Student Research Partnership in History: Comparative Analysis of 19th Century Blind Institutions in Europe

2 February 2023

In the summer of 2022 Susannah Ottaway, Professor of History, and Chris Costello ’23 traveled to Ireland to do archival research at the National Library of Ireland and the National Archives of Ireland (both in Dublin). This research investigated two 19th century institutions dedicated to protecting and providing for the blind. The Molyneux Asylum in Ireland and the Norwich Asylum in England provided a point of comparison for how these Institutions functioned. More specifically, they analyzed a period of controversy from both Institutions and examined how these moments indicate the purpose of the blind asylums,through both the controversies and the methods used to rectify them.  Chris shared his experience with the Humanities Center.

“Working in the archives I was able to find a wealth of information about the Molyneux Asylum.  Perhaps the most rewarding experience was changing locations and finding the most important document for our analysis, “The Veil Partly Withdrawn”. Discovering that a serious controversy occurred in the 1850s and having a paralleled discovery in the Norwich Asylum was also incredibly valuable. Through this experience I learned research techniques and how to synthesize information. My primary work was in the archives, where I searched through heaps of information and to find what supported our paper. I frequently had to relay this information to Professor Susannah Ottaway. Susannah consistently reviewed my notes and documents to ensure that I stayed on track. Throughout my time in Ireland we maintained a productivity that would be impossible working alone. We bounced ideas off of each other and worked together to form a coherent paper. I also learned how to live independently after the month in Ireland on my own.

This past fall, we presented our research with the Northeast Conference on British Studies at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Professor Ottaway and I combined our efforts to write a paper analyzing and comparing two similar institutions, the Norwich Institution and the Molyneux Asylum, and the scandals that occurred therein during the 19th century. My collaboration with Professor Ottaway produced a paper that commented on disability history more broadly, and the complications that can detract from a charitable organization. The actual writing of the paper taught me how to synthesize complex information, and how to present this information to an informed audience, two skills that will be instrumental to my success in whatever occupation I choose. ”