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Germ WarsThe Politics of Microbes and America's Landscape of Fear$
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Melanie Armstrong

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780520292765

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520292765.001.0001

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“Smallpox Is Dead”

“Smallpox Is Dead”

The Public Health Campaign to (Almost) Eradicate a Species

Chapter:
(p.30) 1 “Smallpox Is Dead”
Source:
Germ Wars
Author(s):

Melanie Armstrong

Publisher:
University of California Press
DOI:10.1525/california/9780520292765.003.0002

In the mid-twentieth century, a global war against smallpox demonstrated how microbial nature might be managed according to human desires. The germ theory of disease identified microbes as originators of disease, and vaccine technology produced immunity by using microbes to alter the human body, forever changing the interspecies relationship between germs and humans. While the Cold War was building a national security regime, the smallpox campaign was creating a global system of disease control, infusing the work of public health with new biopolitics of race and nationhood. Modern health institutions are built upon this belief that nature can be managed for the benefit of populations, a foundational premise of biosecurity. Smallpox effects endure in concerns that bioterrorists will revitalize the virus.

Keywords:   smallpox, nature, germ theory of disease, vaccination, governance, Cold War, public health, biopolitics, nationhood, biosecurity

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