Downs: The history of a disability

downs
By David Wright

Synopsis: For 150 years, Down’s Syndrome has constituted the archetypal mental disability, easily recognisable by distinct facial anomalies and physical stigmata. In a narrow medical sense, Down’s syndrome is a common disorder caused by the presence of all or part of an extra 21st chromosome. It is named after John Langdon Down, the British asylum medical superintendent who described the syndrome as Mongolism in a series of lectures in 1866. In 1959, the disorder was identified as a chromosome 21 trisomy by the French paediatrician and geneticist Jérôme Lejeune and has since been known as Down’s Syndrome (in the English-speaking world) or Trisomy 21 (in many European countries). But children and adults born with this chromosomal abnormality have an important collective history beyond their evident importance to the history of medical science.

David Wright, a Professor in the History of Medicine at McMaster University, looks at the care and treatment of Down’s sufferers – described for much of history as ‘idiots’, – from Medieval Europe to the present day. The discovery of the genetic basis of the condition and the profound changes in attitudes, care, and early identification of Down’s in the genetic era, reflects the fascinating medical and social history of the disorder.

2013 WINNER OF THE BRITISH SOCIETY OF HISTORY OF SCIENCE DINGLE AWARD

Published: August 2011 | ISBN-13: 978-0199567935

Mini-bio: David Wright received his BA and MA in History from McGill University and his DPhil (in History) from the University of Oxford (Great Britain). As a post-doctoral research fellow at Oxford he specialized in the history of health and medicine before being appointed Wellcome Trust Lecturer in the History of Medicine at the University of Nottingham. David has recently returned to McGill University as Professor of History, where he is a nominee for a Canada Research Chair at the Institute for Health and Social Policy. – Adapted from Amazon.com

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