Disability in U.S. History: Integrating Disability History

Solicited by the OAH Committee on Disability and Disability History and the OAH Committee on Teaching

Friday, April 3, 2020, 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Disability Studies; Teaching and Pedagogy


In recent years, disability historians have demonstrated that ideas about disability helped shape citizenship; motivate significant state growth; and frame conversations about slavery and abolition, African American and women's suffrage, immigration, and war. Disability, these historians have shown, is central to understanding U.S. history, but this centrality and significance rarely translates to the U.S. history classroom. This roundtable seeks a useable past and aims to start a conversation about how we can begin to incorporate disability histories as we teach U.S. history.

Session Participants

Chair and Panelist: Jenifer Barclay, University at Buffalo, (State University of New York)
Jenifer L. Barclay is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University at Buffalo. Her first book, The Mark of Slavery: Disability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America, will appear in the University of Illinois Press’s book series “Disability Histories” in 2020. This project examines the lived experiences of enslaved people with disabilities as well as the larger metaphorical, ontological links that antebellum Americans forged between race, gender and disability to shore up tenuous racial categories and shifting gender conventions in these turbulent decades. Drawing on fugitive slave narratives, ex-slave interviews, plantation records, and personal correspondence, she places disabled bondpeople at the center of her narrative to rectify their invisibility in ableist histories of American slavery and illuminate the social relations of disability in slave families and communities. She also, however, looks beyond day-to-day plantation life and employs disability as a category of analysis to interrogate the ways in which antebellum Americans infused blackness with the resounding stigma of disability. This process took place through the laws of slavery, southern discourses of states’ rights medicine, pro- and antislavery political rhetoric, and cultural phenomena such as minstrelsy and freak shows. In addition to her book, Barclay has also published her work in journals such as Slavery & Abolition and collections like The Oxford Handbook on Disability History. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in U.S. History, Comparative Ethnic Studies and Women’s/Gender Studies and serves as an Associate Editor for the Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal.   

Panelist: Monique Dufour, Virginia Tech
Monique Dufour is Collegiate Assistant Professor of History and an Affiliate Faculty Member of the Department of Science, Technology, and Society (STS) at Virginia Tech (VT). She also directs the VT Medicine and Society minor.

Dufour is also an experienced faculty development consultant. Before completing her Ph.D. in STS, she was a Mellon Fellow at Duke University’s Writing Program, and then a faculty development consultant at VT’s Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. She frequently works with higher education faculty as teachers and writers in one-on-one consultations, teaching workshops, and writing retreats, including the annual scholarly writing retreat at Duke University. Currently, she is writing a book, Teaching with TIME in Mind, which helps faculty how to use their time wisely and well. The book promotes open, honest conversations about the roles of time and energy in teaching, and guides faculty in her system of designing and teaching courses that plan for how much time they should spend, and how they can best spend it to optimize professional balance, inclusion, and student learning. She is also currently working on a research project about how supporting faculty writers across the disciplines can help them to become more effective teachers of writing.

Dufour is an award-winning teacher who has taught a range of inquiry-based undergraduate and graduate courses in History, Writing Studies, and STS. She has designed and regularly teaches History courses such as “War and Medicine,” “The History of Disease, Medicine, and Health,” “Writing Skills for Professional Historians,” and “The History of the Book.” She also mentors graduate students as writers, and enjoys the process of helping them to shape themselves as scholars, teachers, and inclusive members of our profession.

As a 20th century U.S. cultural historian, Dufour situates her research at the intersection of the history of medicine, disability history, and the history of the humanities. She is currently working on two major research projects. The first is a history of modern bibliotherapy--the use of reading as a form of medical treatment--which was promoted, administered, and studied in veteran’s facilities, public hospitals, correctional facilities, and public schools. The second project--a collaboration with Ashley Shew--collects and analyzes 20th century normative visions of disabled bodies as objects of techno-inspiration and optimism.

Panelist: Sarah F. Rose, University of Texas at Arlington
Sarah F. Rose is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she directs the Minor in Disability Studies.  She also serves as faculty advisor for UTA Libraries’ award-winning Texas Disability History Collection, for which she and Trevor Engel co-curated the traveling Building a Barrier-Free Campus exhibit.  
Her book, No Right to Be Idle: The Invention of Disability, 1840s-1930s, was published by University of North Carolina Press in 2017 and was awarded the 2018 Philip Taft Prize in Labor and Working Class History, 2018 Disability History Association Outstanding Book Award, and 2017 Award for Excellence in Research Using the Holdings of the New York State Archives. 
Her and Joshua A. T. Salzmann’s essay, “Bionic Ballplayers: Risk, Profit, and the Body as Commodity, 1964-2007” was awarded LABOR’s best article prize for 2014-2015. She has also published in the Journal of Policy History on disabled veterans’ access to the GI bill and higher education after World War II, on “‘Crippled’ Hands: Disability in Labor and Working-Class History” in LABOR, and on “Work” in the 2017 Keywords for Disability Studies volume.
Since 2013, Dr. Rose and UTA Libraries’ Special Collections have been developing the Texas Disability History Collection (TDHC), which received the 2017 Society of American Archivists’ Diversity Award. The first disability history archive in the Southwest, the TDHC ranges from a 1493 map of the known world to the present, with digitized highlights available at http://library.uta.edu/txdisabilityhistory/. The TDHC covers the intersecting histories of assistive technologies, adapted sports, and disability rights as well as topics as diverse as nurses’ experiences in tuberculosis sanatoria, political iconography about Mexican dictator and amputee General Antonio López de Santa Anna, and the national impact of Texan disability rights campaigns.
Her and Trevor Engel’s traveling Building a Barrier-Free Campus exhibit (digitized at https://library.uta.edu/barrier-freecampus/ with full descriptive text at https://library.uta.edu/barrier-free/text) traces how UT Arlington became a model accessible campus for students with disabilities starting in the mid-1960s—a time when disabled students had no right to attend K-12 schools or college—and how disabled students and alums helped drive disability rights activism and adapted sports in Texas and beyond. It has appeared at the Texas State Capitol and UT Austin as part of Disability History Awareness Month, among nearly a dozen other venues.
She has presented at the Organization of American Historians, Society for Disability Studies, American Association for the History of Medicine, Policy History Conference, Labor and Working-Class History Association, and Business History Conference; and has given invited talks at Cornell University, NYU, and Swansea University, among other locations.  She served on the OAH Committee on Disability and Disability History (2013-2018) and is a contributing editor for LABOR.
Dr. Rose received a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship and earned her Ph.D. in History from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2008.

Panelist: Ashley Shew, Virginia Tech, Department of Science, Technology, and Society
Ashley Shew, Assistant Professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech, works in philosophy of technology at its intersection with disability studies, emerging technologies, and animal studies. She is author of Animal Constructions and Technological Knowledge (Lexington, 2017) and co-editor (with Joseph C. Pitt) of Spaces for the Future: A Companion to Philosophy of Technology (Routledge 2017) and (with Glen Miller) of Reinventing Ihde (forthcoming). Shew is an awardee of a National Science Foundation CAREER Grant, running from 2018 to 2023, to study narratives about technology from the disability community that often stand in contrast to dominant media and engineering narratives about disability (#1750260). She keeps her teaching materials on technology and disability athttp://techanddisability.com.

Shew contributes to a variety pedagogical initiatives at Virginia Tech, including the Regenerative Medicine Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program, the Medicine & Society minor (where she gets to work with Dr. Monique Dufour), the Disability Studies minor, as well as the PhD programs in ASPECT and STS. She teaches classes on bioethics, medical dilemmas and human experience, technology and disability, and philosophy of technology. She is committed to historical discussion as part of every one of these classes, especially around themes of eugenics, enhancement, disability, and the values and norms embedded into the technologies and infrastructures that shape our lives.

Though as an amputee people try to thank her for her service, Shew has never served in the military. Her interests, especially in conversation with Dr. Dufour, center on the representation of disabled bodies as objects of techno-inspiration and optimism - with military bodies often enlisted in these narratives. This work is part of a larger body of planned work on the ableism that becomes re-instantiated within our conversations about technology for disability (what Shew terms technoableism). Adjacent to this interest, Shew likes to talk about disabled people in space - and the biases we come with when we assume only military (read: exceptionally abled) bodies are good bodies for space and human futures.

Shew tweets from @ashleyshoo, but mostly to harangue folks for better disability access (or, like, any forethought about planning for disability from the outset). She also serves as faculty advisor for her university’s Disability Alliance (students), co-chair of the Disability Caucus (faculty/staff), and a member of the board of directors of her region’s center for independent living, the New River Valley Disability Resource Center.

Panelist: Hannah Esther Zaves-Greene, New York University
Hannah Greene is a doctoral candidate at New York University’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, where she studies American Jewish history. Her dissertation focuses on American Jews’ organized political, legislative, and social engagement with United States immigration and deportation policy and its enforcement, particularly in regard to the public charge provision and issues of health and disability. Hannah has presented at conferences such as The Uses and Abuses of History in the Trump Era at the Rochester Institute of Technology and The Scholar-Activist: Opportunities, Challenges, and Frameworks for Pursuing Social Justice at CUNY Graduate Center. She has forthcoming articles in AJS Perspectives and Sexing Jewish History: Jewishness and Sexuality in the 19th and 20th Century United States. Her public history articles and a book review have also appeared in The Activist History Review and The Jewniverse. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2012, where she wrote her senior thesis on this-worldly mysticism in periods of modernization in the northeastern industrializing United States and urbanizing eastern Europe. Hannah’s academic interests include healthcare and disability history, political and public policy history, legal history, immigration history, New York State history, gender and sexuality studies, and race and ethnicity studies.
In addition to her scholarship, Hannah is herself a political activist focusing on healthcare and disability policy and education. She established Caring for Us Indivisible in January of 2017, an organization focused on protecting, defending, and raising awareness about the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and reproductive rights institutions like Planned Parenthood. As part of the New York Indivisible Coalition, she has advocated for healthcare reform and disability rights in meetings with state and federal officials. Combining her intellectual and political interests in healthcare policy, Hannah convened and moderated a panel of scholars, lawyers, social workers, and professional healthcare advocates that offered methodologies for an intersectional approach to healthcare equity.