Disability and the Hidden History of Smallpox in France, 1700-1900


ACLS Fellowship Program




Using analytic tools from Critical Disability Studies, this project places survivors rather than deaths at the center of an exploration of smallpox, the most feared, widespread, and fatal epidemic disease of early-modern Europe. At its eighteenth-century peak, nearly three million French people (the wealthy, and large numbers of children) emerged to live with permanent facial scarring, 10% of them blind. Because France resisted inoculation and vaccination more than any other major European country, smallpox returned periodically in the nineteenth century to ravage thousands of troops and even higher numbers of the poor. This study analyzes religious, medical, government, private, and cultural sources to introduce a new paradigm for concepts of victimhood, health, and embodiment at the core of attitudes toward disability.