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Images shape our knowledge of and our attitudes towards past societies. The imagery of ‘disability’ in medieval and early modern cultures has an effect not only on how we tend to imagine the lives of disabled people in premodern times, but also on how we approach and study histories of disability. In the past, art history tended to view representations of disabled people either through a medicalised lens or as evidence of social marginalisation. However, disability is not a fixed category. Recent scholarship on disability has placed renewed emphasis on disability as a complex and diverse, changeable, multifaceted way of being and has highlighted its epistemological potential. The aim of this lecture is to find ways to reflect this shift in perspective in our study of the visual (and non-visual) cultures of disability in premodern societies by looking beyond well-known representations of impairment. Learning how to see crip means to focus on the visible as well as the invisible, on embodied performances, visual practices centred on inner and outer images, and on the epistemological value premodern societies attributed to different ways of (not-)seeing.

Presented by Dr Bianca Frohne (University of Kiel)