Learn what you Love
Sept. 14, 2019

Disability and Disease in 19th Cent. Paris with Dr. Catherine Kudlick

Disability and Disease in 19th Cent. Paris with Dr. Catherine Kudlick

Dr. Catherine Kudlick of San Francisco State University talks about a blind community in 19th century Paris. Furthermore, she talks about disability, disease and what those meant in French history.


Gary: Hello everyone. Today’s special episode explores disability in 19th century Paris and France in general. Today, 12 million French people, roughly one-fifth have registered disabilities while in the United States that figure is almost one fourth. Disability is an incredibly important topic as it affects the lives of over a billion people worldwide. Yet there has been a striking lack of historical work on the topic. This could be in part because people with physical and mental disabilities had a more difficult time creating records of their lives. Another is that there are relatively few historians working in this field. Thankfully, Professor Catherine Kudlick sat down with me to talk about this overlooked topic. After two decades at the University of California Davis, Catherine Kudlick became Professor of History and director of the Paul K. Longmoore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University in 2012. She has published a number of books and articles on disability history including Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France and Disability History: Why We Need Another Other in the American Historical Review. She oversaw completion of Paul Longmore’s posthumously published book Telethons, Spectacle Disability and the Business of Charity and co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Disability History with Michael Rambus and Kim Neilsen. As director of the Longmore Institute she directed the public history exhibit Patient No More: People with Disabilities Securing Civil Rights and co-hosts Superfest International Disability Film Festival. Her current work blends research and advocacy in the service of public history where the major goal is pursuing the Longmore Institute’s mission to convince the world that society is better because of disabled people.

Gary: Thank you very much for sitting down with us Professor Kudlick. Can you tell us a little bit how you came to be involved in writing about disability through history?

Kudlick: Oh my goodness. That’s a huge question. I started out being very interested in the history of medicine when I wrote my dissertation on cholera epidemics in the 19th century and got very interested in the structures that were in place about medicine and society and culture. But the other piece of it was that I have a vision impairment that I’ve been kind of wrestling with in lots of levels for my whole life and kind of learning what it meant. I’ve had it my whole life so it’s not that it wasn’t something new that happened to me that I had to adjust to but I kind of spent a lot of time denying it and pushed through pretending that there was nothing going on and then as I became more aware of it and it wasn’t getting worse I just became more aware of it as a thing that gave me some insights into society and culture and maybe had influenced my decision to do medical history in some subliminal way because all historians  we work on what interests us at some level and connects us and that’s why we engage with the topic. So I started really kind of saying, “wow there’s this thing that’s different about me.”

But the thing that totally propelled me into that world was it’s a little bit cynical actually. I was denied a job at Barnard College. I’ve written about it I’ve published about it in the New York Times if you want to read about it. I didn’t publish about it as a tell all and destroy the institution. I just grappled with the story my whole life when I was denied the opportunity to present myself like other candidates they were asking me to do other things that they weren’t asking other candidates to do and I refused to do it. So when I didn’t get the job and I knew I wouldn’t and I was a visitor at Barnard College at that point. So I’d been there for a year. People knew me and I was being pretty honest about my vision impairment and things like that but I decided this is really really terrible. It’s it’s a display of discrimination. It really kind of punched me in the gut and I decided that I wanted to understand more about this experience that happened to me. But I also I really like New York City. It was a great place for somebody with a vision impairment to live. There was great public transportation. I had a lot of friends it was something I really wanted. So I thought, “well, disability and my vision impairment got me kicked out of New York, maybe there’s a way it could get me back in.” And it was the late 80s early 90s and there was lots of conversation about identity and identity politics and all of that and I thought, “oh, how weird.  I’ve thought about women’s history and LGBTQ history.  I’ve thought about issues of race and colonization and all of these things but nobody was talking about disability.” I thought, “Gosh I wonder if some similar things are at work.” So I started reading around just to see what was there and there were  things scattered about but there was no real movement and I thought oh my goodness this is huge. There’s something so big here that nobody’s thought about. And by that point I was  in the thick of my dissertation modification process of turning it into a book which was published in 1996. But meanwhile I’m thinking wow there’s a big world out here that nobody knows about. So that’s how I got there.

Gary: Well let’s dive a little bit into that because I’m not too surprised that there hasn’t been that much writing on disability because it seems like the farther back you go people are more demonized, there’s less knowledge of scientific works and also those people with disabilities have much less of a voice. So how did you go about doing this research and uncovering these stories?


Kudlick: I mean first of all it’s a disability might not have had the label disability until fairly recently, that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. I mean clearly if you look at certain things further back like poverty, hospitals, institutions, a lot of the religious materials from way far back actually engaged with disability quite a bit. And it’s all over the Bible it’s all over the canonical text that people talked about but nobody thought to look at it with this more modern lens. And I think that’s the difference. I am a late 18th early 19th century historian I kind of bridge those two centuries when I can and I felt like the institutional records were very very strong and I started looking and I was originally going to be writing about the history of blind people and blindness because it was so immediately connected to my own experiences and I did a little digging and discovered that there was a scholar in France named Zina Weygand who published or was publishing a series of books about the intersection of medicine and society and culture and blind people and so I reached out to her and wrote up one of those letters that we write as young scholars. First of all I didn’t even know she was her stuff was signed to her early stuff was Z Weygand, and she wrote me back as Z Weygand and I had no idea whether she was a man or woman or whatever but so I still have the first letter that I wrote to her. “Dear Messieur” because you kind of assume that everybody in France was “Messieur whatever” she wrote me back and informed me that she was doing this work and she said, “Let’s get together and meet.” And it turned out I was in Paris doing some research over the summer. This summer, I forget it was back in maybe summer of 95 and it just so happened I was staying with friends that lived right around the corner from her. So we got together and had lunch and the first lunch was like three or four hours just talking about how she’d done all this amazing work and she hadn’t found that many people to talk to about it. Here was this young eager American scholar wanting to talk to her about it but also  it was probably a little bit threatening for both of us to find that person that’s doing the thing that you thought you were going to do and on what level you want to be alone and at another level you’re kind of like, “whoa it’s kind of lonely here.” And we just totally connected and we’ve been close friends over the years we’ve collaborated on a book called Reflections: The Life and Writing of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary Paris. And that came about because I was working in an archive and she was working in archives when we both simultaneously discovered this document by this woman Therese-Adele Husson and I had discovered it and I was talking to her about it and we just got into this conversation. And I thought it was such a great text I thought we should publish this and maybe try to find some of the background story and Zina is this amazing just totally dogged researcher she leaves no stone unturned and she’s really really creative so she doesn’t just go the usual track she’ll think about reaching out to scholars at this and scholars at that and she just wants to nail down and create this universe. So it’s a really great combination because I was wanting to make the kind of concepts some of the conceptual leaps of saying, “let’s try to be speculative here,” and she’d get a little nervous about the speculation and so I’d be patient while she needed to nail down the ten things that convinced her it was OK to be speculative. But then we had this agreement that we have this story and we started working together, we were finding things in some of the archives in France from the Association Valentin Huey which is one of the main blind archives the Institute National Des Gens Aveugles. We were also working in Archives National, Bibliotheque Historique de Paris, the Academie de Medicine in all the different sort of places looking trying to put together the life of this person. And we had a lucky break where we figured out that this woman whose name was sort of similar turned out to be Adele Husson and that she had in her manuscript she’d said, “don’t marry, this is a disaster for blind women this is a horrible thing.” And she married! And she had a different name. So  it was just kind of one of these things we figured out then that she was a writer who had published more books than Georges Sand and was actually as widely read as Georges Sand her novels were terrible. So, she was no sure Sand. But it’s interesting that somebody like that  wasn’t more known at the time.

But anyway Zena and I had a little friendly competition going where we’d drawn up a proposal for this book and we had said OK we’re going to each go to publishers. I’ll go to publishers in the US, she would go to publishers in France and whoever found the publisher first, that’s where the book would first appear and I won. The Americans were a little bit more receptive to this this new sort of topic. I happened to meet at one of these conferences, and it really does pay to go to conferences and talk, chat up the publisher representatives that come. I met a very young Niko Pfund who’s the editor-in-chief at Oxford. But at the time he was editor in chief at NYU Press and somehow he got it. And he said, “I’m going to take a risk, I’m gonna do it.” We got the book out, and then a few years later we had it translated into French and that’s how the book ended up appearing. But it was a wonderful opportunity to work with somebody else share conversations and not be competitive and really enjoy the process of creating this history together.

Gary: Oh fantastic. So I’m glad you mentioned your book because I want to dive directly into that. So your book Reflections: The Life and Writing of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France tells the story of a woman who in the 1820s wrote a book before Braille was invented. Can you tell us how this blind person envisioned French society?


Kudlick: So I want to talk a little bit about her process first because that’s kind of caught up in part of your question. She wrote this by dictating it. She was taken under the wing of French nuns. Basically she came from, not a very poor family, but an artistisanl family, she was not an aristocrat by any stretch of the imagination. So that’s one of the things that’s very fascinating about her story because she’s not some wealthy person that felt she was entitled to tell her story. She was somebody that just through pure audacity and pluck and probably a little bit of obnoxiousness too said, “I am a blind woman. I’m becoming a burden to my family. I want to go make my way in Paris as a writer and I’m going to do it.” And so she, at the age of 18-20 years old, made her way to Paris by herself as a blind woman. And just imagine: it was around 1820 so you can just imagine the climate of Paris with all the noise and filth and horses and carts and all of that and all the unscrupulous people that were trying to take advantage of everybody else. And she gets to Paris and is taken in kind of by some sisters that were really helping her out. And she ultimately does make her way as a writer by herself. She published more than Georges Sand. I think she published something like 14 truly terrible course by the time she died at the age of 29 in a fire. And so her take on French society she was trying to give advice more to blind women in particular. So she’s picking up on this current of a society…it’s Post-Restoration France it’s sort of on the eve of the July Monarchy. So it’s this period when conservatism had come back into favor and I think she was probably fairly conservative in terms of her politics in part because she’d been raised by these sisters and she’d benefited from their charity and other things. But she was also a feminist and I actually got my early teaching of this book and before we had even published it I would give the manuscript the translated manuscript to my undergraduate classes my undergraduate French history classes my undergraduate women’s history classes and I would just ask them to read it and tell me if you think she’s a feminist. And it was so fascinating because nobody agreed. And they really came at loggerheads with each other in a positive way that you get when there’s disagreement in a class and they really didn’t debate about whether or not this was so. And there were elements of her that were basically saying, “you’ve got to cast your lot with a society that’s going to protect you and so you don’t want to alienate your protectors. You don’t want to be too radical or anything.” And yet her text is basically saying, “blind women do not marry because if you marry you’re going to marry a sighted guy he’s going to have really weird motives and you don’t want to deal with that. And if you marry a blind guy you’re neither of you going to have any prospects whatsoever and you’re going to get lost, you’re gonna get stuck and you’re going to have terrible things happen you might even die in a fire,” she even says stuff like that.

She and her husband that she ultimately married, a blind man, were in a fire. They had two children. But what by what we can surmise she dies in the fire the two children we assume did as well. But there’s no records of what happened to them. And he went on to he survived and went on to marry a sighted woman and became a fairly well-known inventor in French  accessibility technology and a way of early versions of it like creating a kind of typewriter that blind people could use to write to each other and things like that. And again by that point Braille was fairly well-known. I think he did know Louis Braille and all of that but he became quite well-known in those circles at that time. But she died because of her beliefs. She was fiercely independent.

The other thing to know about her as she tried to secure a place in…There was a blind institution called the Quinze-Vingt. It’s right in Paris behind the Bastille, a big blind hospital there and then there’s a lot of records and a lot of research that people have done there although in recent years it’s been closed to the public the archives part which is heartbreaking. But that’s another story. But anyway, they had these residencies and they still do actually, for blind people to live in they’re kind of taken care of. And you have to apply and you get room and board and you’re in a pretty secure environment. So she wrote and appealed to be let in to be living in this residency at the Quinze-Vingt And she was denied by one of the Catholic benefactors. And we believe perhaps some she did something to alienate him. Scrawled across the letter is of her application and the refuse or something is, “this woman is of bad faith and she’s probably duped a number of people.”

And so she was basically flat out rejected and that’s probably what cost her her life. And also she was living with a blind man and that was considered kind of an impropriety. At that particular time in the early 1820s there were laws in place that basically said blind people could not live together in this residency.

Gary: Interesting. I think that’s a good transition point because I wanted to move on from talking about an individual blind person to talking about blind communities. How did these communities form how did they interact with the larger public? I imagine that would be pretty difficult in 19th century France to create a community of blind people.

Kudlick: Well there were a few things that worked in favor of that. One was institutions, so for example you had the very beginning starting in 1786 you had Valentin Huey who had created the first school in the world for blind people. And his idea was he wanted to teach people who had no other means of being educated. And this was part of the larger Enlightenment project and humanitarian project, the same thing that gave rise to the conversations about elevating people of color elevating the poor, elevating women. And this is the exact same impulse and it’s always fascinated me that somehow French historians have never connected this with some of these amazing conversations around literacy for blind people because it’s the same exact impulse and gives some interesting insights into that, that they might not get other places but this particular school then brought people together and it taught them how to read and it was before Braille basically came of into wider use in the 1830s and 1840s within the school. So this again was before that. He was a linguist actually, and he came up with a system of raised letters that was kind of interesting because it was basically print letters that stuck out pretty far from the page. They took up a ton of room. I mean Braille is a much more efficient system because it takes up a lot less room and you can put your finger over letters and entire words whereas with raised type you’re kind of having to say, “Okay is this a ‘E’? Is this and R?” All of these questions that you’re gonna raise. But it still worked and he taught these students working in these schools and produced the books that would teach other blind people how to read. And so it became this kind of self-perpetuating system that’s kind of fascinating and really great. And then generation upon generation of students went through this school that became the Institute National des Gens Aveugles but it’s still there today. It’s more like so many blind schools in all parts of the world it’s kind of more for blind people with multiple disabilities and the blind population has been more fully mainstreamed than was the case back in the 18th and early 19th century.

But nonetheless that was one place, the other place was at these residences as I mentioned. A lot of musicians…people that worked in the church sang and choirs or  all sorts of different groups would come together in that way. And an amazing word of mouth an amazing set of connections and so in some ways blind people were completely isolated and yet they were that isolation is really what brought about a sense of community.


And then you asked about the sighted world and how they saw it, it’s interesting if you look at a few of the key enlightenment texts where they mention blind people some of the writers like Diderot, Montesquieu they talk about these communities actually and especially Montesquieu. He has a whole thing in the Persian Letters about these communities. I’ve got I have a piece on this that I really want to publish at some point. I keep wanting to get back to it but I never have to give it as a conference paper.

But it’s so fascinating because they saw it happening and they’re so intrigued by it and they see this amazing group of people that are coming together and actually teaching sighted people how to do things. And so our own ideas around disability have kind of prevented a lot of scholars from understanding; like “whoa the tables are totally turned in some situations” and nobody knows to look at it that way. So it’s an amazing transformation in thinking that people are just not aware of all to add one more interesting aspect to this.

Gary: What I find fascinating is that at this time France was developing these relations with blind people at the same time going through multiple revolutions. I mean from 1789 to 1871 France experienced a revolution about every 20 years or so. So how did this affect the progression of welfare particularly because welfare was in the hands of the church but then it became a prerogative of a secular state? So how did the revolutions and this gradual change from church welfare to secular welfare affect disability?

Kudlick: Yeah  it’s very interesting I mean in some ways it’s quite different because of the such clearly religious Catholic roots.  That’s kind of sets in motion a whole set of not just practices but attitudes toward people with disabilities in France that you wouldn’t have say have in England or Germany or the United States. So France is unique in that way. It’s probably more like, well it’s interesting maybe a little bit like Spain or a little bit like Italy because of those Catholic roots and yet the secular state develops so much more fully in France afterwards. So it’s this really strong Catholic foundation with this secular kind of ideas in there.

So what that basically means for people with disabilities is there’s this sense of wanting to help them and do something to make their lives better. And yet an imperative that somehow they need to be taken care of in ways that make them independent. And yet the independence is always a little bit suspect like there’s a bit of the pity factor always kind of comes come seeping in and sort of makes it very hard for people with disabilities to kind of get out of that nice comfy situations. In the United States it’s sort of different in that you have these religious roots but it’s the Protestant religious roots and they basically say, “Get out. We don’t want to give charity to you. We’re not going to give you enough because we believe that each person should try to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make their lives better. And  we’re not going to give charity in that way. We’ll give a little bit we’ll give enough so that whatever but we’re not going to give you institutions and we’re not going to give you a nice soft feather bed  We’ll make disability so unappealing that these people are gonna want to try to fight, not to cure a disability necessarily, but to get into situations where they’re going to take care of themselves. And we will not bear the burden.

Gary: So another area that you specialize in is urban disease outbreaks. And here I’m referring to your book Cholera in Post-Revolutionary France where you talk about the outbreaks in 1832 and 1849. For those who aren’t familiar with cholera can you explain why this was so terrifying for industrial era cities in the 19th century?

Kudlick: Sure. Cholera was the ultimate disease of modern societies in a way because it existed forever in different parts of the world, notably parts of India. Once transportation became put there and people were going more places and all that kind of enabled it to spread. It’s a very very contagious disease that spreads through water. So it’s spreading through human contact by bringing water and drinking contaminated water and people who don’t wash their hands, things like that. And you basically die of dehydration brought on by diarrhea and vomiting and your body just depletes itself of all its fluids. And for people that were kind of trying to pretend that their society was becoming more and more modern and more and more industrial and there was this idea that progress had come to Europe and Europe was becoming more civilized and wasn’t it great and they were the pinnacle of the world; and this horrible ugly disease shows up and kills people randomly in ways that they didn’t know they didn’t understand. You could have one street die off, you could have rich people dying, poor people dying, it felt very capricious and very weird. And so it was this ultimate challenge to civilization to what was modern to all of those things. And it’s precisely those things that brought cholera into the homes of people in this modern world. So that’s why it was so terrifying to people.

Gary: So a point that you and other scholars make is that cholera was important in developing class relations because of its devastation of particularly working class communities. Can you go into how this disease helped define class lines in 19th century France.

Kudlick: Yeah. Well my particular argument is that it’s about sort of representations. This was my dissertation work in the 1980s when these ideas were very kind of hot and exciting about like how you represented something and told stories about it was almost as important as the biology or the physical realities of what was going on. And initially cholera seemed to be attacking only the poor districts of Paris [as told] in my book. And this was in part due to the fact that the contamination of water was happening there more than in the wealthier households, at least initially. And so with this turmoil of revolution and some parallels in terms of chronology you see you had cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1849 and you had major revolutions in 1830 in 1848. People were becoming very conscious of the fact that there might be some connection. They started to raise the question. And so they start depicting the poorer people as forms of cholera or cholera being a revolutionary being in cholera bringing revolution and revolution bringing cholera. Just sort of seeing all of those things and it just kind of worked its way into this bundle of fear and anxiety and kind of worry over what was happening to French society at this time. So it was epidemic, because class relations were really the salient issue. This is the time when more and more people are moving into Paris from outside the city in search of jobs and a huge period of immigration. All of that. You have an amazing moment when people are starting to say, “Well we don’t have the infrastructure here, we don’t have any of anything in place where we can actually battle an epidemic, let alone all of these people that are coming in.” So they see it as part and parcel of the same thing.
Gary: Yeah and it seems like it is during this period where there is a move away from a religious view of the world towards a more secular view that we begin to depict people, classes, races in a medical lens rather than a moral one.

Kudlick: Yeah, I agree with that. I think if I were still working in that domain though I would probably be less and ;ess likely to see that as such a stark transition and I think even in my dissertation and book I saw this as way more complex. I think that the transition from religious to secular authority I think is, in terms of labels it’s fairly clear. But in terms of people’s beliefs and in their coping and all of that I think that religion still permeates our cultures and ways that we are not fully cognizant of or even willing to acknowledge. I think that when a lot of us were doing these particular scholarly studies in the 1980s, 1990s the society that we lived in was resoundingly secular and I think with this resurgence in contemporary society of religion in all its manifestations I think it’s going to be a kind of opportunity for today’s scholars to go back and look at the work we did and maybe even pull it apart and say, “wait they were being way way way too simple.” And the one thing I will say that I think is pretty clear to me is that we view medicine as a form of religion and we worship medicine; we worship science. It’s just that we consider that objective and somehow different than religious beliefs but I honestly believe that science is something we believe in too. And it’s not to say that it shouldn’t be believed in. I’m not discrediting that but I think that there’s faith in technology and science and in a lot of things that’s similar. It’s just we’re in a different society with more kinds of different moving parts where our belief system now goes to science and what does that mean? When you pull out the whole strands of what it means to believe and what it means to hope and what it means to change.

Gary: So do you see a difference then in the belief system in religion and belief in science? Is the actual belief different? Because the subject is obviously different, one being religion [is] based on certain dogma, then the other being these sort of scientific process.

Kudlick: I think the average person living in the world really doesn’t understand that much about how science works. So I think there’s a lot of faith involved. I think scientists obviously understand that faith. And I also think that just as religious people higher up in the hierarchies of religion and all of that; they understand faith in the ways that the faithful don’t understand it. But I think the average person…we have decided as a society, and with good reasons, and with valid historical reasons, to cast our belief systems with science. And again I want to reiterate that I’m not saying we shouldn’t believe in science and that it’s all ridiculous and superstitious. What I want to convey is that we as a society have to come up with explanations like every society does about how things work. We have to come up with  a sense of faith where we can say, “When I turn on that light switch it’s going to go on when I flip it and it goes off.” Then it’s going to go off but, do I know? Could I explain that I know it’s something to do with electricity? but I don’t know how electricity functions and you go deeper and deeper in and it doesn’t make as much sense.

And the science it’s interesting because you got further up in the more abstract you get in science the more it looks like religion. And scientists themselves will say, “look we don’t know why this works. We have a great hunch that this works but honestly we’re not sure.” And so that’s not to say, again I don’t want to discredit science. I’m just saying that the belief structures are there and we need to think about the way that we put our faith in something like science.

Gary: Right. Especially in desperate situations and that’s something that you cover quite a bit. I imagine that anyone, whether they’re turning to religion or science when they’re in the midst of this cholera epidemic and people are dying all around them that there is a desperate need to believe in something.

Kudlick: Oh yeah, and they totally hedge their bets. They didn’t make choices they believed in at all. You kind of do your Hail Marys and do all that and then you put on a little thing that the scientists say is going to help protect you from cholera. If a few doctors are saying that, if your doctor doesn’t know what they’re doing that they’re a doctor and they tell you to do something you say, “Oh OK sure I’ll try that.” The desperation is, it can be kind of ingenious. I mean you have to grasp at  what’s at hand and you work with that.

Gary: Yeah. Wasn’t it Voltaire, I believe, who, on his deathbed a person asked him, “Will you accept Jesus and renounce the devil?” and Voltaire said “now is not a time to we’re making enemies.”

Kudlick: Yeah that might have been OK. It’s a great story but it’s exactly the spirit of it. Yeah. That and just as I would think that people that are very very religious and wouldn’t accept maybe some extreme circumstances would probably not say, “I don’t believe in science. Science doesn’t work.” We would do what we can. We’re products of the times we live in and these times are scientific times but there also religious times. And so where did those intersections happen and what how do how does each individual person make sense of that. And allow us to kind of go forward and survive.

Gary: Right. So is there anything we haven’t covered either in terms of your work on disability or on disease that you want to touch on or leave our viewers with our listener listeners?

Kudlick: Yeah I think I wish that people in French history would do a lot more with disability. It’s still mind boggling to me that there hasn’t been more work on disability history, especially in French history. There’s some, but not enough and it’s just a surprise to me. I published this article in the American Historical Review in 2003 and it’s called “Disability History: Why We Need Another Other”. And it’s a foundational article for Disability History and disability historians. I’m proud of it, but I’m really kind of dismayed that somebody hasn’t come along and surpassed it. It’s over 15 years since this article has been out and people haven’t surpassed it. Why is that? There’s so many other fields where an article like that comes out and eventually  people are just swarming all over it and trying to change it and pick it apart and do it. And it’s not…I’m not saying my article was so great it’s that people have been too timid about trying to [challenge it]; we’ve disability and the things they know already and study it on its own terms and see that it’s totally central to absolutely everything. I choose to play a parlor game with people sometimes with disability history with my students: I’ll do it with colleagues. I’ll say, “you give me a topic, any topic you want, and I guarantee you 100 percent there will be a central disability angle to it; it doesn’t matter what it is, you give it to me and I will find it and I barely have ever been proven wrong

Gary: It’s on that note I do have one final question for you then. You mentioned the concept of otherness basically Western societies have tended to see white heterosexual abled men as the default and everything else as an aberration. Do you see the communities that you studies such as the blind communities actually countering the concept of ‘otherness’ in 19th century France.

Kudlick: What do you mean by countering it?

Gary: I guess by essentially positing themselves as something that is normal something that isn’t just a deviation from this, what either God or what good science would create.

Kudlick: Oh absolutely yeah. The whole impulse and what you see that emerge and the notion of mainstreaming and education and things where you basically say, “I don’t see like other people but that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to contribute, and that I don’t have value to our society and I’m basically like you in most situations and maybe a few unique ways in other situations, but it’s not the same thing. There’s a disability studies scholar named Joseph Grigley who writes about deaf people and he describes deaf and disabled people as a native other. And I think it’s a really interesting concept to kind of put those things together.

The other thing I want to point out is  it’s the current statistics about people with disabilities are one in four people in the United States, and France isn’t that far behind. So, that we’re talking like and this is significant disability it’s not just an ingrown toenail or whatever. So this is an enormous group that people are not talking about and not thinking about. And there’s so many more books on the weavers from one particular region and some far corner of France than there are about one-fifth of the population and how does this happen? It’s just wild to me.

Gary: Well hopefully when this podcast goes out more up and coming scholars will do disability studies because after all there is a pretty huge field to mine from here.

Kudlick: Yeah it’s a great way. It’s a great opportunity because a lot of people in French history, a lot of the fields in French history both literal and metaphorical and symbolic and everything have been mined to within an inch of their life. There’s so much that’s been done on everything. And this one is just…nobody’s doing it.  There are very fewl I’m not going to discredit the people out there that are doing this work but it’s mind blowing to me.

Gary: Well until then I suppose the field belongs to you.

Kudlick: Me and my closest friends in France and others yes there’s people doing it.

Gary: You and your brunch group. All right, thank you very much!