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From monsters to patients: a history of disability

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This dissertation addresses the tendency among some disability scholars to overlook the importance of congenital deformity and disability in the pre-modern West. It argues that congenital deformity and disability deviated

This dissertation addresses the tendency among some disability scholars to overlook the importance of congenital deformity and disability in the pre-modern West. It argues that congenital deformity and disability deviated so greatly from able-bodied norms that they have played a pivotal role in the history of Western Civilization. In particular, it explores the evolution of two seemingly separate, but ultimately related, ideas from classical antiquity through the First World War: (1) the idea that there was some type of significance, whether supernatural or natural, to the existence of congenital deformity and (2) the idea that the existence of disabled people has resulted in a disability problem for western societies because many disabilities can hinder labor productivity to such an extent that large numbers of the disabled cannot survive without taking precious resources from their more productive, able-bodied counterparts. It also looks at how certain categories of disabled people, including, monsters, hunchbacks, cripples, the blind, the deaf and dumb, and dwarfs, which signified aesthetic and functional deviations from able-bodied norms, often reinforced able-bodied prejudices against the disabled.

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  • 2013