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Disability & the Victorians: Confronting Legacies (7/30-8/1/2012)

Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies presents
Disability & the Victorians: Confronting Legacies
30th July-1st August 2012
Leeds Trinity University College

The nineteenth century was the period during which disability was conceptualised, categorised, and defined. The industrial revolution, advances in medicine, the emergence of philanthropy and the growth of asylums all played their part in creating what today’s society describes as the medical model of disability. Disability can be traced through many forms: in material culture and literary genres; scientific, medical and official inquiries; art; architecture; the history of disabled charities; disabled people’s experiences; the legacy inherited by disabled people today of the taxonomies and categories of disability – the ‘handicapped’; the ‘deaf and dumb’; the ‘feeble minded’; the blind; the ‘imbecile’ the ‘idiot’ and the ‘cretin’ – the legacy of the relationship between the body, the visual, the scientific and the literary text; the intersection of disability, theories of evolution, the emergence of the disciplines of statistics, social sciences and anthropology, eugenics and degeneration.  This conference seeks to address conceptualisations of disability in the Victorian period and their legacy(ies); the ways in which we can draw disabled voices and testimonies together to construct ‘the long view’, the intersection of disability studies and Victorian studies, and the conceptual, disciplinary, and pedagogical issues that arise as a consequence of this research.

Themes will include:      
  • Resistance/conformity: subversion, transgression, agency and constraint.    
  • The visibility and invisibility of disability: beggars, street sellers, hawkers, freak shows and circuses.    
  • Victorian institutions: charities, asylums, schools and clubs.    
  • Normalising practices: definitions, constructions, categories and taxonomies.    
  • Victorian technologies: assistive and medical.    
  • The emergence of specialisms: from audiology to psychiatry.    
  • Disability as a moral force for improvement: theology and spiritual enlightenment/development, literature and the school of pain.    
  • The formation of Victorian identities: nation, empire, ‘race’.    
  • Disability and the fear of loss: national efficiency, eugenics and ‘degeneration’.    
  • Medical and cultural histories: medical illustration and advertising, the relationship between the literary, the medical and the scientific text.    
  • Acts: Victorian social policy and legal frameworks.    
  • Work: employment, employability, the regulated employment and non-employment of disabled people    
  • The spaces of disability: art, architecture, environment.    
  • Pedagogy: teaching about disability and the disabled in the Victorian period.    
  • Representing disability to non-specialist audiences: heritage interpretations, public histories, dictionaries.

This is an interdisciplinary conference, grounded in Victorian Studies, for which the Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, being established since 1994 and home of the Journal of Victorian Culture, has a longstanding and influential reputation. Within Victorian Studies, and the humanities more broadly, disability studies has emerging significance (e.g. Martha Stoddard Holmes, Fictions of Affliction (2006), Julia Miele Rodas, rev. essay, ‘Mainstreaming Disability Studies?', Victorian Literature and Culture 36.1 (2006), and the Special Issue on 'Victorian Disability' for the Victorian Review (Fall 2009)). The aim of the conference is to bring these two interdisciplinary fields together.

As the history of disability has tended so far to focus on social constructions of disability, in part a reflection of the available sources, a key aim of the conference is to offer a new direction by addressing the experiences or testimonies of those who are disabled and by considering the long-term impact of such social constructions, in order to construct ‘the long view’.   Confirmed Keynote Speakers include:  Joanne Woiak, Ph.D., Disability Studies Program, University of Washington; Professor Martha Stoddard Holmes, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Literature and Writing Studies, Cal State University San Marcos, USA, 'Fictions of Affliction: Physical Disability in Victorian Culture'; Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of National Fairground Archive, National Fairground Archive (Western Bank Library) University of Sheffield.

Over fifty papers have been accepted for this three-day international event. There is also opportunity to visit the Thackray Medical Museum, for an object-handling session, and I am pleased to inform you that the programme for the above conference has now been published on our webpage:  http://www.leedstrinity.ac.uk/NEWS_EVENTS/DISABILITY-VICTORIANS/Pages/ConferenceProgramme.aspx

If you anticipate that the conference registration fee might cause you financial hardship, please contact the organisers.  Prof Karen Sayer, DPhil, F. R. His. S.  Professor of Social and Cultural History Director of Programme: History Department of Humanities Leeds Trinity University College Brownberrie Lane Leeds LS18 5HD Tel: 0113 2837212

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