Writing Colonising Disability
By Esme Cleall
Colonising Disability (published by Cambridge University Press in 2022) is my attempt to understand how disability was understood in the nineteenth-century British Empire. When I started doing the research that fed into the book, around about ten years ago I had just started as a lecturer in the History of the British empire at the University of Sheffield. Academically speaking, I wanted to build on my doctoral research on nineteenth-century missionary attitudes to gender and race which had been recently published as Missionary Discourses of Difference.
I was also grappling with my identity as a researcher with scoliosis, painful scar-tissue adhesions, mental health difficulties, dyslexia and, what has recently been diagnosed as, fibromyalgia; issues which may be described as ‘hidden disabilities’ (or in the case of my scoliosis, ‘almost hidden’ disabilities). Bringing together these personal, political and academic interests by investigating disability in the British empire therefore seemed a somewhat natural progression and I was delighted to start to absorb myself in the rich and diverse field of ‘disability studies’.