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“What Can We Say to the Poor People Now?”: Anti-Establishment Vaccine Rejection and Slow Violence in the 1885 Smallpox Epidemic

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When smallpox began spreading through Montreal in 1885, many refused the vaccine that may have spared 3,000 lives and prevented 19,905 other cases of the disease. Thus far, the literature on the epidemic has linked anti-vaccination sentiment to the linguistic and ethnic identity of Montreal’s French-Canadian Catholic population. Using Rob Nixon's concept of slow violence, this thesis argues that the rejection of public health measures by working-class French Canadians was an anti-establishment reaction to the interventions of a city whose industrialization and urbanization had worsened and ignored other pressing environmental and health concerns.
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