Imagining Disability in the Long 18th Century

In this AHRC-funded project, Dr David Turner examines the ways in which physical impairment was defined, understood and discussed in England between 1660 and 1830.

Disability history has developed over the past decade to show that meanings of impairment are not biologically determined but subject to change over time. Yet much of this research is focused on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and traces the historical roots of the barriers faced by disabled people in the present to citizenship. Research on disability before 1800 tends to focus on its more 'freakish' aspects, such as broadside accounts of 'monstrous births', rather than its more common manifestations. Furthermore, existing histories of disability are generally founded on institutional and top-down histories of what was done to disabled people; little is known about the experience of disability in history. Despite the view that the period from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries witnessed significant changes both in the treatment of disabled people and in social perceptions of disability, the era has not yet received detailed historical attention.

'Imagining Disability' seeks to make good this neglect, analysing cultural representations of disability and the testimonies of disabled people themselves to explore the meanings of impairment in this period. The principal output of the project will be a monograph that provides the first book-length study of physical impairment in this period. 

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