Sackler Library Book Display
The theme for the 2019 Disability History Month festivities in the United Kingdom is ‘Disability: Leadership, Resistance and Culture‘. To explore some important questions opened up by this focus, this reflection proposes three encouragements to further teaching and student research in disability history: displays of books held by the Bodleian Libraries at both the Sackler Library and the Continuing Education Library throughout Disability History Month (22 November to 22 December 2019); a presentation for the Disability History Workshop (Friday 22 November 2019, 9:00-13:00 in the History Faculty — all members of the University are welcome to attend the workshop and join us for lunch [please sign up here]); and an Oxford Reading Lists Online (‘ORLO’) site collating digital links to scholarship and media about how disability history is evidenced through design, visual cultures and historic environments.
As a historian of nineteenth- to twenty-first century design, it would be hubristic to extend my suggestions for prospective researchers in disability history much beyond in this period. That said, it is important to celebrate, as the 2013 BBC podcast series ‘Disability: A New History’ by Peter White advised by Professor David Turner of Swansea University eloquently did, the burgeoning field of historians assessing the documentation of medieval and early modern charitable institutions through the lens of disability history. Isabel Holowaty, Bodleian History Librarian, is collaborating with History Faculty colleagues in these earlier periods to develop a Disability History research guide (‘LibGuide’) addressing a wider chronological scope.
Enabling Histories of Design for Disability
Culture operates as both leadership and resistance. This discussion delves first into advocacy by disability activists witnessed in oral histories and archives. A brief stroll through some of the wealth of historical scholarship about designed objects and environments for disability ensues which hopes to facilitate new research.
Primary Sources: Advocacy
Three eighteenth- and nineteenth-century voices helped to identify the core thematics of this meditation: William Hay MP (1695-1755), Thérèse-Adèle Husson (1803-31) and Hyppolite van Landeghem (fl.1860s). Parliamentarian for Glyndebourne and Christ Church man, William Hay contested problematic Enlightenment equations of moral virtue with physical health and beauty in his 1754 essay ‘On Deformity’. Despite his use of the uncomfortable contemporary terminology of ‘deformity’, referencing an earlier essay by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Hay embraced his own bodily difference as an ‘advantage’, as he perceived it, because his spinal condition and stature activated his aptitude for education and sensibility. Author of numerous children’s novels, Thérèse-Adèle Husson underlined the importance of attending to and capturing the perspectives of creative self-advocates. The hand-written manuscript of Husson’s extraordinary autobiography, Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France, was sent to the Director of the Quinze-Vingts Hospital for the Blind, Paris in 1825, remaining neglected until recuperated by Professor Zina Weygand of the Conservatoire Nationale des Arts et Métiers Paris in 2004 (Une jeune aveugle dans la France du XIXe siècle). Husson’s testimony of living with disability amidst a climate of social turmoil and resistance was translated by Weygand and Catherine Kudlick of San Francisco State University and is available as an e-book here. The polemical Victorian rhetoric of Hyppolite van Landeghem’s 1864 treatise on ‘Exile Schools’ has perhaps led to the neglect of the text’s evocation of the tensions between disempowering charity, isolation and community in designed environments for disability, a theme writ large in its ungainly title: Charity Mis-applied. When Restored to Society, after Having Been Immured for Several Years in Exile Schools, the Blind and the Deaf and Dumb Are Found to Be Incapable of Self-support. Why? The Question Considered and Answered.
These themes of advocacy, practice and representation also resonate in the archival traces of twentieth-century civil rights activists who played a vital role in securing the legislative requirements and commercial incentives that underpin design for disability. The commitment of Edward V Roberts (1939-95) to secure equity of intellectual and physical access to education and work was achieved through both civil disobedience and municipal council motions that implemented disabled-student university accommodation, ‘curb cuts’ throughout the road network and the formation of the first Center for Independent Living (Berkeley, California), all documented in the archives of the University of California at Berkeley. In the United Kingdom, Paddy Masefield OBE (1943-2012) is just one of many advocates documented in the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) at Buckinghamshire New University. His energy in advising government and cultural institutions generated ground-breaking apprenticeship and employment initiatives, as well as the foundation of influential and remunerative annual prizes to promote creativity for disability. The Masefield Award promotes ‘outstanding communication through art by a disabled person’.
Recent Scholarship: Histories of Design for Disability
Famous designers and powerful cultural institutions have engaged with design for disability in multiple ways. A vodcast of the keynote lecture for the Annual Design History Conference convened at the Department for Continuing Education in 2014, ‘How Disabled Design Changed the History of Modernism’ by Professor David Serlin of the University of San Diego, captures perspectives and case studies from disability history which remain rarely considered within most University curricula. How often does Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent’s 1948 commission for an accessible Usonian-hemicycle house from Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) figure in modern architectural histories?
Objects and Exhibitions
Displays of collections of work by disabled practitioners have promoted both empowerment and stigma. Art produced by mental health patients collected by the art historian and psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn (1886-1933) at the University of Heidelberg was both admired in Surrealist circles and denigrated in the 1938 Nazi Degenerate Art exhibition. In her Learning from madness: Brazilian modernism and global contemporary art, Kaira M. Cabañas of the University of Florida has revealed how in this interwar period the psychiatrists Osório César (1895-1979) and Nise da Silveira (1905-99) and the art critic Mário Pedrosa (1900-81) also championed the generative relationships between their disciplines collaborating and exhibiting the artwork of mental health patients in Brazil. The exhibition ‘Design for Independent Living’ at the Museum of Modern Art in 1988 brought innovative design for disability emerging in Scandinavia, the United States and the United Kingdom to a wider audience. The MoMA 2012 exhibition ‘Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000’ celebrated pedagogic toys at the heart of the special education systems devised by Friedrich Fröebel (1782-1952) and Maria Montessori (1870-1952). As the researchers and Royal College of Art student participants interviewed by Chris Ledgard for his 2015 BBC podcast ‘The Art of Walking Into Doors’ suggested, the complex relationships between dyslexia, dyspraxia and acuity in three-dimensional design are only just revealing themselves. In 2018, ‘Access + Ability’ organized by Cara McCarty and Rochelle Steiner and then ‘The Senses: Design Beyond Vision’ organized by Ellen Lupton and Andrea Lipps at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York demonstrated these innovative design strategies and debates have now entered the digital age.
The Sackler Library book display also includes exhibition catalogues which show the vibrant presence of makers and museum audiences with disabilitity across the globe. The braille-embossed cover of the bi-lingual catalogue for the 1969 Sculpture for the Blind exhibition held at the South African National Gallery, Cape Town and the 1983 Please touch: animal sculpture exhibition at the British Museum exemplify how curatorial and museum interpretation teams have been engaging with under-represented communities for many years. The affirmation of the word ‘Unlimited’ used in the title of exhibitions both at the Edinburgh City Art Centre in 1981 and at the Southbank Centre in 2012 signals institutional activism. Richard Sandell’s, Jocelyn Dodd’s and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s thoughtful 2010 anthology, Re-presenting disability: activism and agency in the museum, considers strategies for enhancing such cultural leadership through museum interpretation strategies and collections. The quiet activism of the 2018 ‘Museum Benches’ project devised by the designer Shannon Finnegan critiques the limited accessibility actually afforded in cultural institutions, reminding us much still remains to be done. Digital app projects such as ‘LOLA’, conceived by Seth Truman and the non-profit technology firm Tech Kids Unlimited, engage with and for autistic children. In the ‘House of Memories’, National Museums Liverpool are raising awareness and creating collaborative networks between people living with dementia, care professionals and museums, demonstrating the direct social impact of culture so easily under-recognized and under-funded in the ongoing age of austerity.
As a canon of histories of design for disability emerges, scholarly research has constellated around the themes of symbolic representation, universal design and sensorial history. In her Designing disability: symbols, space and society, Elizabeth Guffey of Purchase College, State University of New York has examined the graphic design and historical agency of the ‘International Symbol of Access’. Aimi Hamraie of Vanderbilt University in Nashville assessed the theoretical and practical complexities of attempting to build according to ‘Universal Design’ principles (Building access: Universal Design and the politics of disability). Graham Pullin of the University of Dundee (Design meets disability) explored a set of design case studies for sensoriality, mobility and communication. In their Culture – theory – disability, Anne Waldschmidt, Hanjo Berressem and Moritz Ingwersen of the University of Cologne brought together the methodological challenge of calibrating social and cultural models of disability across the senses. Bess Williamson of the Art Institute of Chicago focused on how innovation in everyday industrial design was spurred on by accessibility activism in post-war America (Accessible America: a history of disability and design). Further book chapters and journal articles linked into my ORLO list afford thought-provoking case studies of design typologies from invalid and wheel chairs, hearing aids, ‘talking book’ shellac record discs, ‘disabled’ GI Joe and Barbie dolls and therapeutic amateur craft.
Visual Culture and Representation
A vast spectrum of representational positions from empathetic portraiture to horror film stereotyping or graphic-novel fantasy can be investigated through visual culture. Art History has delved deep into the analysis of the portraits of court ‘jesters’ by Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez (1599-1660) and mental health by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824). The pathetic fallacy expressed by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) in his nature studies undertaken whilst a patient at the St Paul Asylum in Saint Rémy have become part of our cultural mythology. The perceived porous boundary between creativity and physical-cognitive diversity has dominated the choice of subjects for biographical films about artists, from iconic subjects such as Van Gogh, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Camille Claudel (1865-1943) and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901) to the ‘discovery’ of Séraphine Louis of Senlis (1864-1942) and Christy Brown (1932-81). The intersectionality of design and film histories has enhanced the analysis of the 1932 film ‘Freaks’ directed by Tod Browning (1880-1962). Banned by the British Board of Film Certification ‘because it exploited for commercial reasons the [sic] deformed people that it claimed to dignify’ the film, as been argued by Angela Smith, can be read as enacting resistant counter-narratives within the interwar eugenicist context of its production.
Disability history inhabits a plethora of historic environments. In her Architecture in the family way: doctors, houses, and women, 1870-1900 Annemarie Adams of McGill University argued for the agency of hospitals’ architectural design in shaping modern medical treatments, sociability and technologies. Clare Hickman (Therapeutic landscapes) of the University of Chester established landscape design as a historical therapeutic practice within medical institutions. Leslie Topp of Birkbeck College University of London demonstrated the foundational place of Viennese sanatoria in histories of design for cognitive diversity (Freedom and the cage: modern architecture and psychiatry in Central Europe, 1890-1914). Robin Jackson’s Discovering Camphill focussed on how the special needs educational environments of the transnational Camphill Movement originated in Aberdeen in the 1930s. Claire Edington (Beyond the asylum) of UC San Diego opened up colonial and global perspectives in her analysis of mental illness in French Colonial Vietnam. Design cultures of place impacts upon well-being, often subjugating and isolating, at times creating a sense of belonging and community.
Postgraduate research: MSt in the History of Design Dissertations and Conference Papers
Sustaining the leitmotif of design for disability across the syllabus for the MSt in the History of Design has facilitated exciting postgraduate research. Student essays have uncovered business histories of glass-eye manufacture in Germany (Liz Dotzauer MSt HoD 2013) and prosthetics in Britain (Richard Hefford-Hobbs MSt HoD 2019) during the First World War as well as the identity politics of visual cultures around running blades and Paralympians in the twenty-first century (Bry Leighton MSt HoD 2017). Two students in the 2015-7 cohort, Bry Leighton and Karen Price, were awarded grants from the Pasold Fund and the Design History Society respectively to research their dissertations touching on disability and design history. Bry interviewed audiences and performers in Spain about for her project on flamenco and identity in post-Franco Spain. Karen investigated archives and collections in the Orkney and Shetland Islands to assess the mental health amidst conflict evidenced through exhibitions of Second World War Servicemen’s toy craft (read her report here). Both dissertations secured distinctions and are available for consultation in the Continuing Education Library; both students presented their disability history research at an academic conference at University of Edinburgh in 2017. Whither next?….
Our abilities, physical and cognitive, are infinitely diverse and variable across our lifetimes. In attending to how the design of the material world and its cultural representation activates or hinders the expression of these abilities, these meditations have hoped to engage more scholars in continuing to forge the history of design for disability.
My thanks to Bodleian Libraries colleagues, Angela Carritt, Grace Brown, Clare Hills-Nova, Erin McNulty and Chantal van den Berg for their help in orchestrating both physical and virtual resources and to Jeannie Scott in the History Faculty for inviting me to present at the Disability History Work Group.
Further resources (textual, visual, audio) History of Disability, Oxford Reading Lists Online (Please note: E-texts referenced in this blog and in the 'ORLO' reading list may be accessed by members of the University only. Hard copy versions of texts may also be found by searching SOLO.) Extended Reading List Introductions to Disability History and Modern Visual/Material/Spatial Cultures Boys, J., (ed.) (2017). Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader. London: Routledge. Boys, J., (2014). Doing Disability Differently: An alternative handbook on architecture, disability and designing for everyday life. London: Routledge. Fraser, B., 2018. Cognitive disability aesthetics : visual culture, disability representations, and the (in)visibility of cognitive difference. Guffey, E., (2017). Designing disability: Symbols, space and society. London: Bloomsbury. Hamraie, A. (2017). Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. University of Minnesota Press. Humphries, S.; Gordon, P., (eds.) (1992). Out of Sight: The Experience of Disability 1900-1950. Northcote House. Kitchin, R., (2000). Disability, space and society, Sheffield: Geographical Association. Kuppers, P., (2019). Disability Arts and Culture : methods and approaches. Bristol: Intellect. Kuppers, P., (2014). Studying disability arts and culture : an introduction. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan. Masefield, P., 2006. Strength : broadsides from disability on the arts, Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books. Pullin, G., (2011). Design meets Disability. MIT Press. Siebers, T., 2010. Disability aesthetics. Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press. Waldschmidt, A., Berressem, H. & Ingwersen, M., 2017. Culture - theory - disability : encounters between disability studies and cultural studies, Bielefeld. Sensory-specific histories Kleege, G., (2018). More than meets the eye : what blindness brings to art. New York: Oxford University Press. Lindgren, K.A.; DeLuca, D.; Napoli, D.J., (2008). Signs and voices : deaf culture, identity, language, and arts. Washington, D.C. : Gallaudet University Press. Mirzoeff, N., (1995). Silent poetry: deafness, sign, and visual culture in modern France. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. Shaw, C.L., (2017). Deaf in the USSR : marginality, community, and Soviet identity, 1917-1991, Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Designed Environments for Disability Adams, A., (2008). Medicine by design : the architect and the modern hospital, 1893-1943, Minneapolis ; London: University of Minnesota Press. Barlett, P.; Weight, D., (eds.). Outside the walls of the asylum: The history of care in the community 1750-2000. Athlone Press. Cook, G.C., (2004). Victorian incurables : a history of the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, Putney, Spennymoor: Memoir Club. Dale, P.; Melling, J., (2006). Mental illness and learning disability since 1850 : finding a place for mental disorder in the United Kingdom. London : Routledge. Edington, C., (2019). Beyond the Asylum: Mental Illness in French Colonial Vietnam. New York: Cornell University Press. Hickman, C., (2013). Therapeutic landscapes : a history of English hospital gardens since 1800, Manchester ; New York: Manchester University Press. Jackson, R., (ed.) (2011). Discovering Camphill: new perspectives, research and developments. Floris Books. Melling, J.; Forsythe, B., (1999). Insanity, institutions, and society, 1800-1914 : a social history of madness in comparative perspective, London: Routledge. Topp, L.; Moran, J.; Andrews, J., (eds.) (2006). Madness, Architecture and the Built Environment: Psychiatric Spaces in Historical Context. London: Routledge. Tupling, K. ; De Lange, A., 2018. Worship and disability : a kingdom for all. Cambridge: Grove Books. Disability and Exhibitions Anon, 2012. Unlimited : extraordinary new work by deaf and disabled artists, London: Southbank Centre. Biggs, B. & Williamson, A., (2014). Art of the lived experiment. Liverpool: The Bluecoat. Bordin, G. ; Polo D'Ambrosio, L. ; Hyams, J., (2010). Medicine in art, Los Angeles: J P Getty Museum. Borensztein, L. & MacGregor, J.M., (2004). One is Adam, one is Superman : the outsider artists of Creative Growth. Published in conjunction with the exhibition "Leon Borensztein and his friends: portraits of artists with disabilities," organized by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, San Francisco: Chronicle Books. Brown, C., (1954). My left foot. London: Secker & Warburg. Coles, P., (1984). Please touch : an evaluation of the 'Please touch' exhibition at the British Museum 31st March to 8th May 1983, Dunfermline: Committee of Inquiry into the Arts and Disabled People. Crawshaw, G., 2016. Shoddy : disability rights, textiles, recycling, history and fightback, Leeds: Gill Crawshaw. Delin, A., Wright, S. & Prest, M., 2001. Adorn, equip : a national touring exhibition originated by The City Gallery, Leicester. Leicester: The City Gallery. Eccles, T. & Jenkins, B., 1991. Attitude : [a project ability exhibition]. Glasgow: Project Ability. Edinburgh City Art Centre, (1981). Artists unlimited : selected works by disabled artists & craftsmen. Edinburgh: City Art Centre. Hayward Gallery, (1996). Beyond reason : art and psychosis : works from the Prinzhorn Collection, London: Hayward Gallery. Jones, S. & Ritchie, E., 2007. The Studio Project : opening art practice. published in conjunction with the Different spaces exhibition, Studio Voltaire, London 22nd June - 8th July 2007 London : Intoart Projects. McCarty, C., (1988). Designs for independent living : the Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 16-June 7, 1988., New York: The Museum. Nolan, G., (1997). Designing exhibitions to include people with disabilities : a practical guide, Edinburgh: NMS Publishing. Pearson, A. & Hughes, K., (1983). Please touch : animal sculpture ; catalogue of an exhibition at the British Museum, 31 March - 8 May 1983, London: British Museum. Sandell, R., Dodd, J. & Garland-Thomson, R., 2010. Re-presenting disability : activism and agency in the museum, London: Routledge. Shea, J., (1993). Defiance : art confronting disability, Stoke-on-Trent: City Museum & Art Gallery. South African National Gallery, (1969). Sculpture for the blind, 1969 = Beeldhoukuns vir Blindes, Cape Town: s.n. Live Arts Goodley, D. & Moore, M., (2002). Disability arts against exclusion : people with learning difficulties and their performing arts, Kidderminster: BILD. Keidan, L., Mitchell, C.J. & Vason, M., 2012. Access all areas : live art and disability. London: Live Art Development Agency. Kuppers, P., (2003). Disability and contemporary performance : bodies on edge, New York ; London: Routledge. Kuppers, P., (2013). Disability culture and community performance : find a strange and twisted shape. Basingstoke, Hampshire : Palgrave Macmillan. Graphic Cultures Alaniz, J. & Halverson, P.D., 2014. Death, disability, and the superhero : the silver age and beyond. Jackson, Mississippi : University Press of Mississippi. Ellis, K., (2015). Disability and popular culture : focusing passion, creating community and expressing defiance, Burlington. Foss, C.; Gray, J.W.; Whalen, Z., (2016). Disability in comic books and graphic narratives, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire. Raabe-Webber, T.; Plant, A., (2016). The incorrigibles : perspectives on disability visual arts in the 20th and 21st centuries, Birmingham: mac Birmingham. Visual Culture and Cognitive/Mental Health Blackshaw, G. & Topp, L., 2009. Madness and modernity : mental illness and the visual arts in Vienna 1900, Farnham: Lund Humphries. Cabañas, K.M., (2019). Learning from madness : Brazilian modernism and global contemporary art, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Cross, S., 2010. Mediating madness : mental distress and cultural representation. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan. Davies, F. & González, L., (2013). Madness, women and the power of art. Oxford : Inter-Disciplinary Press. Groom, G.L., 2016. Van Gogh's Bedrooms. Chicago : Art Institute of Chicago. Lapper, A. & Feldman, G., (2006). My life in my hands, London: Pocket. MacGregor, J.M., (1989). The discovery of the art of the insane, Princeton ; Guildford: Princeton University Press. Miller, E., (2008). The girl who spoke with pictures : autism through art, London: Jessica Kingsley. Mullins, E. & Gogh, V. van, 2015. Van Gogh : the asylum year, London: Unicorn Press. Nuss, P. et al., 2005. Journey into the heart of bipolarity : an artistic point of view. Montrouge, France : John Libbey Eurotext Publishing. Prinzhorn, H.; Black, C., (2011). The art of insanity : an analysis of ten schizophrenic artists, Washington, D.C.?: Solar. Schildkraut, J.J. & Otero, A., 1996. Depression and the spiritual in modern art : homage to Miró. Chichester: John Wiley. Shoham, S.G., (2002). Art, crime, & madness : Gesualdo, Caravaggio, Genet, Van Gogh, Artaud, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. Snell, R., (2017). Portraits of the insane : Théodore Géricault and the subject of psychotherapy, London: Karnac. Tromans, N., 2011. Richard Dadd : the artist and the asylum, London: Tate Publishing. Film Bodammer, E. & Schillmeier, M.W.J., (2010). Disability in German literature, film, and theater, Rochester, NY: Camden House. Fraser, B., (2016). Cultures of representation: disability in world cinema contexts. E-book Fraser, B., (2013). Disability Studies and Spanish Culture: Films, Novels, the Comic and the Public Exhibition, Liverpool University Press. Kaes, A., (2009). Shell shock cinema: Weimar culture and the wounds of war. New York, NY.: Princeton University Press Siddique, S.; Raphael, R., (2016). Transnational horror cinema : bodies of excess and the global grotesque. Smith, A.M., (2011). Hideous progeny : disability, eugenics, and classic horror cinema, New York: Columbia University Press. Sculpture Niestorowicz, E.A., (2017). The world in the mind and sculpture of deafblind people, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Disability after Conflict Alberti, S.J.M.M;, Tonks, H.; Midgley, J., (2014). War, art and surgery: the work of Henry Tonks & Julia Midgley. London : Royal College of Surgeons of England. Anderson J., (2011). War, disability and rehabilitation in Britain: Soul of a Nation. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Bourke, J., (1996). Dismembering the male: men's bodies, Britain and the Great War. Chicago, IL.: University of Chicago Press. Hutchinson, R., (2011). The silent weaver : the extraordinary life and work of Angus MacPhee, Edinburgh: Birlinn. Ott, K., (ed.). (2002). Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics. London: New York University Press. Reznick, J., (2004). Healing the nation: soldiers and the culture of caregiving in Britain during the Great War. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Serlin, D., (2004). Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Scruton, J., (1998). Stoke Mandeville Road to the Paralympics: fifty years of history. Brill: Peterhouse. Taliaferro, W., (ed.). (1944). Medicine and the war. Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press. Wheatcroft, S., (2013). Worth saving : disabled children during the Second World War. Manchester : Manchester University Press. We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers. Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Chantal van den Berg (email@example.com) if you would like propose a topic.