‘The seat of death and terror’: urbanization, stunting, and smallpox

Authors:
Deborah Oxley
Published Online:
09 Jun 2004
DOI:
10.1111/j.1468-0289.2003.00264.x
Pages:
623–656
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 56 Issue 4

Additional Options

Recent works have investigated whether smallpox stunted growth. The answer is important for disentangling the factors driving changing heights. This article outlines the disease and its history in Britain. It then introduces a new source for the study of smallpox: prisoner records. These offer rich descriptions of individuals, including a pockmarked complexion. While pockmarks were not clearly associated with stunting in Ireland or in most of England, the connection did exist in London. In the metropolis, smallpox acted as a proxy for the worst urban disamenities, being most prevalent in the poorest, most overcrowded parts of the city.

Economic History Society 2003

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