Disability and the Enlightenment
Although scholars have long recognized the centrality of the body in the cultural productions of "Enlightenment" England -- whether it be in terms of empiricism or sensibility, in the context of acting on stage or walking the streets of London -- the history of the disabled body has played a conspicuously minor role in these investigations. One of the reasons for the absence of a vigorous discussion of disability in the eighteenth century may have to do with the belief that such a discussion might be anachronistic, eighteenth-century England having had no operative category of disability. There is some truth to this, but as Daniel Defoe's explicit discussion of disabled soldiers in the 1690s attests, to take but one example, disability as such was acknowledged and seen as presenting a unique set of challenges to English society. Moreover, as the recent work of writers such as Lennard Davis, Helen Deutsch, Felicity Nussbaum, Kevin Stagg, Mary Klages, and others have illustrated, the insights offered by a disability-studies perspective are too vital to ignore when considering the history of the body in the context of Enlightenment. So while a modern understanding of disability may not have yet taken shape in the eighteenth century, it is nevertheless evident that such an understanding was in the making.
This panel seeks papers that explore any aspect of disability in eighteenth-century British literature and culture. Comparative discussions of European and American cultures are also welcome. Papers explicitly discussing what role disability studies and "disability theory" (to use Tobin Siebers' phrase) might have in eighteenth-century studies are especially encouraged. Please send titles and abstracts of 200-500 words to Dwight Codr, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Tulane University:
Deadline for the submission of abstracts is December 1, 2009. For more information regarding the conference, please visit the SCSECS website: