Professor David Turner
Sub-theme lead: place

David is Professor of History at Swansea University and is an expert on the history of disability. He brings to the Awen Institute an interest in older and disabled people’s access to the arts and cultural heritage. He is interested in the questions of how ‘marginalized’ people are represented in public space, and how public heritage can empower communities who never thought of themselves as having histories.

He is the author of Disability in Eighteenth-Century England: Imagining Physical Impairment (Routledge, 2012), which won the Disability History Association Outstanding Publication Award for the best book published worldwide in disability history. He was Co-Director of Disability and Industrial Society: a Comparative Cultural History of British Coalfields 1780-1948 (Wellcome Trust, 2011-16), which explored the perception, treatment and experiences of disabled coalminers in south Wales, Scotland and North East England. This research led to his most recent book, Disability in the Industrial Revolution: Physical Impairment in British coalmining 1780-1880 (co-authored with Daniel Blackie), published by Manchester University Press in 2018. He has also published on a wide range of topics relating to the experiences of disabled and older people, including histories of physical mobility, assistive technology, emotion and exclusion. His current research explores the long history of disabled people’s political activism in Britain since the eighteenth century.

David’s work explores disability not just as a topic, but as a tool that encourages us to ask new questions about the past that both challenges our conventional understandings of people’s lives in the past and encourages disruptive thinking about contemporary social issues. A key question guiding his work is, what happens to our understanding of the past when we place people normally marginalized from historical narratives at the centre of the story?

David is committed to broadening public understanding of disabled people’s experiences through collaboration with broadcasters, museums and creatives. He was historical adviser on the BBC Radio Four series, Disability: A New History (2013), and led a team that curated From Pithead to Sickbed and Beyond: the Buried History of Disability in Wales before the NHS (National Waterfront Museum, 2015). He has trained community groups to research their own histories and is currently working with writer Katie O’Reilly on a Swansea University Creativity Fellowship that connects the experiences of disabled people in the past with those of people living today through creative writing and performance.


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