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Reading Guide. Gareth Williams, Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010, 2011).


1) What is the main claim or thesis of the book or article? (This means that the author has 1) to tell what happened (the 5 Ws); 2) describe how or why. In historical writing this is what the thesis should achieve.)

2) Is the information supported by evidence? Take a good look at the footnotes or endnotes. What types of sources did the author use? What other sources may have been used? (Be specific: not just lots of books and information but what sorts: diaries, court records, et cetera.)

3) What are the main assumptions on which the author bases the argument's main claim? Do you agree with those assumptions? [To help you to identify them, assumptions have these features (the following list taken from,

• Hidden or unstated
• Taken for granted
• Influential in determining the conclusion
• Necessary, if the reasoning is to make sense
• Potentially deceptive]

4) What is the bias (perspective) of the author? (Motive can be a clue here.  Why is the author writing this?  Is the author trying to challenge or complicate another interpretation?

5) Where is the argument vulnerable, weak, or thin? Are other interpretations of the author’s evidence possible?


1) Williams prepares that inoculation efforts were practiced in non-Western areas before vaccination.  What can we learn about non-western societies attitudes about science, religion, and medicine from Williams’ account?

2) What transatlantic connections does Williams describe?

3) How does Williams describe the relationship between money, medicine, and variolation specific to social divisions? Do you think same conditions exist?

4) What are the four lessons Williams says we can learn from smallpox prevention and why does he think these are significant?

5) How is Williams’ account of small pox and responses to it an ex of conjuncture, contingency, and, or accident?
BONUS:  Who was the last generation in your family to get a smallpox vaccine?  You? Your parents? Grandparents?  Is there a story about it?

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