Nineteenth-Century Disability:  Cultures & Contexts

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In January of 1842, Charles Dickens paid a visit to the Perkins Institute for the Blind, just outside of Boston, MA, as part of his American tour. There he met Laura Bridgman, whom the director of the institute, Samuel Gridley Howe, touted as the…

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Charles Manby Smith (1804–80) was a writer fascinated by and deeply concerned with the position of “cripples” in Victorian society. In the second edition of his most famous work Curiosities of London Life: Or, Phases, Physiological and Social,…

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In 1887, Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), the American photographer, published Animal Locomotion: An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movement, an eleven-volume collection of photographs of instantaneous or…

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Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers (1857), the second novel in his “Chronicles of Barsetshire” series, details the public ecclesiastic conflicts between the newly powerful Evangelicals of the Church and the reigning Tory conservatives.…

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Pedro Velasquez’s gripping 1851 Illustrated Memoir of an Expedition into Central America chronicles the enterprising Hammond expedition that absconded with a pair of native children after discovering Iximaya, a fabled city hidden in deep in the…

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While many of Charles Dickens’s novels and nonfiction works depicted people with disabilities, his novel Bleak House, published serially over 1852-1853 and in volume form in 1853, is veritably full of characters with bodies and minds deemed…

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“Blind Guy Fawkes” is noteworthy for how it both participates in and diverges from a representational pattern.  The introduction into Britain of raised-print books in the first decades of the nineteenth century and the proliferation of finger…

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Thomas Greene Wiggins, better known as “Blind Tom,” was an autistic savant with an encyclopedic memory. He is known for his mind-boggling ability to replicate music and other sounds after only one hearing. Wiggins was born into slavery in…

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When Dinah Mulock Craik, the author of John Halifax, Gentleman and The Little Lame Prince, wrote her essay, ‘Blind’, about the Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind, in 1861, she was engaging in an active discussion…

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In this advertisement for a variety of what we would now call “wheelchairs” or “lounge chairs,” J. Alderman offers “comfort for invalids” in his newly patented “Imperceptibly Graduating, Mechanical, and…
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