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    Touching blind bodies: a critical inquiry into pedagogical and cultural constructions of visual disability in the nineteenth century

    Tilley, Heather and Olsen, J.E. (2016) Touching blind bodies: a critical inquiry into pedagogical and cultural constructions of visual disability in the nineteenth century. In: Whitehead, A. and Woods, A. (eds.) The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities. Edinburgh Companions to Literature. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 260-275. ISBN 9781474400046.

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    This essay examines objects and images pertaining to the tactile experience of blind and visually-impaired people in nineteenth-century European culture, questioning the ways in which shifting sensory hierarchies (particularly the relationship between touch and vision) constituted blindness as disability. We focus on a theme that held particular social and cultural interest in nineteenth-century accounts of blindness: travel and geography. We contrast the writings and portraiture of James Holman, a British traveller with visual disabilities, with the pedagogic programmes that were developed in European institutions for blind people. Holman’s public persona optimistically pointed to ways of knowing the world that were not dependent upon vision. Yet when geographic touch entered the institution, it became subject to disciplinary control, replicating the conventions of sight and curtailing movement of the body through promotion of local, above global, knowledge. This comparative approach enables a critical examination of the tactile realm of blindness. We analyse medical-pedagogical ideas on impaired perception and sensory compensation that underpinned attempts to define the touch of the blind via instructive object-lessons, alongside heuristic ways of engaging with the world through touch. We distinguish between systems in which blind people were cast as either producers or recipients of sensory knowledge and detail the various ways in which this was enabling or disabling.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Research Centres and Institutes: Medical Humanities, Centre for
    Depositing User: Heather Tilley
    Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2017 15:52
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:41


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