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'Un mal pequeño para un gran bien' : smallpox prevention and the dissemination of new ideas in Spain 1725-1775


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Gratton, JM 2012 , ''Un mal pequeño para un gran bien' : smallpox prevention and the dissemination of new ideas in Spain 1725-1775', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The intellectual developments that transformed Europe during the long eighteenth century were widely believed to have begun late in Spain. More recently, it has been recognised, especially by Spanish scholars, that profound change began in the seventeenth century and that this early progress underpinned the developments which occurred later. In the middle decades of the eighteenth century, Spain saw three monarchs and many reforms. This was a period of change. Yet change in Spain was notoriously hindered by a stubborn resistance to the entry and dissemination of many of the new ideas which were encouraging progress elsewhere in Europe. One such idea was the notion that smallpox inoculation, which involved the deliberate inducement of a mild case so as to produce long-term immunity, could and should be used to combat the damage wrought by the disease. The available published and manuscript evidence permits an examination of the nature and extent of discourse and activity around inoculation during its introductory phase, which coincides with this mid-century period of transition. The study uses the introduction of inoculation to investigate the changing conditions governing the dissemination of new ideas in Spain at this time. Divided into two time periods, 1725-1759 and 1759-1775, it examines the response to inoculation in terms of the transmission and receipt of information and opinion about the technique and also in terms of the adoption and use of the practice. The discussion of inoculation discourse and activity is set in the context of the prevailing political and intellectual conditions, and this periodisation serves to accentuate and to clarify the ways in which circumstances influencing the dissemination of ideas altered over the course of the middle years of the century. The inoculation case study is used to create a clearer understanding of Spain’s treatment of new ideas by focusing on the extent of public and private discourse, the extent of repression through censorship and, as illustrated especially through an inter-related case study of the Sociedad Bascongada, the process of innovation. The study reveals that the virtual absence of an unofficial periodical press did not necessarily prevent wide and timely promulgation of contentious new ideas and that censorship was haphazard in its effects, sometimes producing outcomes which conflicted with the government’s reform programme. It also demonstrates how innovation tended to occur most readily at the periphery and how new practices could spread through emulation.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Gratton, JM
Keywords: Spain, eighteenth century, new ideas, smallpox inoculation
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Copyright 2012 the author

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