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Beggars, freaks and heroes? Museum collections and the hidden history of disability

By Richard Sandell, Annie Delin, Jocelyn Dodd and Jackie Gay


Although museums of all kinds have become increasingly concerned to reflect cultural difference within their collections and displays, museum practice remains selective and inconsistent. One area that has been especially neglected is the representation of disabled peoples' lives. This paper presents the findings of a research project undertaken by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, which set out to explore the hidden history of disability. The research found that wide-ranging collections of all kinds contain a wealth of relevant material although this is rarely displayed in a way which directly acknowledges its link to disability. Where material is displayed, this can sometimes be interpreted in ways which echo negative stereotypical representations of disabled people prevalent in other media. The paper argues that museums have the capacity to challenge understanding of what disability has meant to society in the past and could mean in the future by contesting reductive stereotypes, addressing the'difficult stories' surrounding disability history and presenting the diversity of disability experience

Year: 2005
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.musmancur.2004.11.001
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