Archive for August, 2011
I am a big digitization nerd, and I get really excited when I discover new digitization projects and resources, especially ones that make historical research a lot easier and faster. My latest discovery came through my Twitter feed this morning, and is called Connected Histories. The website aggregates eleven digital resources on British history between 1500 and 1900 (including British History Online, London Lives, The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online) and allows the user to perform a single search of all the aggregated resources. This function is already hugely important and useful, but there’s more. Users can register for a free personal workspace that allows them to save searches and results, and to connect and share resources with others. What I really like about the connection function is that other users can only access the resources you share, and are not able to connect with you personally or even know anything about you other than your username. So, it’s basically a social network for resources without the baggage of personal connections. Brilliant. Connections can be associated with a course, which makes this a useful tool for organizing and distributing course materials. The website also provides comprehensive research guides arranged by topics, such as family history, crime and justice, local history, poverty and poor relief, etc., and detailed information about the included resources.
I took the search tool for a quick spin and I am quite impressed with the results interface. Results are categorized by document type, date and availability (free or subscription). Users can also access workspace functions from the results page, including saving or downloading of the searches or results, and Google +1 and Twitter bookmarks. My search results (for the word “vaccination”) also came up with an Old Bailey case that I had not encountered before, which I posted on my brand new HLBNA workspace.
I think this project represents the next step in digitization. Digital resources should be more than just a dump for scanned pages, but should provide users with tools for smart, comprehensive searching, saving, downloading, annotating and sharing, as well as helpful research guides.
Connected Histories is a not-for-profit service created by a partnership between the University of Hertfordshire, the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and the University of Sheffield.
The subject of today’s post is the first and only reported case on Alberta vaccination laws prior to 1920. The 1915 case is one of a number of cases I have compiled which deal with court challenges presumably initiated by ordinary citizens who were opposed to nineteenth and early twentieth century vaccination laws (similar court challenges were brought against mid-nineteenth century UK compulsory vaccination statutes, but on the basis that penalty provisions in the statutes violated the common law autrefois convict plea).
In the present case, plaintiff Clowes challenged a provision in Alberta’s Public Health Regulations of 1911 (enacted pursuant to the 1910 Public Health Act) which stipulates that no person was to be admitted to a school without proof of successful vaccination or of insusceptibility to smallpox, the disease for which vaccination was indicated. The basis for the challenge was that the regulation was subordinate to and in conflict with the Truancy Act, another Alberta statute that mandated compulsory school attendance (one wonders why this conflict was not detected during due diligence prior to enacting the Regulations). Clowes, who I imagine was one of many ordinary citizens who were opposed to vaccination at that time (the case was not reported in the newspapers, and I haven’t been able to find any information about those involved in the case outside of what appears in the law reports), sought an order of mandamus from the Alberta Supreme Court to compel the admittance of his unvaccinated son, Robert Gordon Clowes, to school. The court reluctantly found in his favour.
In separate opinions, each of the five sitting justices found that although the regulations were justifiably intended for the prevention of infectious disease and protection of the public’s health, and was much less intrusive than the compulsory infantile vaccination laws that then existed in England, it was nonetheless irreconcilable with the Truancy Act and as such, could not be upheld. Upholding the regulation would amount to repealing the Act or rendering it ineffective. Chief Justice Harvey referenced but distinguished a Minnesota case, State v Zimmerman, where the court upheld an emergency regulation that was similarly in conflict with a state law compelling school attendance. In Zimmerman, the Supreme Court of Minnesota upheld the emergency regulation on the basis that it was enacted pursuant to a statute on the subject of the preservation of public health and prevention of the spread contagious diseases, and being thus a statute “intended and enforced solely for the public good”, must be taken to be “primary and superior” to a statute that protects the right to attend public school. Echoing a common public health refrain, the Zimmerman court declared that as regards the balance required to resolve the conflict between both statutes, “the welfare of the many is superior to that of the few.” However, Chief Justice Harvey distinguished Clowes from Zimmerman on grounds that the regulation in issue was a general one, and not an emergency regulation.