A groundbreaking film released this week explores 10 previously overlooked stories of disability from the National Trust’s sites and collections.
Produced in collaboration with the University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, Everywhere and Nowhere looks at 10 stories, exploring the lives of historical figures such as Henry VIII, who sustained an injury that left him reliant on mobility aids for the rest of his life, and Jeffrey Hudson, whose portrait hangs at Petworth House in West Sussex. Hudson was in the court of the 17th-century monarch Queen Henrietta Maria and was widely described as “the Queen’s Dwarf”; the film aims to overcome this stereotype by portraying Hudson’s “complex, full and rounded life”.
The title of the project, Everywhere and Nowhere, is intended to highlight that “stories of disability are at the same time widespread, but rarely publicly presented: everywhere around us, but nowhere to be found”, said a statement from the trust.
“The lives of disabled people have historically often been overlooked, deliberately left out of the main narrative, or presented in ways that reflect and reinforce negative attitudes towards disability.”
The project builds on the university’s 20 years of research into disability representation in museums and galleries, which has led to an emphasis on placing expertise, insights and experiences of disability at the heart of how the stories are researched, interpreted and presented.
The film was created with filmmakers Belle Vue Productions supported by the deaf-led organisation Remark!, and is bilingual, with the co-narrators using spoken English and British Sign Language.
Artist Christopher Samuel, who worked on the film as a creative collaborator, said: “What interested me in being involved with this project was that I could add an alternative voice, coming from a place of real lived experience of disability, to the research and the film.
“By celebrating these stories of historical disability and difference, I hope we can bring new audiences to engage with the trust, and contribute to building a more representative and inclusive version of our national history.”
“We’re thrilled to spotlight ten little known and previously unexplored histories of disability through Everywhere and Nowhere,” said Sarah Plumb, senior research associate at the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, University of Leicester.
“Disabled people from the past can often be presented in reductive or stereotypical ways; in some cases we found taking a fresh look at historical records revealed those same lives filled with opportunity and autonomy, influence and adventure, love and joy.”
“We’re working hard to expand the histories that we interpret at the places in our care; and we approach this in the knowledge that history is complex, layered and sensitive,” said John Orna-Ornstein, director of curation and experience at the National Trust. “The research revealed many stories of disability built and woven into heritage buildings and objects.”
Orna-Ornstein said the project had “helped us learn who we should work with and what standards we need to reach in making history accessible to disabled people; and it has inspired us to do more in the future”.
The film can be seen on the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries website.