by Julia Heinemann/Julia Gebke
Imagine the following scenario (Goodey, 1): time travel is possible nowadays. A person labelled as disabled in today’s society has access to a time machine and travels some centuries back in time. Would this person be considered disabled in other times as well? Depending on the era and the culture this person would encounter, the answer might differ significantly. Hence, we start from the basic assumption that disability is subject to both cultural and historical change. It is therefore the result of constructions and attributions embedded in a specific historical period and culture.
In addition, being able or disabled always depends on other social categories and dynamics: Is the time traveller male or female, what is his/her social position and familial ties in the society he/she travels to, to which ethnic or religious community would the person belong, etc.? An axiom of DisAbility History stresses that “[l]ike gender, like race, disability must become a standard analytical tool in the historian’s tool chest” (Longmore/Umansky, 15). Methodologically, DisAbility History benefits from looking at intersections of analytical categories. This means that disability can only be understood in relation to ability. Therefore, it is also crucial to ask who is regarded to be able or unable to do something in certain contexts.
Continuities as well as ruptures shape our understanding of the early modern period. On the one hand, early modern times might retrospectively appear to be the incubation period of modernity (“Inkubationszeit der Moderne”, Paul Münch). In DisAbility History, we can assume that the emergence of the Cartesian mind-body dualism, of secularisation, medicalisation, or the long-standing scholarly trend to categorise phenomena, to name only a few examples, affected and changed the ways of understanding diseases and health until today. On the other hand, as researchers, we are constantly addressing early modern otherness in terminologies, experiences and conceptualisations of DisAbility. In addition, we notice some astonishingly persistent continuities from the medieval to early modern period when it comes to treating illness and disease.
For our special issue Early Modern DisAbility History in the journal Frühneuzeit-Info, we invite scholars from various disciplines focusing on the early modern period (such as history, art history, literature, archaeology, anthropology, etc.) to submit their contributions. Articles can be submitted in English or German (max. 40,000 characters, including spaces, submission deadline: 30 April 2020). Proposals for contributions in English or German, including an abstract of no more than 500 words and a short CV should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com no later than 30 September 2019.