AHRC Studentship - Correcting vision in nineteenth century England

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Arts and Humanities

Abstract

Ophthalmology has a special status in the history of medicine as the first modern medical specialty to achieve respectability. During the nineteenth century, the study of the eye and its defects was socially, culturally and economically important. Spectacles and other corrective eyewear proliferated in this period, but have received very little scholarly attention, especially regarding the experiences of those who wore them. Using the largely unexplored ophthalmology collections at the Science Museum, this project explores the social, cultural, material and medical history of spectacles, in the process broadening historical understanding of visual impairment and disability in this period.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description I am still in the process of doing my corrections post-viva but my PhD research has found the nineteenth century to be a key period in the understanding of vision correction and use of vision aids. It has highlighted how refractive vision errors were diagnosed for the first time, and vision aids and the correction of vision became increasingly medicalised. It has also explored and evidenced a history of both fashion and stigma in the use of spectacles and eyeglasses. As part of this, vision standards were created and the eye became normalised. Improved testing allowed lenses to become a more viable corrective device; understandings of blindness and partial sight shifted in this period, for example, someone who believed themselves to be 'blind' regained vision. Overall, this thesis has highlighted the wealth of material in the Science Museum's collections and also the importance of both spectacles and vision for cultural, social, medical and disability history in the nineteenth century.

For other URLs of findings, please see: http://theconversation.com/why-victorians-feared-modern-technology-would-make-everyone-blind-107216
Exploitation Route My findings are interesting for those interested in the history of medicine, disability, corrective devices and the senses. It also engages with two primary themes: normalisation and medicalisation. As a collaborative doctoral award my research has enhanced understandings of the Science Museum's ophthalmology and optics collection. Additionally, there is scope for public engagement surrounding the history of vision correction and spectacles.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2016/08/what-did-the-victorians-make-of-spectacles/
 
Description There is potential for my findings to be used in a Wellcome exhibition on spectacles and vision if grant the is successful. I have had met them for an initial meeting to feed my findings into the early stages of planning.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Research Consultant on Wellcome Collection project 
Organisation Wellcome Collection
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Research consultant and historical advisor on an upcoming Wellcoem Collection exhibition, currently entitled Spectacles. I have focused on providing the C19th historical content of the exhibition which has involved helping to scope out objects, research objects, and research collections. This year, I will be helping to develop the material for the exhibition, including writing labels.
Collaborator Contribution Delivering the C20th content and designing the exhibition.
Impact Upcoming exhibition (November 2020)
Start Year 2019
 
Description Article for The Conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Submitted an article for The Converation on Victorian anxieties surrounding technology and blindness
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://theconversation.com/why-victorians-feared-modern-technology-would-make-everyone-blind-107216
 
Description Blog Post for the Effaced From History project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I provided a blog post for the Effaced From History project that looked at both the stigma and fashion that surrounded the user of spectacles in the nineteenth century.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://effacedblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/19/a-spectacle-of-the-face-eyewear-in-the-nineteenth-centu...
 
Description Public Presentation at the Being Human Event in Swansea 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave a public talk as part of the Being Human event to explore the association between vision aids and facial beauty or disfigurement. I did a couple of activities, as well as a presentation, to help the audience question how they felt about wearing spectacles or seeing them on someone's face, and the benefits that today's spectacle users have found. This then led into a talk on perceptions and experiences of nineteenth century spectacle users in order for us to question as a group how or whether things had changed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Public Presentation at the College of Optometry Open House Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I gave three 10 minute presentations to visitors at the College of Optometry Open House Event on the history of spectacles - each talk had around 30 audience members and we discussed a number of areas relating to my project. These included who wore spectacles, what was society's perceptions of them, and how accessible were they. I also engaged with some of the optometrists working at the College who were interested in the general history of the correction of vision.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017