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In 1983, UK academic-activist Mike Oliver coined the term ‘social model of disability’. The social model helped spotlight the ableism of the built and material environment, which ensured disablement and sustained inequality. Twenty years later, Catherine Kudlick called for ‘another other’—for historians to embrace disability as a means to interrogate power. This roundtable will reflect the course of the past two decades and more of scholarship. Outside of the designated parameters of UK Disability History Month (18 November-18 December), this event convenes at an interesting time; one that witnesses an uptick in hate crimes in public spaces against people with disabilities, and the arrival in the world of the novel disabling condition, long covid. Comprised of important and exciting voices in disability and its history, this panel will discuss spaces and their design as key to understanding past experiences, and potential new trajectories for research.

Jaipreet Virdi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Delaware whose research focuses on the ways medicine and technology impact the lived experiences of disabled people. She is author of Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History (University of Chicago Press, 2020), co-editor of Disability and the Victorians: Attitudes, Legacies, Interventions (Manchester University Press, 2020), and has published articles on diagnostic technologies, audiometry, and the medicalization of deafness.


Bess Williamson is Associate Professor of Design History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the author of Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design, and co-editor of Making Disability Modern: Design Histories. Her work has been published in Winterthur Portfolio, Design Issues, and American Studies. She is an associate editor of the journal Design and Culture.


Leslie Topp is Professor of History of Architecture at Birkbeck, University of London. She has a particular interest in the connections between space, mental health and psychiatry, and in the history and architecture of carceral institutions across Europe and North America. Her monograph Freedom and the Cage: Modern Architecture and Psychiatry in Central Europe, 1890-1914 was published by Penn State University Press in 2017. She is currently working on two projects: a study of the role of single rooms, cells and dormitories in nineteenth-century asylums and prisons, and the links between carceral spaces and historic living conditions experienced by poor and marginalised people. During 2021-22 she has a Leverhulme International Fellowship and is Visiting Professor at Queen's University, Canada


Stefanie Hunt-Kennedy is an Associate Professor of Caribbean, Atlantic World, and Disability History at the University of New Brunswick. She is the author of, Between Fitness and Death: Disability and Slavery in the Caribbean, and the primary investigator of The Anglo-Atlantic Slave Law Project, a website that will provide worldwide access to British slave laws from the earliest comprehensive codes of the seventeenth century to the laws that governed emancipation in the nineteenth century. Currently, Stefanie is collaborating with Dr Jenifer Barclay on an edited collection entitled, Cripping the Archive: Disability, Power, and History. Her next book project is a social history of the intersection of gender, disability and poverty in the age of amelioration and post-emancipation state formation in the British Caribbean


All welcome, this seminar is free to attend but booking is required.