Presentation: 'Rendered Incapable of Use', Competing Definitions of Disability Amongst Coal Miners in the North East of England, 1862-1936.
Thu 4th July - Sat 6th July 2013
VariAbilit(ies): The History and Representation of the Body in its Diversity, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, US
Victoria Brown will be speaking at the VariAbilit(ies): The History and Representation of the Body in its Diversity conference, 4-6 July 2013, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, US. Her talk is titled ‘Rendered incapable of use’, Competing Definitions of Disability Amongst Coal Miners in the North East of England, 1862-1936.
The coal mining industry within the North East of England is medieval in origin and as such has bred an almost overfamiliarity within the region with traumatic injury and any subsequent disability due to the hazardous nature of the trade. This paper will look at the evolution of disability within the coalfields of the North East of England from the mid-19th century until the Second World War. It shall aim to assess the competing definitions of ‘disabled’ within the industrial sphere where the term often referred not to physical impairments but to the individual’s ability to work. In doing so, the paper shall propose that the underlying concern was not about disability but rather ability. The result being that there were very few physical impairments which would preclude an individual from returning to work within the mines.
The paper shall also examine how such definitions shifted throughout the period examined, especially after the introduction of the Workmen’s Compensation Acts (1906-1934). During which time the (dis)ability to work became the central test as to whether compensation would be awarded which immutably altered the way disability was perceived within the coalfields. Sources to be used include North East England coal mining records such as accident books, permanent relief fund registers, Union and Coal Owners’ correspondence as well as national sources pertaining to the industry.
This paper is part of the Wellcome Trust funded project ‘Disability and Industrial Society: A Comparative Cultural History of British Coalfields, c.1780-1948’. The project is a joint venture between Swansea, Aberystwyth, Northumbria and Strathclyde Universities and over a five-year period will examine how disability was experienced by those living and working in the foremost coalmining regions of the United Kingdom.