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234 × 156 mm
352 pages
62 illustrations
12 Oct 2020
  • £25.00

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Those They Called Idiots The Idea of the Disabled Mind from 1700 to the Present Day Simon Jarrett

Those They Called Idiots traces the little-known lives of people with learning disabilities from the communities of eighteenth-century England to the nineteenth-century asylum and care in today’s society. Using evidence from civil and criminal court-rooms, joke books, slang dictionaries, novels, art and caricature, it explores the explosive intermingling of ideas about intelligence and race, while bringing into sharp focus the lives of people often seen as the most marginalized in society.

‘Simon Jarrett is a mesmerising historian. He has an ear for tender, and sometimes even funny, stories about people with learning disabilities, while never shying away from the shocking abuse and casual indignities they experienced in the past and continue to be subjected to today. Jarrett overturns many assumptions about the history of disabled people and their interactions with different communities. His book is a history of medicine, science, law, philosophy, and psychology. Most of all, though, it is a history of lived experience. Jarrett’s story is not only a nuanced analysis of the lives of “idiots” from 1700 to the present; it is also a tribute to their struggles, needs, and desires.’ — Joanna Bourke, Professor of History, Birkbeck, University of London

‘Simon Jarrett’s elegant and provocative book brings into focus for the first time the history of people with intellectual disabilities over three centuries. Drawing on a fascinating set of sources, Jarrett traces the ‘idiot’s' journey from community life to institutionalisation and back again, and in the process uncovers the richness and variety of lives lived by people with intellectual impairments in the past. This is a history marked by cruel stereotyping and harmful policies underpinned by the pseudo science of eugenics, but it is also a history of love, protection and integration. This humane history teaches us how society can adapt to accommodate all its members.’ — David Turner, Professor of History, Swansea University and author of 'Disability in Eighteenth-Century England'

‘Simon Jarrett’s Those They Called Idiots is a major re-thinking of intellectual disability, from eugenics and the views of institutional authorities of the late nineteenth century to the thoughts and practice of our modern society. Jarrett examines new sources to argue that, while recognized as different in the social structures of a preindustrial or transitional age, there have always been accommodations for the ‘idiot'. Thus our present view of mental incapacity is in fact a continuation of a long-standing awareness of how those with intellectual disabilities can be integrated into society.’ — Sander L. Gilman, Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University

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Simon Jarrett is a research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. He is the editor of Community Living Magazine.


Part One: Idiocy and Imbecility in the Eighteenth Century, c. 1700–1812
1 Poor Foolish Lads and Weak Easy Girls: Legal Ideas of Idiocy
2 Billy-noodles and Bird-wits: Cultural Ideas of Idiocy
3 Idiots Abroad: Racial Ideas of Idiocy

Part Two: New Ways of Thinking, 1812–1870
4 Medical Challenge: New Ideas in the Courtroom
5 Pity and Loathing: New Cultural Thinking
6 Colonies, Anthropologists and Asylums: Race and Intelligence
7 Into the Idiot Asylum: The Great Incarceration

Part Three: From Eugenics to Care in the Community, 1870 to the Present Day
8 After Darwin: Mental Deficiency, Eugenics and Psychology, 1870–1939
9 Back to the Community? 1939 to the Present

Selected Secondary Reading
Photo Acknowledgements