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The New Disability History: American Perspectives (History of Disability)

Author: Paul Longmore and Lauri Umansky

Published: 2009-07-03

Synopsis and Key Points:

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act awareness of the disabled reached an all time if controversial high.

Main Digest

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the editors write, awareness of the disabled reached an all-time, if controversial, high. As one of the contributors notes, however, the disabled have always been a part of America's history, even if they have been missing from the histories we've written.

In The New Disability History: American Perspectives, editors Paul K. Longmore (The Invention of George Washington), professor of history and director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, and Lauri Umansky (Motherhood Re-conceived), associate professor of history at Suffolk University, bring together the contributions of 14 academics from a variety of disciplines.

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the editors write, awareness of the disabled reached an all-time, if controversial, high. As one of the contributors notes, however, the disabled have always been a part of America's history, even if they have been missing from the histories we've written. With this work, Longmore and Umansky offer historians, sociologists and other readers intrigued by this area of scholarship an opportunity to understand disabilities as broader and more complex than a single, generic and primarily medical category.

"Never assume" has become a mantra for historians over the past few decades. U.S. history was largely a tale of white male accomplishments until practitioners of African American history and ethnic-group history and women's history asked new questions and learned different answers.

This collection's contributors draw attention (as the editors note) to "the frequency, the virtual commonplaceness, of disability as personal yet also public experience, social problem, and cultural metaphor" in the U.S. The first essay, for example, dissects the uses of "disability" in the struggles of African Americans, women, and immigrants for equality. In each case, the "unequal" group was assigned "disabling" traits thought to make its members unqualified for full citizenship. Each group won broader rights by demonstrating that its members did not in fact suffer from the alleged "disabilities," but no one ever questioned the notion that "disability" itself was a reasonable basis for exclusion or limitation. A fascinating overview that includes studies of sign Language, veterans' pensions, Helen Keller, popular photography, and the twentieth-century history of government disability policy. - Mary Carroll

Paperback: 416 pages

Publisher: NYU Press; illustrated edition edition (March 1, 2001)

Language: English
ISBN-10: 0814785646
ISBN-13: 978-0814785645

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