6/20/2016

Disability History Beyond Borders: The Story of Ryoichi Ishii and Takinogawa Gakuen in Japan

By Yoshiya Makita

In the countryside, an hour’s train ride away from the noisy central districts of Tokyo, the buildings of Takinogawa Gakuen stand in solitude, surrounded as they are by deep forest and tiny streams. As a social welfare center, Takinogawa Gakuen provides services to people with mental disabilities. The small institution has a long history. Visitors learn with a sense of surprise that this first institution of its kind, which was established in Japan more than a hundred years ago, continues its mission on the western outskirts of the metropolis.

In the past ten years, the field of disability history has been expanding hugely to include various areas of research from diverse perspectives. No historian can now ignore the critical importance of disability, which influences one’s social life, at the intersection with other social attributes such as race, gender, and class. To this current state of the field, the story of Takinogawa Gakuen and its founder Ryoichi Ishii will add another new viewpoint: a transnational perspective on the history of disabilities. What it means to be disabled varies with location. But historical inquiries reveal that different institutions of disability in various localities have often developed through transnational exchange of ideas and practices beyond borders.

Portrait of Ryoichi Ishii (Courtesy of Takinogawa Gakuen)
Portrait of Ryoichi Ishii (Courtesy of Takinogawa Gakuen)

6/07/2016

Disability history and the cultural meaning of signatures

By Monika Baar

One of the most crucial and most rewarding tasks of scholars studying the history of disability is to contribute to the integration of disabled citizens’ voices into mainstream historical discourses. This also constitutes an important ambition of the research project Rethinking Disability: the Global Impact of the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981) in Historical Perspective which I am directing in the Institute for History at Leiden University with the support of a Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council.

International Year for disabled persons, stamp from Trinidad and Tobago
International Year for disabled persons, stamp
© Mark Morgan (CC BY 2.0)
Self-evident the ambition to render disabled people’s experiences accessible to the academic and non-academic public comes with particular challenges. One of the acute problems is the dearth of available historical sources. Documents relating to disability policies typically receive low priority when it comes to archival preservation and storage. On the fortunate occasions when those sources have ‘survived’, they have often not been systematized and catalogued and as such are particularly difficult to study.  Moreover, while such policy-related documents provide us with valuable information about how representatives of the state, various institutions and organizations have approached disability, they can hardly offer an insight into the everyday life experiences of disabled people. Occasionally serendipity helps the researcher to find some interesting pamphlets, magazines, photos and other sources at some unexpected locations, such as the cellars and attics of disabled people’s homes or those of their organizations.