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July 6, 1984

Princes and Peasants: Smallpox in History

Author Affiliations

Morris Fishbein Center University of Chicago

JAMA. 1984;252(1):106. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350010066034

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In all of medical history, one of the most dramatic episodes is the eradication of smallpox. The disease has a fascinating history. It was sufficiently distinctive so that even ancient accounts provided fairly reliable information for the historian. Dr Hopkins, with enormous acumen and diligence, has traced the impact that smallpox has had in human history and, although with lesser emphasis, the way that modern science has conquered it.

There is considerable difference between "smallpox in history" and "history of smallpox." They are not synonymous. Hopkins has given us a quite exhaustive account of the former. The disease, appearing in epidemics, wrought enormous changes. Conventional history, dealing with wars and dynasties and the dominant classes, tells us how the deaths and illnesses of rulers and princes affected the course of nations. The more progressive types of history, dealing with social problems and economic events, show the effects of epidemics on