Disability in the United States

HIST-A 398 — Fall 2022 — Themester

Days and Times
MW 9:45 AM–11:00 AM
Course Description

Disability is a nearly universal condition. Everyone becomes disabled if they live long enough. Yet, not until recently have scholars begun to historicize disability. Not until recently have they recognized that disability—both as a concept and as a collection of lived experiences—changes over time and in relation to the specific societies in which it is embedded.

In this reading-intensive seminar, we will explore disability as it has pertained to a variety of institutions, eras, and events in U.S. history, including slavery and emancipation, immigration, the Progressive Era, World Wars I and II, and the Great Depression. We will examine several phenomena that have particularly defined or shaped disability in the United States, including the birth of the asylum, the rise and fall of eugenic science, modern campaigns for veterans’ health care, the emergence of a disability civil rights movement, and passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Recurring themes will include the distinction between disability and physical, intellectual, and psychological impairment; the relationship between disability and race, class, gender, and sexuality; and the interplay between disability and capitalist ideologies of labor and productivity. We will analyze medical and social models of disability, and we will also grapple with ableism, a perspective that normalizes or otherwise privileges the able-bodied at the expense of the impaired. In so doing, we will contemplate the ways in which ability and disability have mutually constituted one another throughout U.S. history.

Instructor:  Dr. Benjamin H. Irvin