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Technology and Blind Activism in Cold War Europe (with Maria Galmarini)

April 18 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

In the late 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, spectacular accomplishments in space research sharpened public awareness of technological progress and the ways in which it could be harnessed by the two competing blocs of a divided world. Among the many communities that began to reflect on the meaning and impact of technology on their lives were also disability activists. Welcoming the advantages that technology could bring to people with disabilities, they immediately recognized that these advantages would never materialize without international cooperation. More than in any other area of technological development, as these activists argued, the design and production of assistive technology required the overcoming of geopolitical rivalries and the pooling of resources. 

In the paper that will be discussed at this event, Professor Maria Galmarini focuses on the collaboration projects undertaken in the 1970s and early 1980s by an organization of blind advocacy called European Regional Committee of the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind (ERC). As a pan-European agency that included members from both sides of Cold War Europe, the ERC conceptualized technology as a neutral field of work, in which Western and Eastern blind activists could exchange knowledge across national and ideological borders. Its members succeeded in creating a network of contacts that connected European research centers and manufactures of auxiliary equipment for the blind. However, the effectiveness of their cooperation was also fundamentally limited by the political realities of the Cold War. Through an analysis of the rich historical archive of the ERC in connection with archival materials from the All-Russian Society of the Blind and the East German Union of the Blind, this paper offers new insights on the relationship between disability activism, assistive technology, and Cold War politics. 

Maria Cristina Galmarini is Associate Professor of History and Global Studies at William & Mary. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and, before coming to Williamsburg in 2017, held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard University and an Assistant Professor position at James Madison University. She is the author of The Right to Be Helped: Deviance, Entitlement, and the Soviet Moral Order (Northern Illinois University Press, 2016). She also published articles in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, The Slavic Review, Historical Research, European History Quarterly, and The Russian Review. Galmarini has won the Disability History Association’s award for best published article in the field of Disability History in 2018. Her current research explores the history of international blind activism during the Cold War. 

Watch the event recording on YouTube here

Please reach out to jordan.russia.center@nyu.edu for a copy of the work being discussed at this event.



April 18
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm


New York, NY + Google Map