Disability is a definition imposed by society on people who may or may not agree to be characterised that way. Historically, the term has been applied in a pejorative manner to many groups of people who did not meet society’s norms. Beyond mental and physical disabilities, unwed mothers, the poor, and criminals (delinquents) were also considered to be disabled up through the middle of the twentieth century.

Disability studies are included in numerous academic curricula and programs around the globe. According to Dr. Alan Foley, director of the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University, “Disability Studies refers generally to the examination of disability as a social, cultural, and political phenomenon.” History of Disabilities focuses on the social aspects of disabilities, how we have historically interacted with people with disabilities, and where this has led us as a society.

Disabilities in Society, Seventeenth to Twentieth Century is the first collection to form part of the History of Disabilities series of archives and is sourced from New York Academy of Medicine. 

We have optimised the textual content of Disabilities in Society so that it can be accessed by users of all abilities. You can download the OCR Talking Points document for more information. 



You can learn more about the content in Disabilities in Society, Seventeenth to Twentieth Century in this fascinating interview. 

"It [The McMurtrie Collection] is astonishingly rich in materials about children...children who suffered from many, many different kinds of ailments in their lives."

Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian at the New York Academy of Medicine shares examples of issues and materials included in the collections. The historical context, challenges and digitisation process are all discussed. 

"You start to see a lot of other kinds of voices that come forward in the collection."