1st Edition

Disability Studies Meets Microhistory The Secret Life of Bíbí in Berlín

    246 Pages 25 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This volume explores the life of Bjargey “Bíbí” Kristjánsdóttir (1927–1999), an Icelandic woman with intellectual disabilities, through analysis of her autobiography and personal archive on the basis of the research disciplines of critical disability studies and microhistory.

    Bíbí, who grew up in northern Iceland on a small farm called Berlin, fell ill when she was in her first year and was afterwards labeled ‘feeble-minded’ by her family and the local community. When Bíbí died, she had finished a 145,000-word autobiography which she had written alone and kept secret from her family and neighbors, very few of whom even knew that she could read and write. This book aims to consider Bíbí’s life through her autobiography and other historical sources she created, to identify how various historical, social, and cultural factors interacted and influenced her circumstances. It explores Bíbí’s agency, and how she managed to play her cards within the narrow scope given to her by society. What makes Bíbí’s history extraordinary is precisely the direct connection to her world through her counter-archive.

    This book provides students and scholars of the humanities and the social sciences with a new way of critical thinking about both disciplines.

    1. Introduction: How to Combine Critical Disability Studies and Microhistory

    2. The Life of Bíbí in Berlín as a Text: Historical Sources

    3. The First Thirty Years in Berlín (1929–1958)

    4. Stuck in an Institution (1958–1974)

    5. An Independent Person (1974‒1990)

    6. From Hofsós to the Other World: An Afterlife Story

    7. Inclusive Research and Bíbí’s Life

    8. Conclusion: Taking Life Head On!


    Guðrún Valgerður Stefánsdóttir is Professor in Disability Studies at the School of Education, University of Iceland. She has written numerous Icelandic and international scholarly articles, chapters and books concerning the life, circumstances, and history of people with intellectual disabilities.

    Sólveig Ólafsdóttir is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Iceland Institute of History. She received her doctoral dissertation at the University of Iceland in 2022. She is the former Director of the Reykjavik Academy.

    Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon is Professor of Cultural History and Chair of the Center for Microhistorical Research at University of Iceland. He has written 29 published books. He is also co-editor, with István M. Szijártó, of the Microhistories international book series.