Encyclopedia of American Disability History
by Susan Burch, Paul K. LongmoreEditorial Reviews
Publisher: Facts on File (August 2009)
Publication Date: August 2009 | ISBN-10: 081607030X | ISBN-13: 978-0816070305
Like race and gender, disability history has recently become a critical field of study in examining our nation’s heritage. Sparked by the disability rights movement of the late 20th century, disability history both expands and challenges the traditional American narrative of self-reliance, individualism, and opportunity and yields new understandings of such bedrock American values as community, family, and citizenship. From the asylum movement of the 19th century and the cover-up of Franklin Roosevelt’s paralysis during his presidency to the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act and the impact of every war on veterans’ physical and mental health, the experience of disability – and society’s reaction to it – has changed markedly from one era to the next. The definitions of disability have also changed since the colonial era, revealing competing views, approaches, and attitudes. “Encyclopedia of American Disability History” is the first encyclopedia to focus on this important topic in American history. By examining the issues, events, people, activism, laws, and personal experiences and social ramifications of disability throughout U.S. history, this comprehensive three-volume reference provides a new and broader, more inclusive approach to our nation’s past. More than 300 historians, scholars, and experts contributed to the more than 750 articles in this impressive work. Arranged alphabetically, each signed article includes cross-references to related entries and suggestions for further reading. Ideal for the high school and college curriculum, this accessible new encyclopedia also includes a comprehensive chronology and dozens of original documents. Entries include: Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf; Amputees and amputation; Asperger’s Syndrome; Blind Boys of Alabama; Buck v. Bell; Disability art and artistic expression; Down Syndrome; Eugenics; Thomas Gallaudet; The Glass Menagerie; Guide dogs; Impairment/impaired; Little People of America; Long-term care; Million Dollar Baby; Miss Deaf America; Reproductive rights; South Park; Special Olympics; Ugly Laws; Workers’ compensation; and The Yellow Wallpaper.
*Starred Review* By taking a historical approach, Encyclopedia of American Disability History effectively removes disability from the realm of “medical pathology” and allows readers to understand it in social and cultural terms. The encyclopedia embraces four core themes: the importance of disability in American history, the need to explain disability historically, the diversity and similarity of experiences among the disabled, and the “necessity of comparing those histories of disability with one another.” Twelve anchor entries of roughly 3,000 words cover broad themes such as Activism and advocacy, Community, Daily life, Disability art and artistic expression, Education, Employment and labor, Language and terminology, and Science and technology. The remainder of the approximately 780 entries average 500 to 1,000 words each and cover specific events, laws, people, experiences, and other topics. Examples range from the expected American with Disabilities Act, Easter Seals, Hearing aids, and Muscular dystrophy to the more surprising Circus, Disasters and disaster recovery, Doonesbury, and X-Men. A number of entries discuss literary works such as Of Mice and Men or films such as Born on the Fourth of July. Others, such as Feebleminded, examine terminology. Numerous entries are accompanied by primary documents (73 in all), including letters, interviews, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, laws, speeches, and literary works. Conceptual entries are frequently followed by personal quotes (68 in all). The encyclopedia’s many substantial biographies cover individuals rarely found in other reference works, such as deaf missionary Philip Hasenstab, and individuals noted for their work in disability, such as theologian Stanley Hauerwas. Individuals were selected for inclusion because they embody themes “important for understanding American disability history.” The work starts with a detailed chronology and concludes with an extensive bibliography. Sage’s Encyclopedia of Disability (2005) also offers a social and cultural lens through which to view disability, but its coverage is worldwide and is not as focused on a historical standpoint. Offering a unique perspective, Encyclopedia of American Disability History is highly recommended for academic and large public libraries. Also available as an e-book. –Charles Becker