Nineteenth-Century Disability: A Digital Reader

Screenshot of 19thC Disability:  A Digital Reader

Screenshot of 19thC Disability: A Digital Reader

Following up on Connie’s post on “Editorial Traces:  The Yellow Nineties Online“, I’d like to take this post to introduce another digital project, Nineteenth-Century Disability:  A Digital Reader.  The project is an interdisciplinary, open-access scholarly resource on physical and cognitive disability in the long nineteenth-century.  Leading and emerging scholars in nineteenth-century disability studies (including the Floating Academy’s own Jennifer Esmail and Daniel Martin), have chosen texts and objects important to the field, and annotated them with introductions, footnotes, and suggestions for further reading.

The time and funding to launch the project were sponsored by a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship.  The idea for came out of conversations with Chris Keep, who many of us at the Floating Academy have been lucky to work with.  My initial idea for a postdoctoral project had been to do a traditional codex reader of primary sources in nineteenth-century disability.  Yet, I soon realized that doing the reader as an online project would not only allow the work to be more widely accessible, but would also allow for collaboration with other scholars and hopefully a more interesting project.

Collaboration has been one of the most rewarding parts of the project so far.  Having recently completed a book MS on disability in the nineteenth-century novel, I thought I knew a lot about the topic.  Yet, in working with others, especially junior scholars who have yet to publish their work or more advanced scholars starting brand new projects, I’ve been introduced to objects like an ear trumpet in mourning, a poem on stammering, and a turn-of-the-century glass eye.  It’s been great to learn so much from others, and I’m hoping as September rolls around the project will be used in the classroom.

A Victorian ear trumpet Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

A Victorian ear trumpet
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Before I began this project, my experience with DH was pretty much limited to blogging on WordPress.  Yet, I found the DH community to be extremely friendly and helpful, and having a postdoctoral fellowship gave me the time to learn some new skills, which was the most important thing.  After talking to Mark McDayter at Western, I chose Omeka as the content management for the project, and I couldn’t be happier with it.  Omeka is aimed at academic, museum professionals, and librarians, and provides robust metadata using the Dublin Core Fields for scholarly objects.  If you are interested in some of the technical aspects of using Omeka for a project like Nineteenth-Century Disability, I’ve blogged about it here , here, and here, with another post coming soon about altering the php.

 Muybridge "Animal locomotion"; deformed child.  Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Muybridge “Animal locomotion”; deformed child. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

I think that the spirit of collaboration and openness engendered by doing this project as a digital humanities project is also true to the spirit of disability studies.  As I learned more about the digital humanities, I was struck by how ideas of interdependence, sharing, and accessibility were common to both fields.  After an initial learning curve, I’m having a lot of fun with the project, and I hope my collaborators are too.  I’ll end by inviting anyone who is interested in contributing to contact me in the comments or by email–in this kind of project, it really is the more the merrier!

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2 thoughts on “Nineteenth-Century Disability: A Digital Reader

  1. I am so glad that you have created this important resource, Karen, and I’m planning to use it liberally in my “Disability in Victorian Literature” course this year.

  2. I’m so glad you are planning on using it! Are there any features that would make it more useful to you, or any content you’d wish for before classes start? I’m working on entries on orthopaedic disability and Jane Eyre, and have content coming in on Joseph Merrick, representations of the blind reading, and 19th C hearing aids. Hopefully this will all be up for September.

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