Elizabeth Bearden

Elizabeth Bearden

Fellow: Awarded 2023
Field of Study: Early Modern Studies

Competition: US & Canada

Professor Bearden is a scholar of comparative literature, global Renaissance studies, word-image studies, and disability studies. The Guggenheim supports work on her third monograph, “Crip Authority: Disability and the Art of Consolation in the Renaissance.” Holding close to James Charlton’s call to disability activists to advocate for “nothing about us without us!”, this project brings to light premodern disability narratives, or first-person narrative accounts of the lived experience of disability.

It considers how early modern writers with disabilities draw on the ancient genre of consolation—texts that articulate advantages in adversities including mental and physical disability—to enhance their writerly authority. Disabled Renaissance writers use the art of consolation to transgressively reappropriate the disabilities that their society frequently scorned to produce disability gain, or the idea that disability is productive rather than simply a problem that needs solving.

Bearden coins the phrase “crip authority” to define this self-authorization derived from disability disclosure and consolation. Paying heed to these authors demonstrates that disability is a productive category of analysis in Renaissance studies. It also helps disabled scholars and activists to fight societal ablism and its concomitant eugenic impulses with a counterdiscourse of disability resignification and pride reaching back thousands of years.

Photo Credit: Gina Bower Photography

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