Disability and Democracy
A DISABILITY HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.
By Kim E. Nielsen.
Beacon Press. 240 pp. $25.95
In the introduction to their influential 2001 volume The New Disability History, editors Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky rightly noted that American historians have largely overlooked disability in their narratives. It is therefore invigorating to read Kim Nielsen’s A Disability History of the United States, which focuses attention on people with disabilities, some of whom are known, and many of whom have been forgotten.
Nielsen excavates the long-buried history of physical difference in America and shows how disability has been a significant factor in the formation of democratic values. From the start, the United States, perhaps more than any other nation, has combined the opportunity to work with narratives of individual ambition: The Puritan work ethic and the Horatio Alger story reflect a cultural imagination that has always been preoccupied with myths of individualism and independence. But Nielsen shows that people with disabilities also reflect the progressive idealism of the United States.
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Stephen Kuusisto teaches at the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies at Syracuse University. He is the author of the memoir Planet of the Blind (1997).more from this author >>
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