Freedom and a Friend: Cultural Histories of the Guide Dog in the 20th Century
Aparna Nair, Assistant Professor, Health and Society; and the Centre for Global Disability Studies, University of Toronto-Scarborough
Part of UMBC's 2023 Humanities Forum
Today, the figure of the guide dog has become a ubiquitous cultural symbol signifying blindness perhaps best shown by the fact that guide dog emojis commonly appear alongside those for wheelchairs and prosthetics. This talk will explore the role of popular culture in reshaping public responses to the figure of the guide dog and the human handler. When the guide dog was first introduced in the US, the dyad of the handler and dog confronted a range of negative perceptions of dogs in public spaces as dangerous to safety, hygiene, and health. Through a focus on print, visual, and everyday material culture in post-Second World War USA, Nair will discuss the cultural construction of the guide dog team as a rehabilitative and technological response to blindness. By examining post World War Two era books, films, and comic books, as well as African American newspapers and magazines, she argues that representations of guide dogs helped transform “unproductive” disabled people into hyper-productive “supercrips,” while privileging white disabled experiences, Nair also shifts our attention from the scientific, philanthropic, and rehabilitative aspects of this interspecies relationship to show its presence in everyday objects and cultural life.
Aparna Nair is a historian of disability, public health, and medicine. Her forthcoming book Fungible Bodiesexplores the relationships between disability, race, and colonialism in British India. She also has lived with epilepsy for more than thirty years and part of her work explores what it means to live with epilepsy in South Asia, and issues around passing, gender, identity and belonging. Recent work has also examined the relationship between animals and disability through the lens of the service animal. She teaches at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Department of Health and Society.
A link to the online presentation will be posted. Admission is free.
Co-sponsored by the Office of Accessibility and Disability Services; the Department of History; and the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Public Health.
Photo provided by speaker.