Recipient 2021: Leah Samples (University of Pennsylvania)
For “Your Eyes Are Your Breadwinners So Protect Them! Goggles, Safety Work, and the Prevention of Industrial Blindness, 1900s-1940s”
This paper brings together the histories of disability, labor, and regulation through a case study in the history of goggles during the early twentieth century.
The author argues that the adoption and popularization of goggles as an industrial safety technology “relied on and reinscribed rhetoric about the innate dependency of blind Americans.” The paper offers a new means of inquiring into the history of industrial safety that emphasizes the discursive and regulatory construction of “blindness” as bodily state incompatible with the ability to earn a living wage. This “deterministic relationship between eyes and remunerative employment” was developed and reinforced through industrial safety literature, and it ultimately contributed to the systematic exclusion of people with disabilities from the labor force.
Clearly written and well-researched, this paper invites further inquiry into how histories of the senses can yield productive new ways of analyzing the history of technology.