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Monday, March 23, 2015

“Tactile Modernism and the Cultural Politics of Disability in the 1930s.”

Beginning in the eighteenth century, tactile pedagogy for the visually impaired – in the form of Braille texts as well as tactile objects and maps – was cultivated as a mode for producing new educational horizons as well as new social and political subjectivities. This lecture will explore the role of what I will call “tactile modernism” as engaged by projects of the Works Progress Administration (1935-1943) under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. I argue that tactile objects produced by the WPA for blind citizens specifically championed the educational and social needs of disabled children, many of whom attended state-sponsored institutions, as well as the economic and social needs of disabled workers. I argue that these tactile objects demonstrate that the subjective experiences of people with disabilities were more ontologically central to many of the New Deal’s projects, and to early-twentieth-century modernism, than historical accounts ultimately concede.

David Serlin
UC San Diego

4:15 pm
Usdan 108

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