by Prof. Hangen - March 8th, 2014
Some discussion questions to guide your reading and thinking:
- Consider the subtitle. How is this an “American history”? Is it, in some way, a history of America itself? Or of the era? Is this a “history of disease” book in the same way as the one you are reading for the Disease project? Where does Willrich locate the story – in the sick people, or the researchers, or the law, or somewhere else? Why does he begin the story in 1900, when smallpox is a very old disease?
- How do race and gender intersect with the story of smallpox outbreaks at the turn of the 20th century?
- One of Willrich’s claims is that smallpox “sparked one of the most important civil liberties struggles of the twentieth century” (14). This is a surprising claim; why?
- Explain the difference between smallpox variolation and vaccination.
- Why didn’t the US go the route of compulsory vaccination laws, as in other developed industrial nations at the time?
- How did communities, states and the federal government respond to “mild type” smallpox? Was Middlesboro, Kentucky, typical? What cultural factors made fighting smallpox in the South more challenging in these years?
- Describe the work of health inspectors like Wertenbaker – what did they do, and not do? What kind of authority (moral, legal, jurisdictional) did they have?
- What can you learn from these chapters about IDEAS of health and sickness at the time, or about the development of the American health care system?