Touching the Book: Embossed Literature for Blind People in the Nineteenth Century

Date: 17 September – 30 October,
Time: Monday – Saturday, 9-8pm
Venue: Peltz Gallery, Ground Floor, School of Arts, Birkbeck, London WC1H 0PD
More information: http://blogs.bbk.ac.uk/touchingthebook

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This free exhibition explores the history of literacy for blind and visually impaired people in nineteenth-century Britain and Europe through the development of embossed literature. It introduces visitors to the variety of embossed writing systems that blind people were taught prior to the widespread adoption of braille at the end of the nineteenth century. There was fierce debate in this period between educators who favoured a system based on the Roman alphabet that could be read still by sight and those who advocated for an arbitrary system – such as braille – more suited to finger reading.

Touching the book: Embossed literature for Blind People brings together a rich array of material, including important examples of early classbooks, spiritual guides, the first specially-commissioned embossed Bibles, writing devices, pamphlets and visual images. It details how early embossing attempts were motivated by religious desire to enable blind people to read the word of God directly through touch. This fuelled investment in embossing processes which in turn improved the quality and durability of embossed books.

Most significantly however, the development of finger-reading practices helped to create new communities of literate blind and visually-impaired people who began advocating for reading and writing systems best suited to the needs of blind people. The exhibition highlights individuals in the nineteenth-century blind community who both raised the profile of and were instrumental in improving literacy for blind and visually-impaired people, including Laura Bridgman, William Moon, G.A. Hughes, Louis Braille and Thomas Rhodes Armitage.

On the exhibition website you can find out visitor information (how to get to the exhibition, opening hours, facilities, tours), as well as learn more about the exhibition objects. There is also a forum for people to share knowledge and experience relating to the exhibition’s themes of visual disability and literacy, and contributions and comments are very welcome.

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