Robert Bogdan international collection on disability, healthcare, and body modification
The collection consists of five binders of materials related to people with disabilities, healthcare practices, and body modification in Africa, Asia, and Europe. The collection also includes some materials documenting peoples in South America, the Caribbean, Southern Pacific islands, and North American indigenous communities. Materials include photographic postcards, picture postcards, photographs, pamphlets, and ephemera primarily documenting peoples in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Materials are grouped by geographic area and theme.
Collection documentation received from Bogdan includes the following description:
Non Western Nations
Three of the six binders contain ephemera related to disability and healthcare in non-Western countries. Most of the geographic areas covered have been referred to as “developing nations.” Most were European colonies when the images were produced. While the majority of items are from areas in Africa there is one binding devoted to cards are from Asia, Oceanian, and other locations.
Two of the binders are devoted to Africa. One focuses on Western health care practices employed in Africa. Most of the cards show missionaries and colonial medical functionaries working with local people—vaccinations, infirmaries, clinics, nutrition, baby care, elderly care, etc. In addition, images of people inflicted with leprosy, sleeping sickness and other tropical diseases are included.
The second African volume contains images of indigenous healthcare practices, images of ordinary people’s self-administrated procedures as well as the work of specially designated healers. In addition, there are images of body modifying customs such as head binding and scarring. There is also a small section on unusual genetic and other conditions——people referred to as “pygmies,” “albinos,” and “dwarfs.” The second volume also contains an extensive collection documenting both male and female circumcision (genital mutilation).
The third volume of non-Western material includes material from areas in Asia and other countries outside of Africa. It covers Western practices employed in these areas as well as indigenous practices and other disability and healthcare related items.
Images in the three non-Western binders are both taxing and rewarding to interpret. They provide documentation of actual practices while at the same time reveal colonial picture takers’ visual tropes. For example, in the section on indigenous practices there are many cards that show individuals referred to in the captions as “witch doctor” and other similar titles. These cards are supposed to represent indigenous healers who had special powers, knowledge and skills. While such healers were an important part of these cultures, images on the cards magnify their exoticism. The abundance of these and other images in the collection allows a more complex interpretation that gets beyond the dichotomy of accurate documentation verses slanderous misrepresentation.
There are two binders of Disability and Healthcare in Europe. Both the topic and the geographic area covered are immense, lending to more of a sampling of materials than an in-depth exploration of the subject. This being said, certain areas are well represented.
The first binder contains postcards and other material depicting institutional care of people with disabilities (deaf, blind, cognitively and physically impaired) as well as hospitals and sanitariums. A number of asylums are particularly well documented. Although France and Germany are covered, the collection is particularly strong on institutions in Belgium. Another section focuses on European hospitals including ward scenes as well as other areas of hospitals including operating rooms and early X-ray facilities. The last section documents sanitariums, holistic treatments such as mud baths and hydrotherapy, and other forms of what we would now think of as alternative health care. The items in the collection have documentary value but they were a form of institutional propaganda and likely reveal as much about how the administrators wanted their facilities to appear as the actual living conditions.
The second binder in the European genre is a mixture of categories. The largest section contains a wide variety of images related to disability and health care in general. There are cards showing people with disabilities engaged in a variety of activities including playing musical instruments and being out and about with their support animals. There are also items related to fund raising, humor, advertising, religion, and other topics. There is a section on begging. One large section has depictions of the wounded during WWI both in the field and after they returned home. Another section has cards of famous European physicians and related scientists such as Louis Pasteur. There is a small section of postcards of people who at the time were referred to as “midgets,” dwarfs who performed in “midget villages,” “circuses” and other such venues. These postcards are all from Germany post WWI, before the domination of Hitler and the Nazi party. Many of these people fled Germany; some were sent to concentration centers.
- circa 1890-1969
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright has not been transferred to Yale University for unpublished materials in the collection. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Purchased from Robert Bogdan, 2021.
The collection is arranged in five binders as received from the collector, Robert Bogdan.
1.5 Linear Feet (5 binders)
Language of Materials
A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog
The collection consists of five binders of materials related to people with disabilities, healthcare practices, and body modification collected by Robert Bogdan, a professor and author whose work focuses on disability studies. Materials include photographic postcards, picture postcards, photographs, pamphlets, and ephemera primarily documenting peoples in Africa, Asia, and Europe. The collection also includes materials documenting peoples in South America, the Caribbean, Pacific islands, and North American indigenous communities. Materials are grouped by geographic area and theme.
Biographical / Historical
Robert Bogdan (1941-) is Professor Emeritus of Social Science and Education at Syracuse University where his specialties were qualitative methods, special education, disability studies, sociology of difference, and visual sociology. His pioneering work in the field of disability studies focuses on "disability" as a social, cultural, and political phenomenon. Bogdan started collecting disability ephemera in the early 1980s in order to advance his research and writing. His publications include Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit; Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen, and Other Photographic Rhetoric (Critical Perspectives on Disability); and Inside Out: The Social Meaning of Mental Retardation (Heritage).
- Body marking
- Charities, Medical
- Children with disabilities
- Dwarfs (Persons)
- Female circumcision
- Indigenous peoples
- Indigenous physicians
- Intellectual disability
- Medical photography
- Missionaries, Medical
- People with disabilities
- Photographic postcards
- Photographs -- Africa
- Picture postcards
- Rural health clinics
- Robert Bogdan international collection on disability, healthcare, and body modification
- Katherine Isham
- February 2022
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Part of the Medical Historical Library, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library Repository
333 Cedar St.
New Haven CT 06520-8014 US