Past Event

Yasemin Akçagüner - Pockmarked Sovereignty: Early Smallpox Vaccinations in Ottoman Istanbul (1800-1807)

April 12, 2024
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
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Event Description

This article presents the first synthetic account of smallpox vaccinations in early-nineteenth century Istanbul. Recent research on the global history of smallpox vaccinations demonstrates that Istanbul was crucial to the transit of vaccines from Europe to the Persian Gulf and on to India in the early days of the global spread of vaccination. Considering Istanbul’s role as a hub for the global distribution of vaccines, why was the city not the site of a mass vaccination campaign until the 1880s? By analyzing Ottoman physicians’ treatises on vaccination alongside the records of British and French physicians vaccinating in Istanbul in the years 1800-1807, Yasemin Akçagüner shows how vaccinations remained limited to the families established in the predominantly European quarter of Pera, despite the professed attempts of Ottoman, British and French physicians to popularize smallpox vaccinations across the Empire. She argues that the limits of vaccination reveal an uneven terrain of imperial sovereignty in early nineteenth century Istanbul, where neither the Ottoman Sultan, nor the British and French Empires were in total control over the bodies of Istanbul’s residents, and accordingly lacked the institutional capacity necessary to vaccinate the city’s population en masse.

Event Speaker

Yasemin Akçagüner, graduate student in history at Columbia University. 

Event Information

Open to Columbia University ID holders. Please email Stephanie Reitzig at [email protected] for the Zoom link and reading. 

Hosted by the Science Studies Working Group at Columbia University.