Friday, 12 February 2010

Smallpox Through Time

It's ages since we uploaded the American West material onto Timelines TV - since when we’ve all been busy, distracted by other TV projects. Apologies for that. But I'm glad to say we're back, and currently creating a new Timelines TV resource called Smallpox Through Time.

The resource will tell the story of smallpox from its origins in the ancient world to its eradication in the late 20th century. The project has been commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, and will tie in nicely to the SHP’s Medicine Through Time curriculum. It will launch in Spring 2010.

We were out all this week filming content. Horribly cold – but it's great to be out filming again.

We visited Burford in Oxfordshire, which suffered a major outbreak of the “speckled monster” in 1758. The picture shows us in Burford's graveyard, where (according to local legend) over 200 victims of the 1758 epidemic were all buried in a mass plague pit.

And then on to Gloucester, where 434 people died of smallpox in 1896 – a full century after Jenner’s discovery of the cowpox vaccine.

It’s amazing that smallpox survived in this country for so long – well into the age of photography. (The picture shows one victim, George Steel, photographed in the Gloucester infirmary). The problem was that vaccination was controversial. A major public backlash against compulsory vaccination throughout the 19th century left the population exposed; of a population of 40,000 in Gloucester in 1896, there were 10,000 unvaccinated children.

It’s a story that resonates today with the controversy over MMR.

More news on the new resource soon – and we’ll alert teachers via the forums when it is ready for launch.

In the meanwhile if you teach Medicine Through Time and have suggestions for content, do get in touch.