The New Disability History: American Perspectives

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Disability has always been a preoccupation of American society and culture. From antebellum debates about qualification for citizenship to current controversies over access and reasonable accommodations, disability has been present, in penumbra if not in print, on virtually every page of American history. Yet historians have only recently begun the deep excavation necessary to retrieve lives shrouded in religious, then medical, and always deep-seated cultural, misunderstanding.

This volume opens up disability's hidden history. In these pages, a North Carolina Youth finds his identity as a deaf Southerner challenged in Civil War-era New York. Deaf community leaders ardently defend sign language in early 20th century America. The mythic Helen Keller and the long-forgotten American Blind People's higher Education and General Improvement Association each struggle to shape public and private roles for blind Americans. White and black disabled World War I and II veterans contest public policies and cultural values to claim their citizenship rights. Neurasthenic Alice James and injured turn-of-the-century railroadmen grapple with the interplay of disability and gender. Progressive-era rehabilitationists fashion programs to make crippled children economically productive and socially valid, and two Depression-era fathers murder their sons as public opinion blames the boys' mothers for having cherished the lads' lives. These and many other figures lead readers through hospital-schools, courtrooms, advocacy journals, and beyond to discover disability's past.

Coupling empirical evidence with the interdisciplinary tools and insights of disability studies, the book explores the complex meanings of disability as identity and cultural signifier in American history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"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."

-Publishers Weekly,

"Historians of medicine and technology will find this book an interesting introduction to a highly politicized and novel area of scholarship. This work should inspire research projects into more diverse and less categorized areas of disability."

-Technology & Culture,

"The essays introduce into the historical record a diverse group of people whose views and experiences have been largely excluded, challenge conventional notions of bodily integrity, and represent an important new subfield in American history from which we can expect rich and exciting innovation."

-The Historian,

"This splendid collection opens up a whole new field. Longmore and Umansky define it, explain why it is urgent for us to know about it, and provide fourteen fine examples of it, ranging all across American history, by as many authors. This is not your father's old-time medical history—it's a broader, brilliant enterprise."

-Walter Nugent,University of Notre Dame

"A cause for celebration. The insights popping off of each page are rich, compelling, and memorable. Taken together, these essays hold as much promise for remaking general understanding of the American past as pathbreaking works in women's history and African-American history. By bringing to center stage the experiences of so many who have been previously ignored or degraded, and by exploring how images of disability color American values and politics through time, this work invites students, scholars, and citizens to understand the world more deeply and more capaciously."

-Martha Minow,Harvard University

Publishers Weekly
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.
The Ragged Edge
Clearly and forcefully makes the case that disability is everywhere in history as in society.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814785645
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2001
  • Series: History of Disability Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 422
  • Sales rank: 712,070
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul K. Longmore is Professor of History and Director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University and author of The Invention of George Washington.

Lauri Umansky is Professor of History at Suffolk University and is the author of The New Disability History: American Perspectives and "Bad Mother: The Politics of Blame in the Twentieth Century America.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Disability History: From the Margins to the Mainstream 1
Part I Uses and Contests
1 Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History 33
2 "Speech Has an Extraordinary Humanizing Power": Horace Mann and the Problem of Nineteenth-Century American Deaf Education 58
3 "This Unnatural and Fratricidal Strife": A Family's Negotiation of the Civil War, Deafness, and Independence 83
4 "Trying to Idle": Work and Disability in The Diary of Alice James 107
Part II Redefinitions and Resistance
5 A Pupil and a Patient: Hospital-Schools in Progressive America 133
6 Cold Charity: Manhood, Brotherhood, and the Transformation of Disability, 1870-1900 157
7 The Outlook of The Problem and the Problem with the Outlook: Two Advocacy Journals Reinvent Blind People in Turn-of-the-Century America 187
8 Reading between the Signs: Defending Deaf Culture in Early Twentieth-Century America 214
9 Medicine, Bureaucracy, and Social Welfare: The Politics of Disability Compensation for American Veterans of World War I 236
10 Helen Keller and the Politics of Civic Fitness 268
Part III Images and Identities
11 Martyred Mothers and Merciful Fathers: Exploring Disability and Motherhood in the Lives of Jerome Greenfield and Raymond Repouille 293
12 Blind and Enlightened: The Contested Origins of the Egalitarian Politics of the Blinded Veterans Association 313
13 Seeing the Disabled: Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography 335
14 American Disability Policy in the Twentieth Century 375
Contributors 393
Index 397
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