Loading Animation

2015 Fass-Sandin Prize in English Winner: Lydia Murdoch

It is with great pleasure that the committee for the Fass-Sandin Prize for the best article (in English) on the History of Children and Youth published in 2015 announces that the award goes to Lydia Murdoch for her wonderful essay 

“Carrying the Pox: The Use of Children and Ideals of Childhood in Early British and Imperial Campaigns Against Smallpox,” Journal of Social History, vol. 48, no. 3 (Spring 2015), pp. 511-535. 

The Committee wrote:

“In a strong and varied field, Lydia Murdoch’s essay stood out for us not only because of the fascinating story she tells – of the use of children as carriers of smallpox vaccines around the globe in the early nineteenth century – but also as a result of her careful attentiveness to the multiple ways in which the category of childhood was made and remade in intersection with ideas relating to class, race, and gender. What she demonstrates is that shifting conceptualisations of childhood in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries facilitated both the increasing social acceptance, as well as the dissemination, of vaccination. New ideas about childhood innocence were, as Murdoch notes, ‘flexible’. The concept of the pure, innocent child was crucial to popularising and legitimating vaccination particularly among middle- and upper-class parents: vaccination was a sign of their love and care for their children. But, equally, in their innocence, children’s bodies were believed to offer doctors and scientists a tabula rasa on which to test anti-smallpox treatments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, children who were poor, black, and without the protection of their parents were particularly useful for officials and doctors working to make the smallpox vaccine widely available. Murdoch charts the journeys by land and sea of a group of child vectors of the vaccine, whose bodies and work allowed imperial authorities to paint the British Empire as a benevolent parent of people around the globe, but whose treatment and living conditions were certainly well below those afforded to white, middle-class children.

By dint of their innocence – and vulnerability – children were, then, significant to the extension of scientific and medical knowledge, and also to the making and entrenchment of imperial rule. This is an article that asks us to think carefully about how unstable age categories are crucial to the workings of power.” 

Thank you to the prize committee Sarah Duff, University of Witwaterand; Daniel Grey, Plymouth University; and Leroy Rowe, University of Southern Maine for their service. 

By Mona Gleason (President, Society for the History of Children and Youth)