Disability on Display – Part I: Human bodies in the service of science

A vitrine showing the effects of fractures and diseases on the human skeleton, bones and skulls.

Author: Anna Derksen

Malformed embryos in formalin, a school desk for wheelchair users at a former institution for intellectually disabled, and artfully staged portraits of people with Down syndrome dressed as kings, divas or superheroes: As diverse as the subject of disability can be, showing it in museums is generally considered a sensitive issue. During an archival field trip to Denmark and Sweden in December 2016 for my PhD research on Nordic disability history, visits to museums and archives of disability organisations not only provided me with additional insight into this little researched topic – they also show how histories of disability are being narrated to the broader public today. A foray through three exhibitions that span several centuries of medical, political and social response to disability in its various forms.



Welcome to the blog of the research project Rethinking Disability, based at Leiden University and funded by the European Research Council. In this project we investigate the global impact of the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981) in historical perspective.