Disability: A New History, is the first major series to explore the history of disability before the 20th century. It draws on a wealth of new research by historians across the country from sources including letters, diaries, advertisements, even jokes – all of which reveal what daily life was like for those with disabilities.
In the ten-part radio series, journalist Peter White uncovers new historical sources revealing what life was like for those with physical disabilities in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The series sets out to challenge modern-day attitudes to disability, and the archive sources provide direct access to voices from the past. Throughout the series a rich variety of voices is heard: a man who complains he is the ‘only dwarf in Liverpool’; deaf children writing home from institutions; a wounded soldier, struggling to walk with a wooden leg; a society beauty disfigured by smallpox; ‘freaks’ who exploited their extraordinary bodies on the streets of London – and made a fortune. Dr David Turner of Swansea University is the academic advisor to the series and an expert in disability history. He provides academic insights throughout, in addition to a number of historians from across the country. He has also written an article to accompany the series for the BBC’s Ouch! Disability Blog.
Elizabeth Burke, Producer, says: 'The great thing about radio is that we can bring these voices to life, and give listeners a chance to hear first-hand sources – many of which have not yet been published. Some of these accounts are very funny, some are moving and inspiring. This is cutting-edge historical research – it amounts almost to a new historical movement. We wanted to explore what daily life was like for people with physical disabilities, but also to look beyond that, to ideas of beauty and deformity, wider concepts of what it means to be ‘able-bodied’ - which had an impact on real people, then as now.'
Dr Irina Metzler and Dr Mike Mantin of Swansea University also feature in the series.
Dr David Turner teaches in the Department of History and Classics at Swansea University, and has recently published the first book-length study of physical disability in 18th-century England, Disability In Eighteenth-Century England: Imagining Physical Impairment.
Disability: A New History runs for 10 consecutive weekdays at 1.45pm over a two-week period from Monday 27 May, with an hour-long omnibus edition on Friday nights at 8pm. It was commissioned by Jane Ellison for BBC Radio 4. The producer is Elizabeth Burke for Loftus.
- Wednesday 29 May 2013 13.34 BST
- Wednesday 29 May 2013 15.45 BST
- RIAH, Swansea University