I argued that as indigenous lay vaccinators took over medical district vaccination, British-trained district surgeons disavowed these vaccinators by claiming that the latter spread leprosy through arm-to-arm vaccination. These surgeons thus used the leprosy-vaccination link to return scientific authority to the white Cape medical community. As this argument is fundamental to my master’s thesis, presenting my work prior to my April defense benefited my project through the way in which scholars outside the College of Charleston interpreted and approached it. Thanks to a grant from the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences, I was able to travel to SAHMS to gain this feedback and expertise. Both objects have helped me understand my research in new ways, forcing me to reconsider especially the deeper connections between leprosy, southern African indigenous communities, and smallpox vaccination.
At the same time, SAHMS increased my relationships with the very scholars that questioned my work. I not only connected with professional scholars who work on vaccination, such as Stephanie Gonzalez at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, but also other graduate students who will be my peers in the future. By connecting with historians outside Charleston, I firmly placed myself in a community that will only increase as I begin my doctoral studies next fall. In this way, SAHMS gave me the opportunity both to continue to develop my research, and to further connect with scholars from around the globe.
Kristin is a graduate student in the Department of History. She was awarded the School of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Travel Award to attend the SAHMS conference.