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Department of Archaeology


Mr William Southwell-Wright

(email at

Research Topic

Disability and Difference? Assessing social perceptions of physical impairment in Roman Britain


The aim of this research is to examine disability as a social concept in Roman Britain through an analysis of the burial treatment of the physically impaired. Recent sociological and anthropological theory has recognised the split between physical impairment and disability as a social condition, and has examined such topics in ethnographic case studies. Disability in British antiquity however remains one of the greatest uncharted areas of research, with only a few published examples showing the relevance of such concepts to Roman Britain in particular. Utilising burial data, a key means of analysis for a primarily non-textual society such as this, this project will examine the applicability of the Social Model of disability to Roman Britain, and how disability may have intersected with other forms of identity and status.

Gender, ethnicity and social ranking have been recognised as being represented and constructed through burial treatment in the Roman period, health however has remained little studies. This project will look at the burial treatment of the physically on both an inter and intra-cemetery basis, looking at variability in terms of location, grave size, grave good provision and other deviant forms of treatment. This allows an assessment as to what degree impairment was a social marker in Romano-British funerary provision, and to what extent disability is an applicable concept.

Conference Participation

18th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists. August 2012. University of Helsinki, Finland. Presentation: 'Disability and Deviancy in Romano-British Burials'.

Passages from Antiquity to the Middle Ages V. Infirmitas. Social and Cultural Approaches to Cure, Caring and Health. August 2012. University of Tampere, Finland. Presentation: 'Sense And Sensibility: Social Disability and Societal Expectations in Late Roman Britain'.

Centre for Culture & Disability Studies. April 2012. Liverpool Hope University, United Kingdom. Talk: 'What use is the Archaeology of Roman Britain to Disability Studies?'.

Disability Research Forum. April 2012. Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom. 
Talk: 'Past Perspectives: What can Archaeology offer to Disability Studies?'.

The Twenty-Second Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference. March-April 2011. Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. 
Podium Presentation: 'Disability, Identity and Social Roles in Late Roman Britain'.

Central TAG. December 2011. University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. 
Podium Presentation: 'Archaeology & Disability Studies: Narratives of Impairment in the Past & Present'.

Transformative Difference: Disability, Culture and the Academy. September 2011. Centre for Culture & Disability Studies, Liverpool Hope University, United Kingdom. Poster Presentation: Disability and Difference: 'Assessing Social Perceptions of Disability in Roman Britain'.

The Twenty-First Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference. April 2011. University of Newcastle, United Kingdom. 
Poster Presentation: 'Disability and Difference: Assessing Social Perceptions of Disability in Roman Britain'.


Books: sections

  • Southwell-Wright, W.A. (2013). Past Perspectives: What can Archaeology offer Disability Studies? In Emerging Perspectives on Disability Studies. Arndt, K. & Wappett, M. Palgrave Macmillan. 67-97.

Essays in edited volumes

  • Southwell-Wright, William (2014). Perceptions of Infant Disability in Roman Britain. In Infant Health and Death in Roman Italy and Beyond. Carroll, M. & Graham, E.-J. 96: 111-131.

Is supervised by

Archaeology Staff June 2014