Kim E. Nielsen

A Disability History of the United States

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Catalog No. 28824

Disability is not the story of someone else. It is our story, the story of someone we love, the story of who we are or may become, and it is undoubtedly the story of our nation.

Covering the entirety of US history from pre-1492 to the present, A Disability History of the United States

is the first book to place the experiences of people with disabilities at the center of the American narrative. In many ways, it's a familiar telling. In others, a radical repositioning. It casts new light on familiar stories, such as slavery and immigration, while breaking ground about the ties between nativism and oralism in the late nineteenth century and the role of ableism in the development of democracy. The use of disability as an analytic tool matters in our national story because it forces consideration of the strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions of American ideals. Taking note of race, class, and gender, scholars have examined the historical expansion of democracy. It is time to do the same for disability. Additionally, a richer understanding of US history demands that we use disability to better understand the interdependent nature of democratic communities.

A Disability History of the United States

pulls from primary-source documents and social histories to retell American history through the eyes, words, and impressions of the people who lived it. An historian and disability scholar, Nielsen argues that to understand disability history is not to focus narrowly on a series of individual triumphs but rather to examine mass movements and pivotal daily events through the lens of varied experiences. Throughout the book, Nielsen illustrates how concepts of disability have deeply shaped the American experience--from deciding who was allowed to immigrate to establishing labor laws and justifying slavery and gender discrimination. Included are absorbing--at times horrific--narratives of blinded slaves being thrown overboard and women being involuntarily sterilized, as well as triumphant accounts of disabled miners organizing strikes and disability rights activists picketing Washington.

"At last: a truly inclusive history. This groundbreaking book braids together the history every American knows with the history most Americans have never even imagined--and our society has long forgotten. Fascinating, enlightening, absorbing, well-researched, and concise, A Disability History of the United States isn't just the book I wish I'd read in school. It's the book I'd encourage every American to read."--Rachel Simon, author of The Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding The Bus With My Sister.

"By displacing the able-bodied, self-subsisting individual citizen as the basic unit (and implied beneficiary) of the American experience, she compels the reader to reconsider how we understand personal dignity, public life, and the common good."--Inside Higher Ed.

Kim E. Nielsen is professor of history and women's studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the mother of a daughter with a disability. She is the author of two books on Helen Keller and one on Anne Sullivan Macy.

240 pages. 2013


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