Rehabilitating the Fin de Siècle: Masculinity and Disability in Comparative Perspective
This panel takes as its starting point David Serlin's assertion that, historically, threadworks of belonging have relied simultaneously upon “normative concepts of male behavior and able-bodied activity.” Disability historians have long been attune to the role of gender, particularly the ways in which the disabled subject has been repeatedly feminized. Recently, however, scholars such as Serlin have begun to twine disability with masculinity in ways that deepen our understanding of scientific and medical knowledge, the consolidation of social power, and the formation of individual, regional, and national identities. Building upon this emerging historiography, our panel investigates how manliness and ability were debated in the long nineteenth century, and how these debates structured and constrained economic and political possibilities. Our panelists combine analyses of popular print media with studies of archival sources such as medical case files and institutional records, to explore this twining in three distinct geographical locations. The first paper focuses on French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, whose work with male hysterics in the 1880s led him to oppose existing stereotypes of hysteria as a disease of the female body. The second examines the emergence in the 1890s of ‘suicide clubs,’ in which men gathered annually to select one of their number to die. It argues that newspaper editors and journalists developed the narrative in the industrial U.S. to foreclose the possibility of radical labor reform. The third and final paper examines the relationship between gender and occupational education for blind males in Argentina in the first decades of the twentieth century. It argues that institutional authorities authorized menial training for their students because the authorities neither expected nor wanted their blind male subject to marry or to support families.