The term ‘idiot’ is a damning put down, whether deployed on the playground or in the board room. People stigmatized as being ‘intellectually disabled’ today must confront variants of the fear and pity with which society has greeted them for centuries. In this ground-breaking new study Patrick McDonagh explores how artistic, scientific and sociological interpretations of idiocy work symbolically and ideologically in society. Drawing upon a broad spectrum of British, French and American resources including literary works (Wordsworth’s ‘The Idiot Boy’, Dickens Barnaby Rudge, Conrad’s The Secret Agent), pedagogical works (Itard’s The Wild Boy of Aveyron, Sequin’s Traitement moral, hygiene et education des idiots, and Howe’s On the courses of Idiocy), medical and scientific papers (Philippe Pinel, Henry Maudsley, William Ireland, John Langdon Downs, Isaac Kerlin, Henry Goddard) and sociological writings (Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, Beames’ The Rookeries of London, Dugdal’s The Jukes), Idiocy: A Cultural History offers a rich study of the history and representation of mental disability.
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