The Portrait of a Sixteenth-Century Disabled Man

By Volker Schönwiese

Gazes at women and men with disabilities from the early modern times up until today – how can they be interpreted scientifically and artistically? A painting from an unknown disabled man from the 16th century that has not been taken notice of until then was the starting point of a participatory and transdisciplinary project in 2005/2006. The portrait is part of the “Kunst- und Wunderkammer” (Cabinet of Arts and Wonders, founded by Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria, Region of the Tyrol [1529-1595]) at Ambras Castle near the city of Innsbruck/ Austria. The Institute of Educational Sciences at the University of Innsbruck, the Museum of Fine Arts (“Kunsthistorisches Museum”) in Vienna with its collection at Ambras Castle and the Centre for Independent Living in Innsbruck were the project partners of this research project. The project´s main goals were the creation and organisation of an exhibition at Ambras Castle and the publication of a scientific anthology with collected articles. Both goals were achieved in cooperation with a reference group of women and men with disabilities. Additionally, a television documentary was created. The participatory approach of the project should finally lead to recommendations for working with reference groups as a way of transdisciplinary participation.

During the duration of the project, two other historical paintings were found that are also significant for the analysis of the cultural representation of disability: a leaflet from 1620 showing Wolfgang Gschaidter, a carpenter with a disability [1] and a small picture from 1578, showing Elizabeth, a woman with a learning disability [2].


Polio Lives - Translating ethnographic text into verbatim theatre

By Sonali Shah

Increasingly, in today’s text-based society, there is a call to adapt and translate academic research into forms that are accessible to a diversity of stakeholders in order to accelerate its impact beyond the academic gates. Such thinking informed the Polio Lives study - a two stage pilot study which explored the potential of interdisciplinary methodologies to exchange and communicate knowledge, about the social history of polio, to different communities in creative ways. The first stage involved conducting five life history interviews with survivors of childhood paralytic polio, contracted during the U.K. polio epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s.  Selected quotes from these transcripts were used to illustrate various points throughout the paper. The second stage of the study involved collaborating with Birds of Paradise theatre company to run two workshops to explore how to tell the story of polio through recorded delivery verbatim methodologies.

For the purposes of the blog, I will omit all the theoretical debates around the use of drama as a tool to educate contemporary audiences about historical diseases which are unfamiliar to them. This can be read about in my journal paper which should be available this year. Instead I urge you to watch the short documentary, Polio Monologues, which explores how the life stories of polio survivors (specifically those with paralytic polio since childhood), collected by a social scientific disability researcher (myself) can be embodied and staged using the verbatim theatre technique recorded delivery.

Recommended Citation
Sonali Shah (2016): Polio Lives - Translating ethnographic text into verbatim theatre. In: Public Disability History 1 (2016) 7.


Favorite TED talks about disability

By Ylva Söderfeldt

TED talks have become a hugely popular forum for public debate. The format consists of brief lectures, around twenty minutes long, presented in an entertaining, provocative, and popular way, to a live audience and openly available online. TED talks address a wide range of topics, from science, politics, and society, to personal stories. Quite a few of them relate to disability, for instance presenting high-tech protheses, or the experiences of disabled athletes. Today, we’ve selected three favorite TED talks on disability:

Alice Dreger, „Is anatomy destiny?“
Dreger is well known for her groundbreaking studies on conjoined twins and intersex. In this talk, she suggests that unusual bodies can teach us something about democracy.

Maysoon Zayid, „I got 99 problems… palsy is just one“
Zayid talks about being at the intersection between racism, sexism, ableism… and comedy!

Mads Ananda Lodahl, „Ending the straight world order“
This talk isn’t about disability at all, but Lodahl talks about how queer studies question the concept of normal, and what the consequences of enforcing normalcy are.
Link to X-Talk

Most TED talks have subtitles and transcripts in several languages and the option to comment and discuss online. Enjoy, and tell us about your favorite TED talks!

Recommended Citation
Ylva Söderfeldt (2016): Favorite TED talks about disability. In: Public Disability History 1 (2016) 6.