A Wall’s Heritage: Making Mad People’s History Public

By Geoffrey Reaume

“None found”.1 This was how mad people who built a 19th century brick boundary wall were described in a 1996 City of Toronto Heritage Report. The architect was extolled in this report but the unpaid labourers who actually constructed these walls were literally non-existent. The same year and only a few blocks away from where this report was issued, I found easily available documents in the Archives of Ontario which clearly state who toiled on the wall. This post will discuss efforts to first of all include and engage people with disabilities in public histories, while also bringing to a wider audience disabled people's historical experiences. Secondly, these efforts will also be discussed as a way to challenge prejudiced attitudes towards people with disabilities today by making accessible pasts relevant to contemporary experiences. Finally, it will be emphasized that bringing this history quite literally to the street corner is a way of using publicly accessible spaces to both involve and engage a community of people who have seldom been consulted about how to interpret, preserve and commemorate our own past. This article explores this effort located at Ontario’s oldest continuously operating mental health facility.

It was at this site, from the mid 19th century, that insane asylum inmates toiled for no pay under the guise of “moral therapy”. Ostensibly aimed to improve the mental health of mad people with light work and recreation, “moral therapy” ended up becoming a system of economic exploitation of asylum inmates whereby “therapy” was a cover for using public inmates to build, clean and maintain mental institutions. Asylum operators in 19th century Ontario made no secret of how much money they saved public works by having insane asylum inmates do work for no cost. Indeed, when eastern and western portions of the boundary walls were reconstructed in 1888-89, Toronto Asylum Superintendent, Daniel Clark wrote that the use of inmates in building these walls saved “ten of thousands of dollars” for the provincial government.2 The Toronto Asylum at 999 Queen St. West was originally opened in 1850 where to this day a mental health facility – the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – continues to operate in what is now a very heavily populated area of the city just west of the downtown core. Asylum inmates built the first stone wall surrounding 50 acres of the asylum property in 1860. However, the east and west walls had to be torn down and re-built in 1888-89 as urbanization encroached on the once pastoral setting so that the property was reduced to 26 acres, the dimensions which still exist today.3

Between 1970-75 the old asylum buildings and the entire north boundary wall were demolished to make way for the new buildings, which eventually had their official opening in 1979.4 All that exists today of the old 19th century Toronto Asylum is the east, west and south boundary walls, along with two brick workshop/storage buildings in the back (south side) of the property. By the early 2000s, there were plans to redevelop the entire site again during which there was talk of tearing down the boundary walls, particularly the most visible and well preserved wall along the east side of this property – the Shaw Street Wall. By this time, I had discovered in my research for my doctoral dissertation, published as a book in 2000, that the boundary walls had been built by asylum inmates, as noted above. Previous to this, the emphasis on preserving the walls, as in the 1970s, had been because they represented the work of a well-known Toronto architect, Kivas Tully.

Thus, while local historical preservationists had advocated saving the wall since the 1970s – and were successful in doing so during the reconstruction done on this site during that decade – this was done by their emphasis on the architectural history of this structure designed by a well known local architect rather than its worth as evidence of the social history of patients who built it and who lived and died behind it. By the time the next major reconstruction yet again threatened the existence of the wall, the emphasis shifted significantly. This shift was due to the active involvement of activists in the mad community in preservation and interpretative efforts, now backed up by primary source research that provided a very different interpretation of the wall’s history.5

Instead of focusing on an architect, the historical importance of this site was re-oriented to being one of the last remaining physical symbols of unpaid patient labour from the Toronto Asylum era. This was a particularly evocative symbol in that patients were made to build the very walls behind which they were confined.6 The 1860 south wall is also notable, for not only is it the oldest part of the provincial asylum at 999 Queen Street West still in existence, it also is the oldest example of psychiatric inmates’ labour anywhere in Ontario.7

Since 1998, public history events within the psychiatric survivor and mad community in Toronto have included using the patient built wall as a site of both commemoration and public education. The first efforts to publicize the labour history of the wall were in the form of a play which was performed at various times between 1998 – 2000, at two venues right next to the property where the wall is situated, as well as at the psychiatric facility itself. This play, “Angels of 999” was written, produced and acted almost entirely (though not exclusively) by psychiatric survivors in the Friendly Spike Theatre Band, including people who were current and former patients at this psychiatric facility. It was based on research from my PhD thesis and the play used the words and experiences of historical patients as was revealed by archival records.8 The patient-built wall was the central motif in the play around which the actors performed, with unpaid labour being a major theme of the play. The building of the wall with unpaid labour was thus publicly acknowledged for the first time and began a public re-interpretation of its past which has continued since then. One psychiatric survivor who was then a member of the Queen Street Patients Council, told me after seeing the play that she had never thought much about the wall before but now she looks at it quite differently and with some pride knowing that patients were the ones who built it. It was with this sense of pride, and also righteous indignation that this history had been so willfully ignored for so long, along with the exploitation it represents of unpaid labour and contempt for the contributions of mad people to our past, that this play catapulted the history of the wall into further venues for public history.

Just as the run of the play was ending, another form of getting the word out about this history in a participatory way, was beginning – wall tours. From 2000 until 2016 when this blog is being written, 142 tours led by myself of the patient built wall have taken place, first as part of Psychiatric Survivor/Mad Pride week events and then reaching out into the wider community. For several years beginning in 2011 mad actors in the Friendly Spike Theatre Band also led public walls tours with singing and acting out historical scenes from this structure’s history. Lasting from one to two hours, depending on the occasion, the wall tours proceed along the entire perimeter of the patient built 19th century boundary walls on the east, west and south sides of the current CAMH property, during which the lives and unpaid work of the men and women who were patients at the old asylum are described near the places they toiled as represented by the wall they built, lived and worked behind. The point of these tours is to both commemorate people whose history has been previously ignored and to draw a direct link with present day prejudices towards people with psychiatric histories, particularly the high unemployment rates and related prejudice that people with psychiatric diagnoses are unreliable and violent – both of which are widely damaging myths.9 The point here is to challenge prejudice by also telling people if they ever hear anyone repeating stereotypes about the “unreliability” of mad people, to tell them to come down to Queen and Shaw (a major street corner most people in Toronto know about) and take a look at, and feel this wall. It is intended that this sort of concrete lesson will resonate with people after the wall tour ends. Some participants have said that they didn’t realize the wall was built by patient labourers prior to the tour.10

These efforts at public commemoration also led to work by myself and others in the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto (founded in 2001) to install public plaques commemorating the labour of psychiatric patients on this site, with the support of members of the CAMH Archives and the wider mad and local community. After nearly a decade of advocating for these plaques, including wall tours, fundraising and public meetings, the plaques were unveiled in September 2010. The best way to end this account of mad people’s history as public history is to include the wording that is on the main descriptive plaque at the front of the CAMH grounds by the east wall, along a highly visible location on a busy street corner (chosen for just this reason). Along with eight other plaques scattered about the grounds, the plaques serve as a permanent public marker of a history that is now available for all to learn about. It took years of work to get these plaques installed which include carefully chosen words reflecting a critical understanding of mad people’s history as can be found on the first plaque, “Memorial Wall Plaques Dedicated to Patient Labourers”:

Ground plan of the original site and text description
Memorial Wall Plaques Dedicated to Patient Labourers.
Ground plan of the original site and text description.
Photo: Geoffrey Reaume
These patient-built walls are a testament to the abilities of the people whose unpaid labour was central to the operation of asylums in the province of Ontario during the 19th and 20th centuries. The asylum on Queen Street first opened in 1850 and was overcrowded within a few years. The initial idea of work as therapy gave way to the reality of work intended to save the provincial government money through unpaid patient labour. Men worked outdoors on construction, maintenance and farm work, including building and repairing many of the structures behind which they were confined, including the still existing boundary walls on the south side of this property, built in 1860 and the east and west boundary walls built in 1888-89. Women worked primarily inside, doing the sewing, knitting and laundry for the asylum, while also working as domestic servants in both the nurses’ and doctors’ residences not far from this spot. Both men and women also worked in their own sex-segregated wards doing domestic chores such as cleaning, washing and scrubbing floors. Patients also worked in the male (west side) and female (east side) infirmaries, where they helped to care for those of their fellow patients who were sick and dying. Seen by many as the physical representation of prejudiced attitudes towards people with a psychiatric diagnosis, the walls which still stand today are historical monuments to the exploited labour of all psychiatric patients who lived, worked and died on these grounds since 1850.11

Recommended Citation:
Geoffrey Reaume (2016): A Wall’s Heritage: Making Mad People’s History Public. In: Public Disability History 1 (2016) 20.

[1] City of Toronto By-Law No. 1997-0085, Schedule “B”, Heritage Property Report, Recording Date, September 1996, p. 3.
[2] Annual Report, 1890, 42-3, as quoted in Geoffrey Reaume, Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 147. For a discussion of patient labour in 19th century Ontario see: Geoffrey Reaume, “Patients at Work: Insane Asylum Inmate Labour in Ontario, 1841-1900,” in J. Moran and D. Wright, eds., Mental Health and Canadian Society: Historical Perspectives. Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006: 69-96. Historical studies on the exploitation of labour of people confined in asylums has only recently been discussed as a significant topic worthy of consideration in itself, rather than integrated briefly into wider asylum histories. In addition to the above, see also: Lee-Ann Monk, “Exploiting patient labour at Kew Cottages, Australia, 1887-1950”, British Journal of Learning Disabilities 38:2 (2010): 86-94. See also the varied interpretations of psychiatric patients’ labour in the following collection: Waltraud Ernst (Editor). Work, psychiatry and society, c. 1750–2015 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016).
[3] Reaume, “Patients at Work”, p. 74, 85.
[4] John Court, “From 999 to 1001 Queen Street: A Consistently Vital Resource,” in E. Hudson, ed. The Provincial Asylum in Toronto: Reflections on Social and Architectural History (Toronto: Toronto Region Architectural Conservancy, 2000), p. 194-96.
[5] Terms used to self-identify as psychiatric survivor, consumer, mad, patients, ex-patient, client and other terms are diverse and contentious within the community of people who choose one or another of these identifiers. In order to respect the choices people make, this article will use terms that are used by most of the individuals involved in this history with whom the author is familiar, the most common being psychiatric survivor or mad person.
[6] Reaume, Remembrance of Patients Past, p. 147.
[7] The next oldest surviving example in the province of a building built by insane asylum inmates is from 1861 in Amherstburg, Ontario at the former Malden Asylum Reaume. See: Reaume, “Patients at Work”, p. 76.
[8] I wrote the initial drafts of this play which were then dramaturged by Ruth Stackhouse and Ken Innes of Friendly Spike Theatre Band, and additional script contributions were made by members of the theatre troupe. It was workshopped over a weekend of performances in June 1998, and then performed for 10 days in May 1999 and for two weeks in April 2000, along with several shows at different venues during this time, the last performance being in July 2000. The book launch for Remembrance of Patients Past in April 2000 was centered around the play and, before the play, we went out of the theatre to the nearby west wall where we toasted the wall and all the patients who built it and who lived and died behind it.
[9] Otto F. Wahl, Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995).
[10] Geoffrey Reaume, “Psychiatric Patient Built Wall Tours at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Toronto, 2000 – 2010”, Left History, 15:1 (Fall/Winter 2010-2011): 127-146.
[11] The wording for this introductory plaque, along with the other plaques which have fewer words, is taken directly from PSAT’s original draft of August 2005, submitted with the support of CAMH Archives to the CAMH Administration in February 2006, and re-submitted in May 2008 after another consultation on the plaques. On July 15, 2008 further dialogue arose out of a presentation I made the day before at CAMH sponsored by the Empowerment Council for Mad Pride week events entitled: “Hugging Our History: Why Psychiatric Survivors Need to ‘Own’ Our Mad Past”. This event was attended by about 30 people, including from the CAMH administration, during which discussion of the wall plaques came up leading to further discussion between CAMH and myself the following day as a direct result of a question a CAMH patient asked me: “What is happening with the wall plaques?” As a result, this final wording, with the crucial word “exploitation”, was agreed upon in July 2008, though in April 2010 one more revision was made when the following wording was added into the final line at the suggestion of CAMH and approved by PSAT: “Seen by many as the physical representation of prejudiced attitudes towards people with a psychiatric diagnosis” with the rest of the wording in this line and on this plaque having been written by myself as a member of PSAT.


Parents on the March: Disability, Education and Parent-Activists

By Teresa Hillier, Swansea University

At a time of great social change in mid-20th century Britain there was a series of parliamentary reforms which aimed to help rebuild a war-torn society. These included a focus on education with the 1944 Education Act aiming to provide equality of opportunity to children. However, many children with cerebral palsy and related disabilities were classed as ineducable under this Act. This led to parents campaigning on behalf of their children against this perceived injustice. These parents were pioneers and disability activists, drawing public attention to the exclusion from education of their children. As a result of this direct action many parent-led organisations were established during the 1950s one of which is Longfields Association originally known as Swansea and District Spastic Association.

Legacy of Longfields is a two-year research project that will examine and share the history of the Association. The organisation was set up in 1952 by a group of parents of children with cerebral palsy to provide them with the opportunity for education. This led to the first school of this kind in Wales opening in April 1953.

First children to attend
First children to attend

The idea for recording the history of Longfields began while I was employed there from 1999 to 2004. I became more aware of the history of the organisation, the effort of the parents and the part that the organisation had played in disability history and the history of Swansea. The catalyst for this project was the sudden closure of the organisation in 2011. After a few years and changing circumstances a successful Heritage Lottery Fund application was made. The application highlighted the fact that only limited formal research had been undertaken on the Association and there was a danger it would be forgotten following the closure. The effort of campaigning by parents at that time is largely overlooked but through the project their story can be told. Tribute can be paid to the founder members and those who gave tirelessly of their time. Through my involvement, I knew that individuals cared passionately about Longfields and it touched many lives. Those involved in the early days are elderly and without the project their memories would be lost.

Swansea mayor presents key to new school 1952
Swansea mayor presents key to new school 1952

In 1955 the school moved to new premises where the first ‘spastic nursery’ in Wales was opened. As well as offering education for these children, Longfields provided job opportunities to some of its former pupils at the Work Centre in 1962 and the Occupational Therapy Unit which opened in December 1967. After many successful years providing services to individuals throughout the Swansea area the organisation closed in 2011. The project is still at an early stage but engaging with individuals who attended the centre, their families and friends has provided some valuable resources such as video footage, a scrapbook and press cuttings.

Researching the history of this organisation reveals how successful it was in engaging the public to support its cause. An extract, by Bill Paton, from the first Year Book of the Association, printed in 1960 illustrates the passion that the parents had in forming the organisation. The aim to engage with the public on disability issues was one of their key objectives. To achieve a wider impact, they gave talks to community groups, lobbied their MP and local council. Articles in local and national press, together with fund raising activities, highlighted the work of the organisation and contributed to the debate around the education of children with cerebral palsy.

Extract from the first Year Book of the Association
Extract from the first Year Book of the Association

Not content with working at a local level the Association engaged with other established organisations to campaign nationally. Affiliation to the National Spastics Society (NSS) resulted in Bill Paton becoming a member of the Society’s Executive Committee. This meant that the Association had more support for their activities and access to a wider range of resources. The NSS succeeded in getting ‘parents on the march’. Their five aims were
  • Tell Britain about Spastics
  • Discover the Spastics and their parents and bring them into Groups
  • Increase the number of Parent’s Groups to cover England and Wales
  • Unite these groups in one strong and effective body Raise money to help set up treatment, schooling and social centres more quickly than if the job was left entirely to Local Authoritie
The term “spastic” is not acceptable in modern society. However, it is important in an historical context to understand how the medical model of disability categorised individuals.

To achieve these aims the NSS brought the ‘plight of spastics’ to public attention using statistics to compare the number of children with cerebral palsy against those with other disabilities. By displaying images of children as objects of pity, using ‘tragedy’ to evoke sympathy they enhanced fundraising. A targeted media campaign and production of a documentary film, Chance of Their Lives (1952) further highlighted the issues.

As part of the project, oral histories will be collected to not only discover individual memories of Longfields but to reveal the experiences of those who attended the organisation from childhood to adulthood. Challenges arise as some of these individuals cannot participate unaided and so their contribution may be influenced by a family member. Memories can become distorted over time and recollections may be coloured by a desire to present a more idyllic past.

My research has begun to bring the origins of Longfields to life. Despite the problems described above, collection of oral histories and the input of pupils from local schools will enable a more dynamic memory of Longfields to be created. The project will deliver an exhibition at the National Waterfront Museum and an online accessible archive. Elements of the exhibition will then be made available to local schools and community groups taking the history of Longfields into the communities it served.

Recommended Citation:
Teresa Hillier (2016): Parents on the March: Disability, Education and Parent-Activists. In: Public Disability History 1 (2016) 19.

All pictures from West Glamorgan Archives in Swansea 


Who belongs in the murder clinic? The trouble with Nebel im August

By Ylva Söderfeldt

Germany is obsessed with narratives – movies, TV-series, novels – about its 20th century history. The most successful exports in later years have dealt with Nazi crimes and GDR oppression, not to mention the many productions directed at national audiences. No doubt, several of these works have been both of an outstanding artistic quality as well as having contributed to public awareness about the past, not least also about the continuities into and effects on the present German society.

One of the current movies on this theme (in the theatre where I watched it, there were at least two other films about Nazi Germany currently on the program) is somewhat unusual in that it addresses the murdering of sick and disabled people during the Second World War. Based on a novel that was in turn based on an actual biography, Nebel im August (Gloom in August) tells the story of Ernst Lossa (Ivo Pietzcker), who was murdered at the age of fourteen in a clinic in Irsee on August 9, 1944.
Lossa was Yenish, a minority that suffered persecution under the Nazis, had lost his mother, and was furthermore considered to have behavioral problems, all factors contributing to his institutionalization. We encounter him in the movie as he is transferred to the clinic in Irsee after having been in a series of other facilities. The initial impression is twofold: Lossa appears relieved at the friendly attitude he encounters from the head clinician Walter Veithausen (Sebastian Koch), but reacts with fear and contempt when he meets his fellow inmates, protesting that he doesn’t belong among "idiots".

A young boy with shaved head Ernst Lossa (Ivo Pietzcker)  is being viewed by a doctor Dr. Werner Veithausen (Sebastian Koch) standing behind him. Courtesy of StudioCanal.
A young boy with shaved head Ernst Lossa (Ivo Pietzcker)  is being
viewed by a doctor Dr. Werner Veithausen (Sebastian Koch) standing behind him. Courtesy of StudioCanal.
Between working in the fields and daydreaming of emigration, Lossa however soon comes to witness what quietly goes on in the clinic: inmates are being killed. At first, they disappear in enigmatic transports, then given lethal doses of medicine or deliberately starved on the premises.
The story is told at a slow pace and offers the viewers an almost excessive amount of scenic footage. At the same time, it is packed with information. When the camera doesn’t sweep over a beautiful landscape or interiors reminiscent of Vermeer paintings, it follows the protagonists in dialogues that painfully incorporate as many facts as possible about the ‚euthanasia’ programs. The ideological backdrop, the bureaucratic particulars, the role of scientific research as well as the Catholic church: it’s all in there, represented in the clearest way possible. This makes the viewing tedious, and the experience more like reading a Wikipedia entry than following a story. It is thanks to the generally very good acting and in particular Pietzcker’s brilliant performance, as well as David Bennent in an outstanding supporting role, that the movie still manages to engage and touch the viewer beyond the mere telling of historical facts.

A nurse (Henriette Confurius) hands a drink to a boy in a hospital bed. Courtesy of StudioCanal.
A nurse (Henriette Confurius) hands a drink to a boy in a hospital bed. Courtesy of StudioCanal.

This tendency to be overly pedagogic is a common trait for the genre and for German film in general (in a German detective story, you always know who the killer is, no mystery is tolerated). But it might also be due to the specific topic. The makers cannot anticipate that the viewers bring much previous knowledge into the theatre, and obviously felt it necessary to clearly lay out the facts in order to tell the story.

More troubling is the message that follows Ernst Lossa’s story throughout, and is articulated by one of his caretakers – and possibly, his killer  – "but he is a healthy boy!" The idea that Lossa "does not belong there" never quite leaves us even though his alliance shifts away from the staff and to his fellow inmates as the plot unfolds. This trope is all too familiar in narratives about the Nazi crimes against the sick and disabled: outrage tends to be directed especially at the abuse and murder of those who ‘weren’t even actually sick’ but ‘just’ labelled antisocial and degenerate. That line of reasoning, of course, implies that some people did ‘belong there’ and that certain illnesses and disabilities were, if not rightful, at least understandable grounds for extermination. From a public disability history perspective this particular presupposition  is precisely what needs to be questioned, and it is unfortunate that this production does not take the opportunity to do so.

Two boys with shaved heads(Niklas Post and Ivo Pietzcker) and a man (David Bennent) sit outdoors by a pile of potatoes looking amused and shocked. Behind them, men are making baskets.  Courtesy of StudioCanal.
Two boys with shaved heads(Niklas Post and Ivo Pietzcker) and a man (David Bennent)
sit outdoors by a pile of potatoes looking amused and shocked. Behind them, men are making baskets.
Courtesy of StudioCanal.

Nebel im August
StudioCanal, Germany, 2016
Director: Kai Wessel
Screenplay: Holger Karsten Schmidt
Lead cast: Ivo Pietzcker, Sebastian Koch, Thomas Schubert, Fritzi Haberlandt, Henriette Confurius

Recommended Citation:
Ylva Södrfeldt (2016): Who belongs in the murder clinic? The trouble with Nebel im August. In: Public Disability History 1 (2016) 18.


Seeing Our History – Outdoor Blind People in Edwardian Scotland

By Iain Hutchison

Seeing Our History is a Heritage Lottery Fund-supported research project conducted in 2014/15 by the Royal National Institute of the Blind-Scotland and aided in practical terms by Lothian Health Services Archive and the National Records of Scotland. The basis of the project was a Register of Outdoor Blind people living in Edinburgh and the southeast of Scotland between 1903 and 1910. The Register had been poorly compiled with many incomplete entries, but this gave added incentive to research volunteers in their quest to reconstruct the lives of outdoor blind people – people living in their communities and beyond the patronage of the Edinburgh Blind Asylum and its workshops.

Members of the Seeing Our History research team. (Photo: Iain Hutchison)
Members of the Seeing Our History research team
(Photo: Iain Hutchison)
The project team, consisting of research volunteers some of whom have sight loss, Dr Iain Hutchison, the project research historian, and Dr Catriona Burness, RNIB-Scotland’s senior research officer, had several potential lines of enquiry from which to choose. With 1,170 entries in the Register, a quantitative study was attractive, but when the incomplete nature of many entries was confronted, and numerous duplications identified, a qualitative approach was seen to hold greater potential.

Selling matches in
Edinburgh's Old Town
(Photo: City of Edinburgh Council)
Several detailed case studies resulted from this qualitative strategy and as life stories were developed, the study extended well beyond the eight years during which entries were made in the Register. The Edinburgh Mission to Outdoor Blind, the first such mission in Scotland, founded in 1857, had the instruction of tactile print as its primary objective. It used the Moon system exclusively for four decades before also embracing braille. Its concern was that blind people living among the sighted population should not be deprived of access to religious works. The Edinburgh Blind Asylum was also guided by a strong religious ethos, but the workshops that were the core of its activities meant that it catered for productive and therefore ‘ablebodied’ blind people.
The outdoor blind tended to be those blind people ‘disabled’ from working, or who, if they did work, earned insufficient money for it to provide meaningful self-support. They included elderly people, people who had lost a trade due to accident-related blindness, married women and widows, paupers confined to poorhouses, and the Mission’s so-called ‘migrant class’ whose claim to independence was in reality a precarious existence in lodging houses and temporary accommodation.

The primary output from the project was a book entitled Feeling Our History. The title emphasised not only the role of tactile print to people with sight loss, but the emotions affecting individual lives along with their tribulations, successes, and diverse social relationships. The book presented the project finds in two ways. One was through a selection of themes tracing the work of the Missions to Outdoor Blind and the broader experiences of blind people in such spheres as employment, education, poverty, communication, religion and charitable intervention. The second approach was to showcase the lives of ten of the people whom our researchers had explored in detail.

The book was produced in five formats in order to provide maximum accessibility to people with sight loss, and included large print, braille, audio and e-book formats. An interesting discovery was that people with total sight loss, in addition to other options, also wished to have a standard print version of the book so that it could be passed around their sighted friends.

The project had also undertaken to produce six podcasts for Insight Radio (now renamed Connect Radio), the radio station of RNIB. The podcasts, each lasting about ten minutes, were scripted in consultation with individual researchers and combined their case study investigations with a chosen broader theme.

Lizzie Hoseason spent her final years in a mental asylum where this image was taken. (Photo: Lothian Health Services Archive, Edinburgh University Library)
Lizzie Hoseason spent her final years in a
mental asylum where this image was taken.
(Photo: Lothian Health Services Archive,
Edinburgh University Library)
The podcast preparatory work opened up two unanticipated additional opportunities. The Missions to Outdoor Blind approved of certain occupations for the blind people in which it took an interest, but disapproved of others. It took a jaundiced view of street musicians whose activities, it thought, were akin to begging and might take them to unsavoury locations such as public houses. Street musicians were also free spirits and that didn’t suit the missionaries either. But what kind of music did they play? Music hall was popular among the general public and singer/songwriter Sarah Caltieri drew on music hall numbers to create the theme tune adopted for the podcast intros and to craft lyrics that told the story of Lizzie Hoseason, one of our characters, and her daughter, Sophie.

The second opportunity was to produce an additional, smaller book, which showcased the podcast scripts. It was entitled Hearing Our History.

The podcasts and the books can be accessed at: http://www.insightradio.co.uk/seeingourhistory.html#.V3PPjfkrLIU

Recommended Citation:
Iain Hutchison (2016): Seeing Our History – Outdoor Blind People in Edwardian Scotland. In: Public Disability History 1 (2016) 17.