Facial Difference and its Impact from Antiquity to the Present Day

Directed by Professor Patricia Skinner, Research Professor in Arts and Humanities, and initially funded by a Wellcome Trust Seed Award (no 107780), this project moved to Swansea in September 2016, building on Skinner's previous work on medieval disfigurement at the University, which will be published at Living with Disfigurement in the Early Middle Ages in Palgrave Macmillan's New Middle Ages series late in 2016/early 2017.

The broader project, in collaboration with Professor David Turner and external colleagues, aims to explore representations of, and emotional responses to, disfigurement, asking how it disables, through three core themes:

  • language: how is disfigurement represented by those living with it, and by observers, casual and professional?
  • visibility: how (in)visible were/are people with disfigurements? When does curiosity become intrusive staring? Does the proliferation of accessible images normalise or marginalise different faces?
  • materiality: what material evidence survives documenting the lives of those with facial disfigurement, and what items (masks, headgear, cosmetics and prosthetics) have been used in changing appearance?

The project's core intellectual aim is to explore how claims to full social personhood can be, and have been, damaged by looking facially different (through birth 'defects', disease, deliberate mutilation or injury) in history, and strategies through which disfigurement has been managed and treated. Through critical understanding of the perception, treatment and experiences of disfigurement over two millennia, via a collaborative partnership with the Changing Faces charity, this project represents a step change in thinking about unusual effacement historically and will use its findings to develop a more nuanced set of paradigms for approaching facial difference globally in the twenty-first century.

Supported by: The Wellcome Trust