Including people with intellectual disabilities in heritage and historical research

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UNSW Australia - Room 119, Level 1 John Goodsell Building, High Street, Kensington Sydney, NSW 2052

This lecture will provide an overview of the social history of intellectual disability, a disciplinary field of study that emerged within the Open University in the 1990s and has since gained significant international interest. Over the past twenty-five years as the large long-stay institutions have closed, considerable efforts have been made to record, reveal and share the histories of those who lived and worked in these places, as well as the experiences of people who lived in the community. The wide-ranging scope of the work in this area spans both the UK and internationally. Examples of the latter include Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and Scandinavia. The lecture will reflect upon whose narratives matter and whose histories count in relation to intellectual disability. How are people with intellectual disabilities afforded opportunities to participate in heritage and to shape history? Dr Liz Tilley will argue that the inclusive approaches to historical research pioneered by the Open University’s Social History of Learning Disability research group helped shift the balance of power away from the dominance of medical records towards a valuing of personal testimony and subjective experience. She will also argue that this paved the way for the inclusive research agenda to gain momentum across a wider range of disciplines related to intellectual disability.
Dr Liz Tilley will also reflect on the methods and findings from a recently completed piece of research ‘The Inclusive Archive of Learning Disability Project’.  This inclusive project came about through a strong desire to challenge archives to ensure that what is left of people’s histories is not only those objectifying records produced through the state and medical management of people’s lives, but their own stories in their own words. 

About the presenter

Dr Liz Tilley is Senior Lecturer in the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, The Open University (UK). Her research and teaching interests include intellectual disabilities, advocacy, the interface between disability and sexual & reproductive health, and death, dying & bereavement. Liz has a particular interest in historical perspectives, ethics and participatory methods in applied health and social care research.

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Photo of Doctor Liz Tilley