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Stories from history

In this video, Tom Shakespeare and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson describe why it is important to recover stories of disabled people from history.

Disability is and always has been an important part of human diversity. In this video, Tom Shakespeare and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson discuss the rich contribution disabled people and disabled characters have made to history, culture and literature.

Both Tom and Rosemarie talk about the role of disability studies in recovering stories of disability that have gone unnoticed or forgotten. These processes of recovering and reframing stories have occurred in other social movements, such as feminism, where the forgotten histories of women have been re-written into history.

Tom Shakespeare mentions a number of disabled people from history who have made significant contributions and/or been forgotten. Recovering these stories has been an ongoing project for Tom. If you would like to explore this further, you can go to his blog, Our Statures Touch the Skies, which tells the life stories of many disabled people from history.

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson discusses how disability has always been present in stories, culture and literature, from Greek Mythology (with characters such as Oedipus) to Shakespeare to modern American literature. But even though disability was present, it was not always recognised as disability. Rosemarie emphasises that disability studies is not interested in “policing ‘good’ or ‘bad’ representations” of disability; instead it wants to notice what work disability is doing in the world.

Talking points

You might like to take this opportunity to think about stories of disability in the history of your own country or region:

  • Are there significant people in your local history whose impairments are not recognised?
  • Can you think of examples of characters on television or in novels or plays who have impairments?
  • Do you think it is important that these impairments are recognised as such? Why or why not?
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Disability and a Good Life: Thinking through Disability

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