History and Politics of Immunity

This working group aims to create new avenues of inquiry in the history of medicine by focusing on the changing social, cultural, and political meanings of immunity across time and place. Our scholarship ranges across the early modern and modern eras and includes the U.S., Western Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. We would therefore be open to papers on all world regions and eras. The group draws on the conveners’ backgrounds in feminist, queer, and disability studies to raise new questions about the specific history of immunity—a topic that has garnered a great deal of interest in the COVID-19 era.

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Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to conduct@chstm.org.

Upcoming Meetings

There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.

Past Meetings

  • April 15, 2022

    "'Requiring All to Submit to Vaccination': U.S. Imperial Medicine & the 1920 Smallpox Epidemic in Haiti," Matthew Davidson (PhD candidate in History, the University of Miami)

  • March 18, 2022

    Discussion of Suman Seth's chapter "Seasoning Sickness and the Imaginative Geography of the British Empire" from Difference and Disease: Medicine, Race, and the Eighteenth-Century British Empire (2018) and Kathryn Olivarius's article "Immunity, Capital, and Power in Antebellum New Orleans" in the American Historical Review (2019) 

  • February 18, 2022

    Patrick Walsh  (Doctoral Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison) "The Pasteurization of Glands: Rethinking the Brown-Séquard Industry (1889-1894)"
    Comment by Aro Velmet (Assistant Professor of History,  University of Southern California)

  • December 21, 2021

    Don James McLaughlin (Assistant Professor of English, University of Tulsa) ““Why not muzzles…for man?”: Situating Rabies Prevention in the Entwined Histories of Face Masks and Vaccination” 
    Comment by Cindy Patton (Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University) 

  • November 16, 2021

    Elise A. Mitchell (Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Princeton University), "Smallpox Inoculation in Slavery and Freedom: Toward an Atlantic History of the Jamaican Smallpox Epidemic of 1768." 
    Comment by Elena Conis (Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Journalism, Department of History, Program in Media Studies, and Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society at the University of California, Berkeley) 

  • October 19, 2021

    Aparna Nair (Assistant Professor, History of Science, University of Oklahoma-Norman), "Paper Trails and Poxes: A Global History of Vaccination Certificates and Passports"
    Comment by Sanjoy Bhattacharya (Professor in the History of Medicine, Director of the Centre for Global Health Histories, and Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories, University of York)

  • September 21, 2021

    Welcome to the History and Politics of Immunity working group! We'll use our first meeting to get to know each other and briefly discuss the introductions of two influential texts that offer compelling methodological arguments for how we might think about immunity, disease, and health across disciplinary divides: Cristobal Silva's Miraculous Plagues: An Epidemiology of Early New England Narrative (2011) and Paul Ramírez's Enlightened Immunity: Mexico's Experiments with Disease Prevention in the Age of Reason (2018). 

Group Conveners

  • econis's picture

    Elena Conis

    Elena Conis is Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Journalism, Department of History, Program in Media Studies, and Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a historian of U.S. public health and medicine, with a focus on the history of infectious diseases, environmental health, vaccines, pesticides, scientific controversies, and public understanding of science. Her writing includes Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization (University of Chicago, 2015), the edited collection Pink and Blue: Gender, Culture and the Health of Children (Rutgers University Press, 2021, with Sandra Eder and Aimee Medeiros), and two forthcoming books, How to Sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall and Toxic Return of DDT (Bold Type, 2022) and Measles: A Global History (Polity). She is currently conducting research on the history of belief exemptions to mandatory vaccination in the U.S.


  • travisclau's picture

    Travis Lau

    Travis Chi Wing Lau is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Kenyon College. His research and teaching focus on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature and culture, health humanities, and disability studies. His writing has appeared in Synapsis, Public Books, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Lapham’s Quarterly. Dr. Lau is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Insecure Immunity: Inoculation and Anti-Vaccination, 1720-1898, which explores the British cultural history of immunity and vaccination and the rise of the security state in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


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    Farren Yero

    Farren Yero is Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University, 2021-2022 ACLS Fellow, and 2022-2023 NEH postdoctoral fellow at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. She is a scholar of Latin America and the Caribbean, specializing in gender studies and the history of race, health, and medicine. Her current book project, Atlantic Antidote: Race, Gender, and the Birth of the First Vaccine, traces the introduction of the world’s first vaccine through the Atlantic World to explore questions about the racial and gender politics of preventative and public health and parental and patient rights amidst anti-colonial and anti-slavery revolutions. Her writing has appeared in The Recipes Project,The Panorama, Age of Revolutions, and the forthcoming volume, Epidemic Urbanism: How Contagious Diseases Have Shaped Global Cities (Intellect).


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