Northeastern University professor Sari Altschuler wins Wellesley fellowship to study disability in the early United States

Sari Altschuler, an assistant professor of English at Northeastern who has been awarded a Wellesley fellowship, will take a year off to work on a new book that examines the experiences of disability in the early United States. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In her first book, The Medical Imagination, Sari Altschuler uncovers a history of the imagination in medicine. Literature, she demonstrates, was an essential tool for this work in the 18th and 19th centuries, helping doctors craft medical theories. Reading and writing poetry, novels, and plays trained judgment, sharpened observation, and provided evidence for medical research.

Altschuler, an assistant professor of English at Northeastern whose research interests include literature and medicine and disability studies, is now examining the experiences of disability in the early years of the republic and how people with disabilities came to understand the world through their impairment.

“The project argues that this disability based knowledge profoundly shaped American culture in its early decades in ways we have not fully understood, particularly cultural notions of citizenship,” Alschuler said.

Altschuler has been awarded a fellowship at Wellesley College’s Newhouse Center for the Humanities
, which will allow her to focus solely on her second book, tentatively titled Able: Disability and the Cultures of Citizenship in the Early United States. She will be away at Wellesley for a year to conduct research and work alongside colleagues who are undertaking similar pursuits.

“It really is ideal—an honor in itself and also a gift of time for research,” she said. “I’m delighted to have been chosen.”

Altschuler was one of more than 100 Northeastern faculty members honored by President Joseph E. Aoun at the Academic Honors Convocation on Tuesday. The annual ceremony recognizes students and faculty who have received prestigious awards for scholarship, research, or teaching over the past year.

Earlier this year, Altschuler helped launch an interactive exhibit that celebrated the multisensory experiences of reading. The exhibit, titled “Touch This Page! Making Sense of the Ways We Read,” showcased 3D-printed replicas of early 19th and 20th century texts designed for readers who are visually impaired, in an effort to show how touch, sight, and sound contribute to reading.

One of the exhibit’s intended purposes was to educate visitors about the history of disability and the daily experiences that face people who are visually impaired.

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