Off to Leeds!

I’m headed out to Leeds, UK for the Disability & the Victorians: Confronting Legacies Conference to be held at Leeds-Trinity University College. This should be an interesting conference for me, for it’s the first time I’m presenting a paper to an audience composed of historians and other scholars of deaf and disability studies. I’m really looking forward to engaging in an extremely diverse and unique dialogue on the history of the deaf and Deaf communities. The conference’s mandate:

The nineteenth century was the period during which disability was conceptualised, classified, and defined. The industrial revolution, advances in medicine, emerging taxonomies and categories of disability, all played their part in creating what today’s society describes as the medical model of disability. Disability can betraced through many forms: in material culture; literary genres; scientific, medical and official inquiries; art; architecture; the history of philanthropy and disabled charities; disabled people’s experiences and testimonies; the types created withinphrenology and physiognomy; events and legislation.

This conference will explore conceptualisations of disability in the Victorian period,and their (real-world) legacies down to the present day. Those with an involvement in disability, through work, research, teaching or direct experience, and papers that adopt a comparative frame, shifting across the disciplinary boundaries of history, literary studies, the history of medicine, the history and philosophy of science, art history, etc. are especially sought.

The full conference programme can be viewed here. Here’s my paper abstract:

“Not to Become a Breeding Ground for Medical Experimentation:”
Examining the Tensions between Aurists and Educators for the Deaf, 1815-1830

The dramatic rise of institutions for the deaf in Britain during the early nineteenth century were largely driven by charitable concerns and founded on the basis of private benevolence and public donation. These institutions, which emerged first in France and then Britain in the late eighteenth century, situated deafness in the realm of language and communication; from this standpoint, educators resisted the attempt to integrate deafness into the medical world. Educators and social reformers such as Charles Baker (1803 1874) claimed medicine’s long history of ineffective cures and treatments undermined the efforts of sign-language instructors, by distracting them from the language-oriented goals of the asylum. Moreover, they argued that aurists—medical practitioners providing specialized treatment for ear diseases— practiced in a “field of quackery” and were ill-disposed for dealing with the complicated pathology of the ear. Several aurists, however, believed an alliance with educational institutions for the deaf was necessary for reforming the “miserable” state of the deaf in society. This paper examines the interrelationship between two aurists—John Harrison Curtis (1784-1852) and William Wright (1773-1860)—and the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (est. 1809) and evaluates how institutional policies commingled with the production of medical authority. By tracing the interplay between Curtis, Wright, and the Asylum, this paper argues the tensions between education and medicine emphasized the necessity and responsibility for treating the deaf, and raised questions as to who had the authority to care for this marginalized section of the population.

Wi-Fi permitting, I’ll be tweeting the conference and will follow up with a blog post. Hope to see you there!

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