Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 July 2022
This is a chapter about the public articulation of disability in terms of concerns about the British nation. From sensory impairment, to stature, to intellect, from the end of the nineteenth century, disability became an issue relevant not only to the lives of the disabled, and those who cared for them, but to everyone. It became not only a national issue but also an imperial concern. Ultimately, I argue that these reconfigurations tie in with similar shifts that were occurring around attitudes towards race and class. In the later nineteenth century rapid imperial expansion, not least the ‘Scramble for Africa’, provided an additional backdrop against which attitudes towards race regrouped. Another important movement was the rise of thinking about ‘degeneration’ and eugenics. What I argue here is that some of these concerns not only applied to disability, as well, but coalesced around the same issues. ‘Feeble-mindedness’, for example, a category ostensibly about intellectual and cognitive impairment, became a key issue which spoke to issues of race ‘hygiene’ and class concerns. The valorisation of the strong, masculine, white, non-disabled, young adult body, in this period became increasingly linked with heredity and therefore became a matter of public concern.