Shaping Intellectual Disabilities in Early Modern Literature and Culture (CFP for edited volume)

deadline for submissions: July 31, 2022

full name / name of organization: Dr Alice Equestri (University of Padua)

contact email: alice.equestri@unipd.it

Editor: Dr Alice Equestri, University of Padua (alice.equestri@unipd.it)

Publisher: international academic press to be confirmed

Deadline for submitting chapter proposals (400 words): July 31, 2022
Notification of acceptance: September 1, 2022
Provisional deadline for essay submission (6000-8000 words): April 30, 2023

Papers are sought for a volume that critically examines – and advances our knowledge of – manifestations of intellectual disability in early modern English and European literature and culture (c. 1500-1700). The collection will be submitted to an international academic publisher.

Intellectual disability nowadays is defined as a lifelong condition entailing deficits in intellectual and adaptive functions, including abstract thinking, reasoning, learning, communication, social participation and independent living. Its causes are generally understood as genetic or environmental, rather than social or psychological (and as such, intellectual disability differs from mental illness, which includes depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, psychosis, etc.). While perhaps intellectual disability as we think of it today did not yet exist as a concept in the Renaissance, many forms of impaired intellect existed and were discussed in the period. English law, for example, termed idiocy a congenital and permanent condition that manifested itself in the individual’s incapability to give basic information about themselves or make simple calculations – something which impeded their participation in the economy by independently managing their property. Doctors occasionally pointed at the humoural, physiognomic or anatomic characteristics linked to ‘foolishness’ (which differed significantly from madness or melancholy). But intellectual disability was also a much more malleable concept, defined historically according to religious, social, or political interests: Christian preachers called fools those who strayed from the word of God; nations with colonial interests called foreign natives foolish to stigmatise their cultural differences and to justify their own expansionist aims; in patriarchal societies women’s intellectual capability was deemed generally inferior to men’s; society itself considered foolish those who persisted in despicable practices from the point of view of morals or health.

This collection will ask how non-normative intellect was represented in the literature and culture of the period and how the able-minded world shaped and reacted to forms of intellectual difference. It will also ask how current disability theories may be helpful in understanding intellectual disability in literary history or whether new models of (intellectual) disability may be devised through an analysis of Renaissance texts. Historicist and/or presentist approaches may be employed to illuminate a wide range of topics including (but not limited to):

  • How fools and foolish characters in drama or other genres are portrayed as disabled or different
  • Intellectual disability in Shakespeare and his contemporaries 
  • Dissembled foolishness
  • Medical, social, legal, religious, moral representations of foolishness or intellectual non-normativity
  • The reception of classical and medieval notions of intellectual disability in Renaissance cultural products
  • Supernatural readings of intellectual disability
  • The links between intellectual difference and other disability representations (e.g. bodily or sensory differences, neurodiversity more broadly, etc.)
  • Intersections between intellectual disability and race, class, gender or sexuality
  • Intellectual disability and travelling
  • Border crossings or conflicts between intellectual normativity and non-normativity
  • Intersections between intellectual disability and mental illness
  • Metaphorical representations of intellectual disability 
  • Actors with intellectual disability and early modern drama
  • The performance of intellectual disability
  • The use of intellectual disability tropes to describe objects or concepts, rather than individuals

Please send a 400-word proposal and a short bio to Dr Alice Equestri (alice.equestri@unipd.it) by July 31, 2022. The provisional timeline is for authors to submit their essays by April 30, 2023. Proposals by scholars from any background and of any career level – including PhD students and ECRs – are welcome. For any queries, or to discuss your idea before submitting an abstract, please feel free to contact the editor.

Select bibliography

  • Chakravarti, Paromita, ‘Natural Fools and the Historiography of Renaissance Folly’, Renaissance Studies, 25.2 (2011), 208–27
  • Equestri, Alice, Literature and Intellectual Disability in Early Modern England: Folly, Law and Medicine, 1500-1640 (London and New York: Routledge, 2021)
  • Folkerth, Wes, ‘Reading Shakespeare After Neurodiversity’, in Performing Disability in Early Modern English Drama, ed. by Leslie C. Dunn (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2020), pp. 141–57
  • Goodey, C. F., A History of Intelligence and ‘Intellectual Disability’: The Shaping of Psychology in Early Modern Europe (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011)
  • Heetderks, Angela, ‘“Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit”: Song, Fooling, and Intellectual Disability in Shakespearean Drama’, in Gender and Song in Early Modern England, ed. by Leslie C. Dunn and Katherine R. Larson (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 63–75
  • Hobgood, Allison P., and David, Houston Wood, eds., Recovering Disability in Early Modern England (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2013)
  • Lathrop, Emily, ‘Learning Difficulties : The Idiot and the Outsider in the Renaissance’, in A Cultural History of Disability in the Renaissance, ed. by Susan Anderson and Liam Haydon (London: Bloomsbury, 2020), iii, 133–50
  • McDonagh, Patrick, Idiocy: A Cultural History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)
  • McDonagh, Patrick, C. F. Goodey, and Timothy Stainton, eds., Intellectual Disability: A Conceptual History, 1200-1900 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018)
  • Metzler, Irina, Fools and Idiots? Intellectual Disability in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)
  • Row-Heyveld, Lindsey, Dissembling Disability in Early Modern English Drama (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)

From the UPen website (https://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/cfp/2022/04/22/shaping-intellectual-disabilities-in-early-modern-literature-and-culture-cfp-for)


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