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Durham University History Department and Gala Theatre: History Now! Coreen McGuire will talk about ‘Invisible Disability in Coalmining Communities’,

16 November 2021 @ 17:30 - 18:30

From: Dr Tom Hamilton, Associate Professor in Early Modern European History, Durham University

The next event in the History Now! series of public talks, organised between the Durham University History Department and the Gala Theatre, is Coreen McGuire’s lecture on ‘Invisible Disability in Coalmining Communities’, which takes place via Zoom between 5.30 and 6.30pm next Tuesday 16 November.

All welcome! The link for registration is here. 

Dr Coreen McGuire is Lecturer in Twentieth-Century British History at Durham University and author of Measuring Difference, Numbering Normal: Setting the Standards for Disability in the Interwar Period, published by Manchester University Press in 2020. Coreen’s research towards this book contributed to the Life of Breath project and her award-winning article on ‘The categorisation of hearing loss through telephony in inter-war Britain’ is available via open access here.

Here is an abstract for the talk on 16 November: Why was it so difficult for mineworkers and their families to get compensation for illness and disabilities caused by their work? The modern category of disability has been linked (especially by disabled activists) to industrialization and the needs of the labour market. However, historians have challenged this ‘industrialization thesis’ by providing evidence of the ubiquity and visibility of disability in British mining communities. Yet there was a significant hierarchy of disability in the coalmining compensation context. Everyday experiences of breathlessness were not categorised or recorded in the same way that accidents leading to amputations were. The same holds true for disability/ illnesses that were fluctuating, progressive, actively concealed (potentially with the use of hidden prosthesis), stigmatised (such as psychological disability) or associated with malingering (such as miner’s nystagmus). These kinds of experiences were only visible in exceptional cases, and it is less clear that they were either accepted or normalized. In this talk, Coreen McGuire shows how such contested compensation cases reveal hidden disability managed through networks of friends, family, and community.


16 November 2021
17:30 - 18:30