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Uncommon Bodies Symposium: Premodern Disability and Race in a Global Context

February 15 - February 16

The two-day Symposium, scheduled for Feb. 15-16, 2024, is co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) and Macalester College (St. Paul).

The Symposium will bring to the Twin Cities a group of leading scholars of early modernity to illuminate the intersections of disability and race in the global early modern period. Organized by longtime collaborators Jennifer E. Row (associate professor of French, UMN) and Penelope Geng (associate professor of English, Macalester College), the Symposium will focus on the interlocking histories of disability and race. Contemporary oppressive policies and attitudes that advance eugenics, ablenationalism, and state-sanctioned debilitation and disablement of communities of color are rooted in early modern notions of fitness, deservingness, godliness, and beauty. These belief systems often worked together to define what forms of bodyminds were considered “normal” (and worth preserving) and what forms were “abnormal,” “deformed,” “disabled,” and not worth saving.

How did the art and literature of the early modern period imagine able-bodiedness and disability as well as the institutional processes of disablement (such as state-neglect of diseased and impoverished communities or early carceral systems)? How did definitions of “ability” and “disability” shift during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries—a period in European history that was marked by wars of religion, urbanization, colonization, and slavery? These are some of the questions the Symposium will explore.

Our Symposium will hold space for undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows to learn from, socialize, and collaborate with speakers. Undergraduate and graduate students from both of our institutions will have a chance to do hands-on research with invited speakers in the Twin Cities’ premodern archives (e.g., the UMN Wangensteen Library and the Minneapolis Institute of Art).