Legacy of Vaccines
Legacy - HNRS 1120

Instructor(s): Amy Farnbach Pearson

Course Description

Vaccines have been critical to the control of diseases that are nearly forgotten in some places today, but in the past were feared as disabling, scarring, and fatal. Vaccines eradicated smallpox in the wild, a disease that once was the cause of one in thirteen deaths. For other diseases, vaccines remain a hotly pursued Holy Grail in control efforts – such as HIV/AIDS, which is the cause of one in four deaths in South Africa today. Yet despite vaccines’ successes and centuries-long history, many people have regarded them with suspicion, and continue to do so today. In Legacy of Vaccines, we will examine these developments through two key vaccines– smallpox and polio – along with the ways public health authorities encouraged the development and acceptance of vaccines and the ways the public have both embraced and resisted these efforts. From the origins of vaccination in Asia and Africa at least 500 years ago to the fight against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, we will explore the ways vaccines have shaped our world. 


A variety of 18th – 21st-century medical and popular works on vaccines, including: 

Durbach, Nadja. 2000. “‘They Might as Well Brand Us’: Working-Class Resistance to Compulsory Vaccination in Victorian England.” Social History of Medicine 13 (1): 45–63. 

Jenner, Edward. 1801. The Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation. London UK: D. N. Shury. 

Offit, Paul A. 2005. The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis. New Haven: Yale University Press. 

Smith, Michael M. 1974. “The ‘Real Expedición Marítima De La Vacuna’ in New Spain and Guatemala.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 64 (1): 1–74. 


In addition to preparation for and participation in class, students will conduct a collaborative analysis of primary sources and develop oral,visual and written arguments. To help students develop a toolkit for complex and challenging work, elements of project planning will be used to approach the semester’s work in a way that promotes metacognitive analysis of what works and doesn’t work for them in diving into big tasks. 

About the Instructor(s): Amy Farnbach Pearson

Amy Farnbach Pearson received her PhD in Anthropology from Arizona State University. She is a historical anthropologist specializing in the social construction of medical knowledge and practice. Her research examines sociocultural influences on western medical concepts of health and disease, doctor-patient interactions, and quality of care; her dissertation focused on the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis in nineteenth-century Scottish charitable hospitals.