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What is disability history the history of?

McGuire, Coreen Anne

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This article has two connected aims. First, to contour the boundaries of modern disability history through outlining its development and second, to provide a new methodological agenda for disability history. The design model of disability has outlined an important new programme to integrate the social and medical models of disability by foregrounding materials. Yet ‘disability things’ (to use Ott's memorable term) have been part of disability history's genesis since the material turn, which started the process of social historians recovering the lives of those not recorded in textual sources through objects, including prosthetics. From considering objects as things, the influence of Science and Technology Studies scholars pushed disability historians to further consider objects as agents and objects in use. These approaches have highlighted the differential levels of autonomy and power that objects and their users have in making history. However, this focus on materials has highlighted visible and recorded disability over ‘invisible’ disability, which has perpetuated its opacity and created definitional difficulties around disability demarcation. Medical history methodologies aimed at revealing the ‘patient view’ can help bring people back into focus but uphold the categories of patients and biomedicine in a way that impedes the aims of disability scholars. Focusing on exactly what is hidden is less useful than focusing on how it is hidden, and science and technology study methodologies can illuminate these processes.


McGuire, C. A. (2024). What is disability history the history of?. History Compass, 22(6), Article e12813.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 15, 2024
Online Publication Date Jun 11, 2024
Publication Date Jun 1, 2024
Deposit Date Jun 12, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jun 12, 2024
Journal History Compass
Electronic ISSN 1478-0542
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 22
Issue 6
Article Number e12813
Series ISSN 1478-0542
Keywords Disability History, Science and Technology Studies, Medical History
Public URL


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