Engl. 543 Discourses of Disability Before 1800

Professor E. Bearden


This course centers on concepts of disability from antiquity to the Renaissance. Literary theory, philosophy, and history will help us frame our thinking about how disability is produced. Along with considering how texts like Shakespeare’s Richard III or Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy represent disabled figures, we will investigate the generic, social, and spatial contexts from which these representations arise. The reading for this advanced, comparative course will be plentiful and challenging. A willingness to work hard and an openness to new ways of thinking are required.

The course has four thematic areas of focus:

1. Genealogies of disability: monsters, miracles, marvels, medicalization?;

2. Body, passibility, and incarnate subjectivity;

3. Narrative prostheses and unnatural narratology;

4. Space, the imago mundi, and geographies of disability.

Learning Outcomes:

The student should have a firm understanding of the course content and themes by the end of the class. These topics will help to define our lively classroom discussion and critical thinking. Writing assignments will encourage the student to demonstrate knowledge of this content, make a compelling argument through textual analysis, and hone their writing skills. The goal of the course is not only to provide an understanding of the history of the representation of disability in literature before 1800, but to think critically and deeply about how these early productions of disability continue to affect the way we ascribe meaning to disability today.