Nicole Belolan

University of Delaware

2014 to 2015
Research Fellow

Navigating the World: The Material Culture of Physical Mobility Impairment in the Early American North, 1700-1861

When an early American elite fell and broke a hip at home, necessitating moving his bed to the parlor, or when a laborer broke his leg, resulting in the use of crutches, what were the everyday consequences of those disabilities, and what did those disabilities mean? Using material culture as interpretive touchstones for disability in the early American North from about 1700-1861, my research highlights the critical role that objects—including furniture, conveyances, clothing, accessories, prosthetics, and disabled bodies themselves—played at home, on the street, and inside institutions as both tools and signs. My work probes when disability mattered, explores disability’s relationship to disease, and delineates the disabled body’s relationship to the material world. Managing and living with what we call “physical mobility disabilities” or “impairments” shaped and continues to shape everyday life and how Americans have thought about bodily appearance, identity, longevity, and citizenship, historically and today. You can read Belolan's research report here.