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Design Studies PhD Student Natalie Wright Wins Prestigious Scholarship

Natalie Wright headshot
Natalie Wright

Natalie Wright, a Design History PhD student in SoHE’s Design Studies department, has recently been named a recipient of the highly competitive Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The four-year, $20,000-per-year award will support her anticipated doctoral research into connections between histories of making and disability.

“I am thrilled to see Natalie’s important questions, and her curious and sensitive approach to them, recognized with such a prestigious award,” says Dr. Sarah Anne Carter, Visiting Executive Director of SoHE’s Center for Design and Material Culture (CDMC) and a mentor to Natalie even before she came to SoHE. The two had worked together at the Chipstone Foundation where Wright was the Charles Hummel Curatorial Fellow, and both earned their master’s degrees (though not concurrently) at the University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum’s program in American Material Culture. Wright now also serves as the Jane Graff Textile Research Assistant in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, which is part of CDMC.

“I am delighted not only at the well-deserved and high-profile award for her research,” says Wright’s advisor, the Lynn and Gary Mecklenburg Chair in Textiles, Material Culture, and Design, Dr. Marina Moskowitz. “I also see it as confirmation of the great fit between her work and our program.”

Wright agrees: “It’s really the people that make the difference for me here at SoHE. Between Marina and Sarah, and then the opportunity of the Jane Graff Assistantship in the [Helen Louise Allen] Textile Collection, I have especially helpful guides and unique opportunities to support my studies and growth.”

Wright’s award application sought funding to uncover what she describes as overlooked histories of clothing designs by, with, and for people with disabilities, and how they represent social attempts to either control or accommodate wearers’ physical or cognitive development. Clothing, she notes, functions as a lens into a society’s beliefs about what constitutes normative development, as well as its social and economic values. This is especially true in the United States, which prizes individualism and independence as key components of its national identity, economy, and citizenry. Her experiences at UW–Madison have already pushed her to develop these ideas further and to think in different directions.

With an older brother with cerebral palsy, Wright has long identified as part of the disability family community. Only more recently, however, did this area cross with her research interests.

“The more I learned, the more I saw a gap between histories of making and those of disability,” Wright says. “I see this as an opportunity to connect the two fields more closely and to put them in dialogue.”

She plans to pursue her research under the guidance not only of Drs. Moskowitz and Carter, but faculty across the UW–Madison campus, including Dr. Ellen Samuels of English and Gender and Women’s Studies, and a founding member of the UW Disability Studies Initiative; and Dr. Judith Houck, of History and Gender and Women’s Studies. Her coursework this past year included a seminar with Dr. Moskowitz, “Histories of Making,” and one with Dr. Elizabeth Bearden (English), “Discourses of Disability Before 1800.”

“I know they weren’t intended to do so, but every single week, I found the readings spoke to one another in the most fascinating ways,” Wright reflects. “Between these courses, my mentors, and my Design Studies cohort of makers, historians, designers, and others, I’ve found a truly mind-expanding community here at SoHE and UW–Madison.”

Follow Wright on Twitter at @wright__natalie, and the Center for Design and Material Culture on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for more Design Studies research updates and news.