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"The past is valid only in relation to whether the present recognizes it"

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By Emmeline Burdett This quotation comes from Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black , one of the short-stories in a collection by the white South African writer Nadine Gordimer, which was published in 2007. It demonstrates how differing interpretations of the past can easily become a politicized battleground. A new chamber opera which looks at disability history through a highly politicized lens demonstrates both the pitfalls and the possibilities of this approach.  The Paradis Files was created by Graeae Theatre Company and tells the story of Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824), an Austrian composer and pianist who went blind at around the age of three, and who wrote at least five operas, two cantatas, fifteen keyboard works, several songs and a piano trio. Graeae was founded in 1980 by the disabled actor Nabil Shaban, specifically to counter prejudices and popular myths about disabled people. It was named after the Graeae of Greek mythology - three sisters named Deino (dread), Enyo

Disability stories from skeletons

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By Stephanie Evelyn-Wright In June 2014, I attended a performance of ‘ Cabinet of Curiosities : how disability was kept in a box’. This show explored the ways in which disability and disabled people are portrayed in museums (School of Museum Studies 2022).  However, the skeletons of actual disabled people were omitted.  I asked the show’s performer – the disabled actor Mat Fraser – about this, and he told me that he was interested in disability as a social construct, but not as a ‘medical condition’. Fraser’s attitude is an example of the social model of disability, which holds that it is not a disabled person’s medical condition which causes problems, but the failure of the society in which that person lives to accommodate him or her. This is, however, an unhelpfully narrow view, for skeletons are continually shaped by the world - for instance a person’s diet and occupation can leave osteological traces which attests to their lived social world. Disabled people’s remains are frequentl

Disability and video game culture

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By Sebastian Barsch & Joana Hansen In May 2020, the announcement that a wheelchair-bound character would soon be included in the video game "Marvel's Avengers" went viral . In a way this is surprising because for various media there has been discussion for years about how to better represent social diversity. Even if these discussions have not led to people with disabilities being adequately represented in films, for example. What must be questioned, however, is which actors are chosen to portray people with disabilities. Sophia Stewart aptly writes : "The Oscars Love Movies About Disability, Not Disabled Actors". Video games have a similar impact on society as movies. They are now produced at similar expense, the computer game industry is extremely financially strong, and it can be assumed that computer game aesthetics have an enormous influence on the perception of many people. At a first glance, however, it seems that computer games depending on the genre

Hidden histories of disabled mill workers

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By Gill Crawshaw   George Thompson worked at Gotts Mill, now  Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills in Yorkshire, UK, in the 1840s. George’s job was as a handle-setter, putting teasels into metal frames which were fitted onto a teasel-raising gig. This machine was used in the finishing stages of cloth making, there’s an example of one in the Industrial Museum. The cloth would pass over the spines of the teasels in the gig to raise the nap of the fabric. It was then cropped to give it a smooth surface.  The Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leeds_Industrial_Museum_at_Armley_Mills George was a young man who lived near the mill in Armley. Jobs preparing teasels for cloth-finishing were usually done by young men and boys, and perhaps George had started work as a preemer, sorting and cleaning the teasels. His boss reported that George “acquired the business equally fast, and as well as others” and reckoned that “when he is of age he will be a