Effaced from History: Facial Difference and its Impact from Antiquity to the Present Day was initally funded by a Seed Award from the Wellcome Trust. The project was started by Professor Patricia Skinner and Dr Emily Cock at the University of Winchester and moved to Swansea University from September 2016; project collaborators include Dr Suzannah Biernoff (Birkbeck), Professor Mark Bradley (Nottingham), Professor David H. Jones (Exeter), Professor David Turner (Swansea) and Professor Garthine Walker (Cardiff).

Despite the increased societal acceptance of visible, modified and disabled bodies, facial difference remains marginal to studies of body image, disability or medicine. It has also been neglected as a subject for historical inquiry, falling as it does uncomfortably between these categories. Any campaign for social acceptance or recognition needs to be able to call upon historical examples, to expose and challenge continuing prejudice.

Attention to the historically-specific cultural work in the definition of facial ‘disfigurement’ in different periods will facilitate understanding of the construction of normative physical states, and historicise contemporary research around the determination of, and interventions into, the non-normative human face. Effaced will consider the social understanding and patient experiences of variant causes of facial difference, which may include scarring, aging, disease, accident, self-infliction, punishment, and congenital factors.

Key themes of the project include:

1. Documentation

Who were disfigured in the past? Collections and collations of accounts of and by disfigured people.

2. Identity Politics

Queering the face: reading texts from a disfigured perspective.

3. Faking, Fixing, Facing Up

Strategies to ‘pass’, cosmetic interventions, surgery as and for disfigurement.

4. Gazing and Staring

The visual consumption of people with facial difference, past and present.

5. Changing Places

Documenting, deconstructing and defusing prejudice.


The project continues Patricia’s work on medieval disfigurement from Losing Face? Living with Disfigurement in Medieval Europe.


Header illustrations courtesy of Wellcome Images.

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