Intellectual disability

A conceptual history, 1200–1900

Edited by Patrick McDonagh, C. F. Goodey and Timothy Stainton

Intellectual disability


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-2531-6
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: January 2018
  • BIC Category: History of Medicine, MEDICAL / History, SOCIAL SCIENCE / People with Disabilities, HISTORY / Social History, Medicine / History of medicine, Humanities / Social & cultural history, Society & social sciences / Disability: social aspects
  • Series: Disability History


This collection explores the historical origins of our modern concepts of intellectual or learning disability. The essays, from some of the leading historians of ideas of intellectual disability, focus on British and European material from the Middle Ages to the late-nineteenth century and extend across legal, educational, literary, religious, philosophical and psychiatric histories. They investigate how precursor concepts and discourses were shaped by and interacted with their particular social, cultural and intellectual environments, eventually giving rise to contemporary ideas. The collection is essential reading for scholars interested in the history of intelligence, intellectual disability and related concepts, as well as in disability history generally.


Patrick McDonagh is a faculty member in the Department of English at Concordia University, Montreal and co-founder of the Spectrum Society for Community Living in Vancouver

C. F. Goodey is Honorary Fellow in the Centre for Medical Humanities at the University of Leicester

Tim Stainton is Professor in the School of Social Work and Director of the Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver


1 Introduction: the emergent critical history of intellectual disability - Patrick McDonagh, C. F. Goodey, and Tim Stainton
2 Conceptualization of intellectual disability in medieval English law - Wendy J. Turner
3 'Will-nots' and 'Cannots': tracing a trope in medieval thought - Irina Metzler
4 'Some have it from birth, some by disposition': foolishness in medieval German literature - Janina Dillig
5 Exclusion from the eucharist: the seventeenth-century church and the creation of 'intellectually' disabled people - C. F. Goodey
6 'A defect in the mind': cognitive ableism in Swift's Gulliver's Travels - D. Christopher Gabbard
7 The age of sensationalism and the construction of intellectual disability - Tim Stainton
8 Peter the 'wild boy': what Peter means to us - Katie Branch, Clemma Fleat, Nicola Grove, Tim Lumley Smith, and Robin Meader
9 'Belief', 'opinion', and 'knowledge': the idiot in law in the the long eighteenth century - Simon Jarrett
10 Idiocy and the conceptual economy of madness - Murray K. Simpson
11 Visiting Earlswood: the asylum travelogue and the shaping of 'idiocy' - Patrick McDonagh
Select bibliography

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