February marks LGBT+ History Month in the UK, which aims to educate people about and increase visibility of the accomplishments of LGBT+ identifying people, and the contributions they have made and continue to make to society. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual people, as well as people of other gender, sexual and romantic minority groups, have been present in the arts, the sciences and daily life from ancient times to the modern day. The Sackler Library has chosen to celebrate the rich history and diversity of the LGBT+ community by means of a book display highlighting the contribution of LGBT+ people to the areas of study within the remit of the Sackler Library.
In terms of Classical literature, our display highlights the work of Sappho, e.g. in Rayor and Lardinois’ Sappho: a new translation of the complete works (2014). Sappho was a prolific lyric poet from the Archaic Greek era. Her poetry was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, and she was among the canon of nine lyric poets most highly esteemed by scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria. She is also the subject of some scholarly debate, but it is generally thought amongst modern scholars that her work portrays evidence of love and desire between women. Indeed, the modern use of the word ‘lesbian’ is derived from the name of her home island of Lesbos.
We can also see the contributions of LGBT+ people in the field of Egyptology, namely through Amelia Edwards’ A Thousand Miles up the Nile, a best-selling travelogue published in 1877. Edwards, born in 1831, was an English novelist, journal-writer, and traveller, and contributed greatly to Egyptological Studies, co-founding the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882. She was also the founder of the Edwards Chair of Egyptology at University College London. Edwards died in 1892 from influenza, and was buried alongside her partner, Ellen Drew Braysher. In 2016, her grave in Bristol was designated as Grade II listed by Historic England, and is celebrated as a landmark of English LGBT+ history.
The cover, an illustration, and author’s signature from an 1877 edition of Edwards’ A Thousand Miles up the Nile (Sackler Library, Special Collections)
To view Special Collections materials, please enquire at the Sackler Issue Desk
Image(s) Credit: Erin McNulty
We have also highlighted the relevance of LGBT+ studies to the study of architecture by including Betsky’s Queer space: architecture and same-sex desire (1997). This work discusses how same-sex desire is creating an entirely new design process. Vincent’s LGBT people and the UK cultural sector: the response of libraries, museums, archives and heritage since 1950 (2014) also deals with LGBT+ influences in the library and heritage sector specifically.
Works on art also form a substantial part of the Sackler’s collections. Both of these disciplines benefit greatly from the contributions of the LGBT+ community. Davis’ Gay and lesbian studies in art history (1994) gives an overview of this. We have also chosen to showcase art books dealing with LGBTQ+ themes from earlier periods, such as Mills’ Seeing sodomy in the Middle Ages (2015), to the more modern, e.g. David Wojnarowicz: history keeps me awake at night and Robert Mapplethorpe: the Archive.
A library’s collections can tell the story of a community, such as the LGBT+ community, and it changes as new works are acquired. How the Sackler, as well as many other libraries across the Bodleian, tells these stories will be reviewed by the upcoming project Changing the Narrative: Championing Inclusive Collection Development. This project, led by Helen Worrell, “will champion diversifying our collection development across the Social Sciences and Humanities Libraries, with the aim of enhancing collections in areas such as LGBTIQ+ Studies, Disability Studies, Indigenous Studies, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Studies and the intersections between these identities. This will enable us to think critically about the collections we currently hold so that we are aware of the gaps and the narrative these collections tell.” Keep an eye out on the Sackler blog for upcoming posts regarding this project, or head to the LibGuide for more information.
Our book display also ties in to the theme of 2020’s LGBT+ History Month, launched at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford: Poetry, Prose and Plays. We showcase works by all four featured authors: Dawn Langley Simmons’ Man into woman: a transsexual autobiography (1970), E. M. Forster’s Collected short stories (1947), Lorraine Hansberry’s A raisin in the sun (2011), and William Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1945 edition). We have also featured the work of ancient authors, such as Plutarch, Virgil, and Petronius, who are now thought by some scholars to have been LGBT+. You can visit the LBGT+ History Month website for more information and resources.
We hope you enjoy browsing the books we have on offer on our display. However, these are only a small sample of the resources the Sackler, and the University of Oxford as a whole, has to offer for anyone interested in LGBT+ studies. For example, TORCH’s Queer Studies Network meets weekly for lectures, reading groups, seminars, workshops and events. The Bodleian Libraries are also currently trialling several informational databases, accessible through SOLO, e.g.:
Archives of Sexuality and Gender (Gale Cengage)
This resource spans the sixteenth to twentieth centuries and is the largest digital collection of historical primary source publications relating to the history and study of sex, sexuality, and gender research and gender studies research. Documentation covering disciplines such as social, political, health, and legal issues impacting LGBT communities around the world is included, as well as rare and unique books on sex and sexuality.
LGBT Magazine Archive (Proquest LLC)
Includes the archives of 26 leading but previously hard-to-find magazines, including many of the longest-running, most influential publications of this genre. For example, the complete backfile of the US publication, The Advocate, one of the very few LGBT titles to pre-date the 1969 Stonewall riots, is made available digitally for the first time. Other titles include the UK’s Gay News and its successor publication Gay Times.
LGBT Life Full Text (EBSCO)
Provides scholarly and popular LGBT+ publications in full text, plus historically important primary sources, including monographs, magazines and newspapers. It also includes a specialised LGBT+ thesaurus containing thousands of terms, 140+ full-text journals, approaching 160 full-text books and reference materials, 260+ abstracted and indexed journals and more than 350+ abstracted and indexed books and reference works.
Also, don’t miss other LGBT+ projects at the University of Oxford! For example, the Pitt Rivers Museum’s project, Beyond the Binary, due to launch this month, will work with local, national and international partners to explore the global diversity of sexual and gender identities. The project will challenge historical interpretations of the museum’s collections so that all visitors can understand humanity better. It will also include a community-focused acquisition programme for LGBT+ cultural and historical artefacts. Objects will be collected from British communities and across the globe that highlight traditions of gender non-conformity, bringing British LGBT+ heritage into conversation with global LGBT+ material culture.
We hope that you will join us in celebration of LGBT+ History Month, and that you have a fantastic February!
Graduate Library Trainee
 Campbell, D. A. (ed.) (1982). Greek Lyric 1: Sappho and Alcaeus (Loeb Classical Library No. 142). Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass
Rayor, Diane; Lardinois, André (2014). Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 Rees, Joan (1998). Amelia Edwards: Traveller, Novelist and Egyptologist. London: Rubicon Press.
 Queer history’ landmarks celebrated by Historic England”. BBC News. 23 September 2016. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
Plutarch, Romm, James S & Mensch, Pamela, 2012. Plutarch: lives that made Greek history. Indianapolis.
Sappho, Rayor, Diane J. & Lardinois, A. P. M. H., 2014. Sappho: a new translation of the complete works. Cambridge.
Rorato, L., 2014. Caravaggio in film and literature: popular culture’s appropriation of a baroque genius, London.
Rothbauer, P. Locating the library as place among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer patrons, in eds. Buschman, J., & Leckie, G. J., 2007. The library as place: history, community, and culture, Westport; London.
Shakespeare, W. & Bullen, A.H., 1945. The sonnets of William Shakespeare. Oxford.
Simmons, D.L., 1970. Man into woman: a transsexual autobiography. London.
Spike, J. T., Brown, D. A., Joannides, P., De Groft, A. H., Rogers, M., & Bisogniero, C., 2015. Leonardo da Vinci and the idea of beauty, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Vicinus, M., 2004. Intimate friends: women who loved women, 1778-1928. Chicago.
Vincent, J., 2014. LGBT people and the UK cultural sector: the response of libraries, museums, archives and heritage since 1950. Farnham.
Virgil, Dryden, John & Keener, Frederick M., 1997. Virgil’s Aeneid. London.
Warhol, A., Feldman, F., & Defendi, C., 2003. Andy Warhol prints: a catalogue raisonné: 1962-1987, New York.
Wasserman, N., 2016. Akkadian love literature of the third and second millennium BCE. Weisbaden.
Weinberg, J., 1993. Speaking for vice: homosexuality in the art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the first American avant-garde, New Haven; London.
Weinberg, J., 2004. Male desire: the homoerotic in American art, New York.
Williams, C. A., 1999. Roman homosexuality: ideologies of masculinity in classical antiquity, New York; Oxford.
Williamson, M., 1995. Sappho’s immortal daughters. Cambridge, Mass.; London
Wojnarowicz, D., 2018. The waterfront journals. London
We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers. Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chantal van den Berg (email@example.com) if you would like propose a topic.
The Sackler staff are getting into the holiday spirit, so we decided to put up a book display in honour of the festivities. We drew on books from various areas in our collection to illustrate links between our ancient past and how we celebrate Christmas and other winter holidays today.
Midwinter festivals have been celebrated in Western Europe and beyond since at least the Neolithic period. Archaeological sites in Britain and Ireland may show evidence of such festivities taking place, one of the most famous of these being Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, constructed from around 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE. Find out more about Stonehenge by reading Chippindale’s Stonehenge Complete (1983; 4th ed., 2012). There are many theories about why Stonehenge was constructed, but recent evidence hints that it was a gathering place for a festival held around the winter solstice (21st December). This is because the stones are aligned in such a way that the sun at dawn on the winter solstice is aligned with the central aisle, indicating that the site may have functioned partly as a timekeeping device for our ancient ancestors.
The same is true of other Neolithic sites, such as Maeshowe on Orkney, and Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) in Ireland. The latter site is constructed so that the dawn sun on the first few minutes of the winter solstice illuminates a carved spiral on the very back wall of the chamber, the meaning of which remains a mystery. Prendergast’s Houses of the Gods (2017) explains more about the role of such sites in terms of archaeoastronomy.
It seems that this time of year has been important to people for a long time. No wonder, then, that, after the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, many local traditions were incorporated into Christmas festivities, such as the British/Irish midwinter feast, or the German hanging decorations on the branches of a tree, traditions which we still celebrate to this day. Evans’ Christmas is Coming (2009) explores the origins of some of our wintertime festive traditions.
Although it incorporates ancient festivities, the midwinter celebration as an explicitly Christian festival, which would become known as Christmas, is a much newer tradition. People who follow a Christian faith believe that Jesus Christ was born in a stable in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, with event celebrated on 25th December in many countries. Hence Bethlehem has been regarded as an important religious site since the founding of Christianity. However, it is also an important archaeological and historical site, with evidence of human habitation from as early as 2200 BCE. Studying such sites can give us clues as to how people in the Near and Middle East lived thousands of years ago. For more information about Bethlehem in ancient history, see Harvey’s The Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem (1910) and Kihlman’s The Star of Bethlehem and Babylonian Astrology (2017).
The subject of Christmas has been, and remains, a theme often covered in art. The traditional Christmas story has many iconic moments from which Western artists have drawn inspiration. According to the story, angels acted as messengers announcing the birth of the baby Jesus. Selby et al.’s The Angel Tree (2011) and Ward and Steed’s Angels: a Glorious Celebration of Angels in Art (2005) showcase representations of angels in art from ancient times to the modern day. Similarly, the arrival of the ‘Three Kings’ with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh has been reinterpreted by many artists, as detailed in Beer’s The Magi: Legend, Art and Cult (2014).
The theme of the Nativity is also often a subject in East European art. The Eastern Orthodox Church operates in some East European countries, Russia, and Greece, among others. People who follow Eastern Orthodox Christianity celebrate Christmas on 7th January, as their liturgical year follows the Julian calendar rather than the Western, Gregorian calendar. The Sackler has many books on art reflecting Eastern Orthodox traditions, some of which exemplify Christmas scenes. We have chosen to showcase books on the art of Byzantium and Greece, such as Bratziōtē et al.’s Icons Itinerant (1994), which shows art from Corfu, and Petsopoulos’ East Christian Art (1987).
Of course, Christmas is not the only religious festival to take place in December. In ancient Rome, Saturnalia was celebrated. As the name suggests, this festival honoured the Roman god Saturn, and took place on 17th – 23rd December. It involved gift-giving, partying, a public banquet, as well as a celebratory sacrifice. Saturnalia was also a time for the inversion of societal roles and social norms, with slaves being waited on by their masters over the festival period. Macrobius’ Saturnalia describes the festivities that took place at this time of year during the Roman era.
People of Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, around late November to late December. This festival commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire, during the reign of Antiochus in 175 BCE. According to the story, what little remaining oil there was in the sacked Temple miraculously kept the candles burning for eight days while the Temple was being restored. Viewed as a celebration of religious freedom, Jewish people mark this miracle by the gradual lighting of the Menorah. These religious artefacts can also have immense artistic value. Braunstein’s Luminous Art (2004) shows the collection of Menorahs in the Jewish Museum in New York.
More recently, Yuletide festivities have also included more secular forms of celebration, with the rise in popularity of figures such as Father Christmas, or the American Santa Claus, who is said to bring children gifts on the night before Christmas. Christmas celebrations around the world often include such a figure, such as the French Père Noël or the Dutch Sinterklaas. The name ‘Santa Claus’ is believed to have its origins in ‘St. Nicholas’, one of the figures who evolved over time into the jolly character we know today. St Nicholas was a 4th century bishop, and during the Middle Ages, children would receive gifts in his honour on the evening of 5th December, which may have contributed to our modern gift-giving traditions. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands each year from Spain via steam boat with his helpers, an event that is broadcast on national television. On the evening of 5th December, a sack of presents is delivered to well behaved children, and children are told that badly behaved children will be taken back to Spain in a sack. English’s The saint who would be Santa Claus (2012) discusses the contribution of stories about St. Nicholas to the origins of the modern Santa Claus figure.
Whatever you choose to celebrate, if anything, this December, we hope that you have a joyful and restful vacation, and return in the New Year with renewed vigour. Have fun browsing the book display, and Season’s Greetings from everyone here at the Sackler Library!
Graduate Library Trainee
“Stonehenge”. Science. 133 (3460): 1216–22.
“Stonehenge druids ‘mark wrong solstice'”. The Daily Telegraph.
Jazombek, M. A Global History of Architecture. Cambridge, Mass., MIT. Online Lecture Series. Last consulted 28/11/19.
“Sí an Bhrú /Newgrange”. logainm.ie.
O’Kelly, M. J. (1982). Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend. London: Thames and Hudson.
“Ancient Burial Ground with 100 Tombs Found Near Biblical Bethlehem”. LiveScience.
Miller, J. F. (2010). Roman Festivals. In “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome”. Oxford: OUP.
“Santa Claus: The real man behind the myth”. NBC News.
Asmussen, H. (1955). Weihnachten; farbige Buchmalerei aus der Zeit der Ottonen. Hamburg: F. Wittig.
Bacci, M. (2017). The mystic cave: a history of the Nativity church at Bethlehem. Brno: Masaryk University; Roma: Viella
Beckwith, J. (1966). The adoration of the Magi in whalebone. London: H.M.Stationery Off.
Beckwith, J. (1970). Early Christian and Byzantine Art. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Beer, M. (2014). The Magi: legend, art and cult. Cologne: Museum Schnütgen.
Boucher, B. et al. (2012). Bartolo di Fredi: the Adoration of the Magi, a masterpiece reconstructed. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Art Museum.
Bratziōtē, P. et al. (1994). Icons Itinerant: Corfu, 14th-18th century: June-September 1994, Church of Saint George in the Old Fortress, Corfu. Athens: Ministry of Culture, Directorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities.
Braunstein, S.L. (2004). Luminous art: Hanukkah menorahs of the Jewish Museum. New York: Jewish Museum; New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
Braunstein, S. L. (2005). Five centuries of Hanukkah lamps from the Jewish Museum: a catalogue raisonné. New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press.
Chippindale, C. (1983). Stonehenge Complete. London: Thames and Hudson.
Demus, O. (1970). Byzantine Art and the West. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson.
Ebon, M. (1975). Saint Nicholas: Life and Legend. New York: Harper & Row.
English, A. C. (2012). The saint who would be Santa Claus: the true life and trials of Nicholas of Myra. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press.
Evans, A. J. Christmas and ancestor worship in the Black Mountain.
Evans, M. (2009). Christmas is coming: the origins of our Christmas traditions and some of the stories and legends which surround them. Brighton: Pen Press.
Hamilton, R. W. (1939). A guide to Bethlehem. Jerusalem: Azriel Press.
Harvey, W. et al. (1910). The Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem. London: published on behalf of the Fund by B. T. Batsford.
Hodne, L. (2012). The virginity of the Virgin: a study in Marian iconography. Roma: Scienze e Lettere.
Kaster, R. A. (2011). Macrobius: Saturnalia. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press.
Kihlman, D. (2017). The star of Bethlehem and Babylonian Astrology: astronomy and revelation 12 reveal what the magi saw. Trollhättan, Sweden: Kihlman.
Lawson-Jones, M. (2011). Why was the partridge in the pear tree?: The history of Christmas carols. Stroud: History.
Johnson, A. (2008). Solving Stonehenge: the new key to an ancient enigma. London: Thames & Hudson.
Matthews, J. (1998). The winter solstice: the sacred traditions of Christmas. London: Thorsons.
Miles, C. A. (1912). Christmas in Ritual and Tradition: Christian and Pagan. London; Leipzig: T. Fisher Unwin.
Northrup, M. (1966). The Christmas story from the Gospels of Matthew & Luke. Greenwich, Conn.: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Petsopoulos, Y. (1987). East Christian Art. London: Axia.
Prendergast, K. (2017). Houses of the gods: neolithic monuments and astronomy at the Brú na Bóinne in Ireland and beyond. Saarbrücken: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing.
Rice, D. T. (1959). The Art of Byzantium. London: Thames and Hudson.
Rockland, M. S. (1976). The Hanukkah Book. New York: Schocken Books.
Selby, L. H. et al. (2011). The angel tree: celebrating Christmas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: the Loretta Hines Howard collection of eighteenth-century Neapolitan crèche figures. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art: Abrams.
Scarre, C. (2007). The Megalithic Monuments of Britain and Ireland. London: Thames and Hudson.
Snyder, P. V. (1977). The Christmas tree book: the history of the Christmas tree and antique Christmas tree ornaments. Harmondsworth; New York: Penguin Books.
Tolkien, J. R. R. (2004). Letters from Father Christmas. London: HarperCollins.
Tyndale, W. (1996). A medieval Christmas. London: Frances Lincoln in association with the British Library.
Vasilakē, M. et al. (2000). Mother of God: representations of the Virgin in Byzantine art. Milano: Skira; New York: Distributed in North America and Latin America by Abbeville.
Verdon, T. and Ross, F. (2005). Mary in Western art. New York: in association with Hudson Mills Press.
Ward, L. and Steeds, W. (2005). Angels: a glorious celebration of angels in art. London: Carlton.
Vikan, G. (2003). Sacred Images and Sacred Power in Byzantium. Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum.
Ziadé, R. (2017). Chrétiens d’Orient: 2000 ans d’histoire. Paris: Gallimard.
We welcome suggestions for future blog contributions from our readers. Please contact Clare Hills-Nova (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chantal van den Berg (email@example.com) if you would like propose a topic.
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 Medicine by design: the architect and the modern hospital 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). The Design History Society awarded Karen Price (MSt HoD 2017) a student grant to research her dissertation, which 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 [https://www.designhistorysociety.org/blog/view/report-dhs-student-travel-award-by-karen-price]. This project (and all MSt in the History of Design dissertations) are available in the Continuing Education Bodleian Library. Karen presented this 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 join 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 ListIntroductions 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Studying Black and Visual Culture: An Ever-Evolving Addendum
A Book Display at the Sackler Library
Building on the Sackler’s 2018 Black History Month Book Display, we would like to extend the possibilities of study further, offering additional sources and consideration. (Please see Further reading at the end of this blog post.) As Ben Gable noted, Black History Month in the United Kingdom has its origins in the work of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a renowned African American historian. In 1926, Woodson proposed a week-long concentration on African American contributions to history and culture and established the Journal of Negro History to ensure critical scholarship and awareness of the African Diaspora. With an increasing interest in Black Studies, in 1976 the United States extended the week to a month-long focus, encouraging other countries to consider the opportunity to engage and address the history of the African Diaspora that has shaped global consciousness. At the forefront of the campaigns against institutional racism in the UK and the apartheid regimes in Southern Africa, Ghanaian political refugee Akyaaba Addai-Sebo worked with others to adapt the idea with a special focus on inspiring black youth. Black History month in the UK was established in 1987 with the intention of extending a broader global awareness.
To that end, we would like to offer an addendum to the excellent resources aleady assembled by the Sackler, calling out a wide array of writers and artists who continue to define and challenge our understanding of the African Diaspora. We are especially keen to emphasise the global character of this diaspora even while singling out titles from the literature published for English-speaking audiences. The primary setting of the slave trade, the Atlantic Ocean featured prominently in the creation of a diasporic Black consciousness. Books such as Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic and Characters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination reflect this history, continuing an intellectual tradition that privileges the idea of movement over that of national identity. Moving into the present, Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu’s Contemporary African Art Since 1980 reflects the growing ascendency of the African continent on the global art market, while Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria offers a case study that decenters the modernist canon beyond its Anglo-European axis. Indeed, the historic lacunae of the western art canon continues to be addressed by recent monographs and exhibition catalogues such as Richard Powell’s Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist and Jeffreen Hayes’s Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman, demonstrating the ways that these influential figures shaped transatlantic modernism.
Similarly, the formation of a Black visual culture in Britain is indebted to centuries of migrations across the British Empire and later the Commonwealth of Nations. Victorian Jamaica and An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque examine the conflicts as well as the innovations that resulted from British ways of seeing being forcibly imported into the colonial Caribbean. In contrast, Black Britain: A Photographic History documents the lives of those who emigrated to the ‘motherland’ in the aftermath of the Second World War, as British territories across Africa and the Caribbean gained independence. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed the emergence of a new generation of Black British citizens who were born and raised in the UK. Frustrated with persistent racism and emboldened by the ideology of Black Power, they fought back. Artists like Eddie Chambers, author of Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s to the Present, embraced the separatist tactics championed by the Black Arts Movement in the US. In Britain, however, the term ‘Blackness’ had wider applications than in the United States, often accommodating strategic coalitions between artists of both African and Asian descent. The essays included in Shades of Black: Assembling Black Art in 1980s Britain are testament to a time when the very notion of ‘Blackness’ was dissected as part of the formation of an emerging postcolonial consciousness. Contemporary practitioners engage in a critical race theory as demonstrated by Huey Copeland in Bound to Appear, in which he considers how contemporary practitioners reframe strategies of representation and how blackness might be imagined and felt long after the end of the “peculiar institution” of slavery.
The artists involved in these foundational debates are only now receiving the recognition they deserve. Our display reflects this by including the recently published monograph on the Lubaina Himid CBE, who in 2017 was the first black woman artist to win the Turner Prize. We also include a monograph on Frank Bowling OBE RA, the British Guyanese painter who arrived in London in 1953 and whose tremendous achievements were celebrated last summer with a retrospective at Tate Britain.
We hope that this display will inspire staff and students alike, highlighting both the achievements of individual black artists and the influence of the African diaspora on Western culture more widely. Furthermore, we hope that it illuminates some of the ways in which race plays a part in the subject areas covered by the Sackler’s collections. The display will run until the end of the month, but the bibliography will remain accessible on this blog post.
Dr. Amy M. Mooney
Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art
Department of the History of Art
Oxford University firstname.lastname@example.org