Faculty Publications

Bodyminds Reimagined

Sami Schalk

Duke University Press, 2018

Schalk Book

Book cover image shows the torso of black person dressed in a garment of various technological parts with a distant major city in the background.
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In Bodyminds Reimagined Sami Schalk traces how black women’s speculative fiction complicates the understanding of bodyminds—the intertwinement of the mental and the physical—in the context of race, gender, and (dis)ability. Bridging black feminist theory with disability studies, Schalk demonstrates that this genre’s political potential lies in the authors’ creation of bodyminds that transcend reality’s limitations. She reads (dis)ability in neo-slavery narratives by Octavia Butler (Kindred) and Phyllis Alesia Perry (Stigmata) not only as representing the literal injuries suffered under slavery, but also as a metaphor for the legacy of racial violence. The fantasy worlds in works by N. K. Jemisin, Shawntelle Madison, and Nalo Hopkinson—where werewolves have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and blind demons can see magic—destabilize social categories and definitions of the human, calling into question the very nature of identity. In these texts, as well as in Butler’s Parable series, able-mindedness and able-bodiedness are socially constructed and upheld through racial and gendered norms. Outlining (dis)ability’s centrality to speculative fiction, Schalk shows how these works open new social possibilities while changing conceptualizations of identity and oppression through non-realist contexts.

Monstrous Kinds: Body, Space, and Narrative in Renaissance Representations of Disability. Corporealities Series

Elizabeth Bearden

University of Michigan Press, Forthcoming 2019

Winner of the Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities, this project examines disability in the Renaissance in conduct books and treatises, travel writing, and wonder books. The cross-section of texts is comparative, putting canonical European authors such as Castiglione into dialogue with transatlantic and Anglo-Ottoman literary exchange. Its methodology takes a formal and philosophical approach to pre-modern formulations of monstrous bodies, spaces, and narratives, which continue to shape our understandings of disability today.

The Emblematics of the Self: Ekphrasis and Identity in Renaissance Imitations of Greek Romance

Elizabeth Bearden

University of Toronto Press, 2013

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Book cover image shows a white woman in elaborate Renaissance clothing resting her hand on a stag’s head.

The ancient Greek romances of Achilles Tatius and Heliodorus were widely imitated by early modern writers such as Miguel de Cervantes, Philip Sidney, and Mary Wroth. Like their Greek models, Renaissance romances used ekphrasis, or verbal descriptions of visual representation, as a tool for characterization. The Emblematics of the Self shows how the women, foreigners, and non-Christians of these tales reveal their identities and desires in their responses to the ‘verbal pictures’ of romance.

Elizabeth B. Bearden illuminates how ‘verbal pictures’ enliven characterization in English, Spanish, and Neolatin romances from 1552 to 1621. She notes the capacity for change among characters — such as cross-dressed Amazons, shepherdish princesses, and white Mauritanians — who traverse transnational cultural and aesthetic environments. Engaging and rigorous, The Emblematics of the Selfbreaks new ground in understanding hegemonic and cosmopolitan European conceptions of the ‘other,’ as well as new possibilities for early modern identities, in an increasingly global Renaissance.

Diverse Brains

Morton Ann Gernsbacher

Ernest R. Hilgard’s Award Lecture, 2014

Abstract: Humans differ. Most read with their eyes, but some read with their fingertips. The majority communicates by speaking and listening, but a minority communicates by signing. Humans are diverse, and so are our brains. When should neuroscientists accentuate these differences – and when shouldn’t they? Why should individuals, themselves, accept their brain differences? And how can we, as a society, accommodate those brain differences?

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 Video Captions Benefit Everyone

Morton Ann Gernsbacher

Improving Society, 2015

Abstract: Video captions, also known as same-language subtitles, benefit everyone who watches videos (children, adolescents, college students, and adults). More than 100 empirical studies document that captioning a video improves comprehension of, attention to, and memory for the video. Captions are particularly beneficial for persons watching videos in their non-native language, for children and adults learning to read, and for persons who are D/deaf or hard of hearing. However, despite U.S. laws, which require captioning in most workplace and educational contexts, many video audiences and video creators are naïve about the legal mandate to caption, much less the empirical benefit of captions.

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 American Lobotomy: A Rhetorical History 

Jenell Johnson

University of Michigan Press (Corporealities: Discourses of Disability), 2014

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Book cover image shows a gray sketch of a a brain against a white background.


American Lobotomy takes one of the most infamous procedures in the history of medicine as its subject. Through a close study of representations of lobotomy in a wide variety of cultural texts, American Lobotomy offers a rhetorical history of the infamous procedure and illustrates its continued effect on American medicine. The development of lobotomy in 1935 was heralded as a “miracle cure” by newspapers and magazines, which hoped openly that the “soul surgery” would empty the nation’s perennially blighted asylums. However, the miracle cure soon began to fall from favor with the American public, as the operation became characterized as a barbaric practice with suspiciously authoritarian overtones. Only twenty years after the first operation, lobotomists initially praised for their “therapeutic courage” were condemned for their barbarity, an image that has only soured in subsequent decades. Taking on previously abandoned texts like science fiction, horror film, political polemics, and conspiracy theory, Johnson employs these discarded texts to write a rhetorical history of the operation, showing how lobotomy’s entanglement with social and political narratives contributed to a powerful image of the operation that persists to this day. In a provocative challenge to the history of medicine, American Lobotomy argues that lobotomy’s rhetorical history is crucial to understanding lobotomy’s medical history, offering a case study of how medicine accumulates meaning as it circulates in public culture, and it stands as an argument for the need to understand biomedicine as a culturally situated practice.

 Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race

Ellen Samuels

New York University Press, 2014

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Book cover image show a number of hanging test tubes against a red background

In the mid-nineteenth-century United States, as it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between bodies understood as black, white, or Indian; able-bodied or disabled; and male or female, intense efforts emerged to define these identities as biologically distinct and scientifically verifiable in a literally marked body. Combining literary analysis, legal history, and visual culture, Ellen Samuels traces the evolution of the “fantasy of identification”—the powerful belief that embodied social identities are fixed, verifiable, and visible through modern science. From birthmarks and fingerprints to blood quantum and DNA, she examines how this fantasy has circulated between cultural representations, law, science, and policy to become one of the most powerfully institutionalized ideologies of modern society.

Yet, as Samuels demonstrates, in every case, the fantasy distorts its claimed scientific basis, substituting subjective language for claimed objective fact. From its early emergence in discourses about disability fakery and fugitive slaves in the nineteenth century to its most recent manifestation in the question of sex testing at the 2012 Olympic Games, Fantasies of Identificationexplores the roots of modern understandings of bodily identity.