Synopses & Reviews
The first book to cover the entirety of disability history, from pre-1492 to the present
Disability is not just the story of someone we love or the story of whom we may become; rather 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 other ways, however, it is a radical repositioning of US history. By doing so, the book 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.
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. As historian and disability scholar Nielsen argues, to understand disability history isn’t to narrowly focus 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 deftly 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.
Engrossing and profound, A Disability History of the United States fundamentally reinterprets how we view our nation’s past: from a stifling master narrative to a shared history that encompasses us all.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
"This impressive, instructive book by Nielsen, a professor of history and women's studies at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay (The Radical Lives of Helen Keller), seeks to define the pivotal role ofÂ people with disabilities in our nation's past and their contribution to our laws, policy, economics, popular culture, and our collective identity. Disability, with its presumed need for dependency, challenges the American ideal of independence and autonomy.Â Nielsen uses various concepts of disability and dependency that go to 'the heart of both human and American experience.' She accurately notesÂ the difference of mind-body beliefs of the Native Americans from the Europeans who brought disease and death with them; the colonial definition of those considered insane or undesirable; andÂ the many institutions housing the disabled. Nielsen does not sidestep the thorny issue of disabled war veterans, from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War to the present, with their surging costs and advances of laws protecting the rights of the disabled and guaranteeing accessibility in civilian life. Neilsen is at her best speaking not about the physically disabled and mentally ill, but of the legal and social barricades placed against women, minorities, and immigrants, who were classified 'disabled' and blocked from full citizenship." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
The author of three books, including two on Helen Keller and one on Anne Sullivan Macy, Kim E. Nielsen is a professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She lives in Green Bay.
Table of Contents
The spirit chooses the body it will occupy:Indigenous North America, Pre-1492
The poor, vicious, and infirm:Colonial Communities, 1492–1700
The miserable wretches were then thrown into the sea:The Late Colonial Era, 1700–1776
The deviant and the dependent:Creating Citizens, 1776–1865
I am disabled, and must go atsomething else besides hard labor: The Institutionalization of Disability, 1865–1890
Three generations of imbeciles are enough:The Progressive Era, 1890–1927
We don’t want tin cups:Laying the Groundwork, 1927–1968
I guess I’m an activist. I think it’s just caring:Rights and Rights Denied, 1968–