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Smallpox inoculation: translation, transference and transformation

  • Eriksen, Anne1
  • 1 University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway , Oslo (Norway)
Published Article
Palgrave Communications
Palgrave Macmillan UK
Publication Date
Mar 24, 2020
DOI: 10.1057/s41599-020-0431-6
Springer Nature


In the early decades of the eighteenth century, small pox inoculation was introduced into northern Europe from the Middle East. The method consisted of grafting infected matter from a person who suffered from smallpox into the arm of one who had not yet been attacked by the disease. The operation usually caused a mild case of illness and protected against further attacks. A series of translations and transformations was involved in the introduction of this new medical treatment. Linguistic and other translational shifts took place. The present article investigates four texts that introduced the new practice to readers in northern Europe, all published in London in the period 1714−1722. Starting out from the general point that translation always will create something new, the article develops the notion of translational bridges: to get the message through, the translator must employ devices or ‘dispositifs’ that connect the source text to the receiving end of the process. Translational bridges make it possible to convey a message across gulfs of potential misunderstandings, non-intellegibility, and chaos. The article shows that the bridge can be made in different ways and make use of different means. The more efficiently this bridge eases the passage of the message, however, the more easily additional meanings will slip over as well. Inoculation was a way of protecting people from a common and often fatal disease. The translations explored in the article show how it also involved issues of gender, religion, social position and ethnicity.

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