Maybe you've heard about Edward Jenner and his cows as the beginning of modern vaccines, but did you know how vaccination went global? In 1803, funded by King Carlos IV of Spain, a doctor used orphaned and enslaved children to incubate the vaccine for smallpox in their own bodies. They then travelled through the Caribbean, Mexico, the Philippines, China, and back to Europe, inoculating thousands along the way. Our outdoor exhibition explores that voyage, literally the first global health mission, showing how a miraculous new technology was rooted in exploitation, colonialism and the horrific Atlantic slave trade.
The vaccines themselves were very different from today's quick jabs: lymphatic fluid was harvested from pustules that was then inserted directly into other people's arms. Using the human body to transport and incubate the cowpox virus allowed Western medicine to circle the globe under the auspices of humanitarianism. With the vaccine, colonial officials hoped to eradicate both disease and evidence of the violence of slavery.
Vaccine Voyages follows the story of the enslaved children who incubated and reproduced the vaccine, putting them back at the heart of this medical revolution. The exhibition can be found on North Meadow Walk, in front of IASH, and runs from Saturday 9 to Sunday 24 April. The exhibition is based on research by current CHCI-ACLS Fellow Dr Farren Yero.
Presented by The University of Edinburgh as part of Edinburgh Science Festival 2022.
Text: Dr Farren Yero
Illustration: Jacqueline Briggs
Design: Wing Design
Production: Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in collaboration with Edinburgh Infectious Diseases.