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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Disability and assistive technologies

alternative text
This shoe extension advertisement plays heavily on the emulation the 'normal' or 'perfect' (non-disabled) form - a rhetoric which has been problematised and rendered controversial through the subsequent growth of disability consciousness.  Reproduced from the Medical Annual and Practitioner's Index, Bristol: John Wright 1894.

Studying assistive technologies -- including their creators and users -- can offer fresh and provocative insights into the intersection of science, disability, medicalisation and bodies in the twentieth century. Synthesising approaches from the history of disability and the history of medicine can offer a way of addressing significant questions as to how, why, and with what effects people with physical and sensory disabilities have been medicalised by assistive technologies.

Assistive technologies, as understood by their creators, offer a means of rectifying and normalising a body that is deemed in need of ameliorative assistance. At the same time, these technologies 'medicalise' what was previously non-medical, often demanding new forms of behaviour from their users, which may provoke complex responses. Assistive technologies have therefore become in many instances a matter of deep political controversy. Our approach to the history of the field focuses on these users, opening up new, exciting paths to explore the social, political and cultural histories of disabled people.

CHSTM is a vibrant locus for this exciting field: we have hosted conferences and workshops featuring international speakers from the history of disability. Julie Anderson is one of the founding members and Chair of the Disability History Group UK and Europe and has published widely on the history of disability including guest editing, with Ana Carden-Coyne, a special edition on the history of disability of the European Review of History (December 2007). Julie Anderson has also advised and appeared on a number of radio and television programmes on the history of disability.

Recent publications by CHSTM staff and students

Julie Anderson and Lisa O'Sullivan. "Challenging images: historical representation and contemporary sensitivity in displaying the history of disability through medical collections". In Sandell et al, Re-presenting disability: museums and the politics of display. London: Routledge, 2009.

Julie Anderson. "Voices in the dark: representations of disability in historical research" (review essay). Journal of Contemporary History, 2009, 44(1): 107-116.

Julie Anderson, Francis Neary and John V Pickstone. Surgeons, manufacturers and patients: a transatlantic history of total hip replacement. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007.

Julie Anderson and Neil Pemberton. "Walking alone: aiding the war and civilian blind in the inter-war period". European Review of History, 2007, 14(4).

Julie Anderson and Ana Carden-Coyne. "Introduction: enabling the past". European Review of History, 2007, 14(4): 447-457.

Julie Anderson. "Innovation and locality: hip replacement in Manchester and the Northwest". Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 2007, 87(1): 155-166.

Julie Anderson. "British women, disability and the Second World War, 1939-1946". Contemporary British History, 2006, 20(1): 39-55.

Julie Anderson. "'Turned into taxpayers': paraplegia, rehabilitation and sport at Stoke Mandeville, 1944-1956". Journal of Contemporary History, 2003, 38(3): 461-476.

Carsten Timmermann and Julie Anderson, eds. Devices and designs: medical technologies in historical perspective. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

JS Metcalfe and John Pickstone. "Replacing hips and lenses: surgery, industry and innovation in post-war Britain". In Andrew Webster, ed, New Technologies in health care: challenge, change and innovation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

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