Life Unseen: Why the History of Blindness Matters – Selina Mills

York Disability Week Lecture

Imagine a world without sight. Is it dark and gloomy? Is it terrifying and isolating? Or is it simply a state of not seeing, which we, the sighted world, have demonised and sentimentalised over the centuries? Showing us why it matters, broadcaster and author Selina Mills takes us on a journey through the history of blindness in Western Culture to demonstrate that the state of not seeing is not so dark after all, and still influences us today. Inspired by her own experience of losing her sight, Selina takes us on a personal and unsentimental historical quest through the lives and stories of blind people, as well as the sighted people who sought to patronise, demonise and fix blindness. Her lecture brings the day-to-day reality of sightlessness into conversation with the voices of the past. From the blind poet Homer to the myths of early medieval culture, from the scientific and medical discoveries of the Enlightenment to novels of melodrama and memoirs of modern times, the story of blindness turns out to be a story of our whole culture, seeing or unseeing.

About the speaker

Selina Mills is an award-winning writer and broadcaster who is legally blind. Educated in the USA and the UK, Selina has worked as a senior reporter and broadcaster for Reuters, The Daily Telegraph, and the BBC. She has regularly written for various publications including The Observer and The Spectator. She has a keen interest in disability and how it shapes our world, and has been a contributor to the ground-breaking BBC/Loftus series “Disability: A New History” (2013) which has been rebroadcast around the world, as well as a regular commentator to BBC Radio 4’s “In Touch” programme. Selina also co-wrote what is considered to be the first accessible libretto for “The Paradis Files”, a chamber opera by Errolyn Wallen, which premiered at the Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in April 2022. The opera follows the real life story of Maria-Theresia Von Paradis (1759-1824) the talented musician and composer, known as “the Blind enchantress”. Selina’s part-memoir and part history book on blindness, Life Unseen: A Story of Blindness, will be published by Bloomsbury in June 2023.