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Happy Birthday, Helen Keller! And Welcome to the Helen Keller Archival Collection Digitization Project

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Cake covered in flowers and a quotation celebrating Helen Keller's birthday

Helen Keller was born on June 27th 1880 and we've made a cake to celebrate her birthday! It's inscribed with the Helen's words "Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much" This is very appropriate as we are also celebrating the beginning of our digitization project!

We are thrilled that as a result of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, AFB has begun the task of digitizing the over 80,000 items contained in the Helen Keller Archives.

Correspondence, press clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, audio recordings, artifacts, and film clips will be made fully accessible via the internet to both sighted and non-sighted audiences around the world.

This mammoth task will take place over the next 24 months. During that time we will bring you updates on our progress and will be featuring newly accessible items from the collection.

AFB is thrilled and honored to have six leading scholars in the fields of disability and gender history as advisors on the project. And what’s even more exciting is that they will be periodically blogging about the collection and their discoveries. These will begin on Tuesday with a blog post by historian Kim Nielsen.

Enormous thanks to each of them —

Kim E. Nielsen is professor of Disability Studies at the University of Toledo, where she also teaches courses in History and Women’s and Gender Studies. Beacon Press released her newest book, A Disability History of the United States, in 2012. Other books include Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller (Beacon, 2009) and The Radical Lives of Helen Keller (NYUP, 2004).

David Serlin is an associate professor of communication and science studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author or editor of numerous books and articles about disability, technology, and culture, and is currently completing a forthcoming book about how people with disabilities experience cities entitled Window Shopping with Helen Keller: Architecture and Disability in Modern Culture.

Mara Mills is an Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University who works at the intersection of disability studies and media studies. She is currently writing a book, Print Disability and New Reading Formats, that examines the reformatting of print over the course of the past century by blind and other print disabled readers, with a focus on the history of Talking Books and electronic reading machines.

Georgina Kleege is a writer and English professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Ms. Kleege wrote Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller. Kleege examined the life of Helen Keller through the sensibilities of a 21st Century viewer.

Katherine Ott is curator, Division of Medicine and Science, National Museum of American History.

Catherine Kudlick is the Director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability and Professor of History. She is a leading scholar on the topic of disability history. In 2011 she received a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies to explore smallpox, one of the biggest producers of disabling conditions before the practice of vaccination.

We are so excited to begin the process of making Helen Keller's letters, photographs, and artifacts accessible online. And you can help! Here's how:

Helen Keller
There are currently 3 comments

Re: Happy Birthday, Helen Keller! And Welcome to the Helen Keller Archival Collection Digitization Project

All wonderful news! Congratulations to the AFB.

Re: Happy Birthday, Helen Keller! And Welcome to the Helen Keller Archival Collection Digitization Project

I applaud AFB for embarking on this ambitious project. Keller is certainly a very important person in the history of disability. She made a huge difference in the world as a disability activist, feminist, and socialist.

While Keller's legacy cannot be denied, I worry that she is often the ONLY disabled person many people hear about. School children regularly study her life and, in doing so, learn a bit about disability. It's very important that this change. Keller's writings on disability are most interesting indeed. However, it is crucial that students are exposed to a variety of viewpoints and approaches to the subject. Keller was very much ahead of her time, there's no doubt about it. I will say, however, that some of what she writes about her disabilities makes me cringe. Please understand: that is not in any way meant as a criticism of Keller; her experiences and reactions were what they were. I just think it's important that time is spent ensuring that other, possibly divergent viewpoints are also presented.

Best of luck with this most important project.

Re: Happy Birthday, Helen Keller! And Welcome to the Helen Keller Archival Collection Digitization Project

Thank you AFB! I can't wait to look at all these cool artifacts. I am going to share some of this content on the Twitter timeline for my volunteer job. Helen Keller was certainly a great mover and shaker!

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