This essay demonstrates the value of disability history for literary and cultural studies. It develops historical cripistemology as a method through which to examine the historical experiences and epistemologies, rather than representations, of disability in particular times and places and emphasizes the vast and varied entanglements of those experiences and epistemologies with mainstream US culture. To do so, “Touching The Scarlet Letter” turns to perhaps the most canonical American novel to show how returning disability history to a text—here Nathaniel Hawthorne’s connections to and interest in blind education as well as the extensive cultural influence of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind in the 1840s and 1850s—can reframe fundamental aspects of our analyses, such as how we understand reading and interpretation. In so doing, this essay argues for and begins to uncover a hidden disability history of US literature and culture.

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