‘Historical activism, autobiographies and life story work with people with learning disabilities - using history and stories for social change’

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Elizabeth Tilley & Nathaniel Lawford (The Open University)

People with learning disabilities and/or autism have long been excluded from their own histories – arguably more so than any other group. However, a growing movement of activist historians are challenging the histories and discourses that continue to shape their contemporary experiences, and in doing so, seek to influence public policy, societal attitudes and local services.

In this talk, Nathaniel Lawford will explore with Liz Tilley what it means to be an activist historian and how history can be used to both address internal oppression and to campaign for social change. Nathaniel will explain his personal involvement with this work, and how his own, and other self advocates’ life stories inform his activism. Liz and Nathaniel will give a brief overview of the work of The Open University’s Social History of Learning Disability Research Group as it approaches its 30 year anniversary, considering the value and challenges of engaging in ‘inclusive history’.  Finally, Nathaniel and Liz will reflect on life history/life story work with people with learning disabilities, considering its place in enhancing and contesting broader historical narratives and its potential to animate more person-centred forms of health and social care as well as a sense of belonging.

The seminar in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology is convened by Alex Aylward (University of Oxford), Hohee Cho (Wolfson College), Mark Harrison (University of Oxford), Catherine Jackson (Harris Manchester College), and Sloan Mahone (University of Oxford)