Event—Public Programming

Laboratories of Consent: Vaccine Science in the Spanish Atlantic World, 1779-1840


In 1804, the Spanish introduced the world’s first smallpox vaccine to its empire, along with orders that vaccination—as a gift of both God and King—be voluntary. Yet the vaccine was incubated and conserved for the public through the dispossessed bodies of enslaved, orphaned, and indigenous peoples. The talk will discuss the establishment of the vaccine within the empire, and how it fostered a new but fractured culture of consent at the turn of the nineteenth century. Against the backdrop of the wars of independence, medical consent became a carefully meted out privilege. To allow some the choice to vaccinate, while withholding the choice for others, drew distinctions between who counted as fully human and who deserved the right to one’s health, one’s body, and one’s freedom.