Disability is not just the story of someone we love or the story of who 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 Kim 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.
“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
“This brave book is full of surprises, a page-turner that tells a story I had not known. In every chapter there is at least one episode that made me shiver. Read it for Kim Nielsen’s fresh interpretations, read it for her wisdom. US history will not look the same.” —Linda K. Kerber, author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies
“Pathbreaking, meticulously researched, and drawing on a stunning array of sources, A Disability History of the United States fundamentally changes our understanding of the nation’s past. I was amazed by Kim Nielsen’s ability to convey a richly peopled history while still detailing a national experience. Disability, Nielsen reminds us, is beautifully and inextricably entangled with all the other forces that shape identities and communities. This remarkable ‘people’s story’ stretches the chronological, analytical, and thematic borders of US and disability history. Everyone interested in US and disability histories will benefit from reading this book.” —Susan Birch, author of Signs of Resistance
“A wonderful, beautifully written, remarkable achievement that will certainly become a classic within the field and should become standard reading.” —Michael A. Rembis, director, Center for Disability Studies, University at Buffalo