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A Disability History of the United States
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A Disability History of the United States

(ReVisioning American History #2)

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  595 ratings  ·  84 reviews
The first book to cover the entirety of disability history, from pre-1492 to the present
Disability is not just the story of someone we love or the story of whom 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 experienc
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 1st 2013 by Beacon Press (first published October 2nd 2012)
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Yaaresse She's not really offering her own definition, but rather explaining what the term has meant at various times throughout history and what drove changes…moreShe's not really offering her own definition, but rather explaining what the term has meant at various times throughout history and what drove changes in the definitions through time and as society changed. (less)

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About what you'd expect for a survey of 300+ years that weighs in at under 200 pages. Uneven coverage of different disabilities or types of disabilities and reliant upon secondary sources. I wish it had been organized thematically instead of just chronologically, because the examples within each historical period didn't necessarily hang together just because they occurred at roughly the same time. Also, seemed like Neilsen was trying hard to write for a general audience, but her tone swung betwe ...more
This was a good beginner's primer to the history of disability in the US. I think it was a great choice to add to the library at my work. I appreciated the intersectional analyses of race, class, gender and sexuality that is so often missing from books like this--not that there are many in the first place. I do think that there could have easily been more depth in each chapter, and was a bit disappointed that it ended with the passage of the ADA which was about 25 years ago now; it would have be ...more
Kara Jorgensen
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting, and I like the intersectional approach. At times, I wish there were more specifics on groups, like the blind, deaf, or those with epilepsy, etc.
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A Disability History of the United States by Kim E. Nielsen

"A Disability History of the United States" is the informative book about the history of the United States through experiences of people with disabilities. It's a story of stigma and pride denied, it's a journey of overcoming special challenges to make oneself at home. Professor of history and author of three books, Kim E. Nielsen takes the reader on an enlightening and often-disregarded history in the United States through the lives of
While providing only a brief survey of disability in the US, Nielsen consistently reminds readers that disability is stratified by race, gender, class, and sexuality. Historically, disability has been bound up with oppression (women, queers, poor people, and POC have all been understood as disabled at times) and with assumptions about one's ability to engage in productive labor. Industrialization intensified the number of people with disabilities (due to unsafe living and working conditions) and ...more
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great book. Normally, I write pretty extensive reviews of books because I have a terrible memory and enjoy going back and remembering my thoughts on a book. I don't particularly feel the need to write a long review here because this book is going to be a kind of reference for me.

Nielsen does a great job of stuffing a complex and long history into an easily readable 189 pages. The book doesn't offer an exhaustive history, but serves its purpose well: to give a foundational history of disability
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good, VERY general overview of a history of disability in the United States. Nielsen covers 300+ years of history in less than 200 pages. I would love for this to be expanded into a series, since I would gladly read "A Disability History of the United States: 1492-1692" or "A Disability History of the United States: 1950-1990". There's entirely too much content to cover, and much of the material seemed to lean towards physical disabilities.

What I found fascinating within the content is once th
Nielsen covers a lot of time and ground in about 250 pages, so buckle up for a fast ride.

This book is basically a history book, and, as such, the author is not trying to solve the country's injustice issues or do any activism here. The point of this rather slim volume is to provide an overview of the topic. There's no deep dive into any one aspect of disability history. An entire series could be written on this subject and not fully address every group, law, injustice, etc.

What Nielsen does is
Jan 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: unfinished
Having already taken a class on United States disability history, I wasn’t able to finish this book because it was too much of a repeat of what I had already learned. It does provide a good synopsis of disability history in the US but can be repetitive at times. The structure is odd in sections because themes are repeated in different timelines. It may have worked better if the author organized the book by themes rather than time in order to avoid repetition. I would recommend this book to someo ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it liked it
This book would have been so much more readable if it had been arranged topically rather than by decade. I felt like I was reading the same stuff over and over. I also recognize that physical disabilities are the most visible but I would have liked to have read more about intellectual and developmental disabilities or care for the multiply disabled.
Katie Goldey
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great read - lots of really interesting info and history on disability rights movement, as well as the intersection with the labor movement and other civil rights movements. Wish it included a bit more about intellectual / cognitive disability (there is some). It mostly focuses on physical disability and deafness. However, overall, this is a really great, informative and quick read.
Mar 09, 2018 rated it liked it
A solid, brief introduction to US disability history that successfully argues disability to be overdue in claiming its rightful place as a framework for historical analysis alongside race, gender, and class.
Kim Nielsen ditches disability's historiographical tradition of being extracted, and instead reinvents disability as a lens, much like race and gender. While the book is short, and not particularly deep, it is a start to understanding the ways in which the people of America interacted and responded to whatever they took disability to be, which is a step in the right direction. ...more
Jun 08, 2017 rated it liked it
There's some great information here, but this easily could have been an entire series--so many issues and eras are touched on only for a page or two.

Also--this book covers as far as the ADA in 1990 but doesn't mention the Capitol Crawl protest!
David H.
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic general overview of disability history, from the way disability was even defined (and changed over time) to how families and people and governments have handled the disabled in their midst (varying widely between compassion and disgust). The only flaw with this book is that it ends before I want it to, and that it's also not three times as long. The timeline is just too big for a book like this. I know from reading deaf-specific histories just how much one can dig into this-- ...more
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kindle Daily Deal | I got this four years ago, when it was a $0.99 deal, and then was never in the mood for it, and not reading it was a mistake. | This was very interesting, covered a broad period (15th century to about 1990), but still had enough detailed stories to feel personalized. The author did a good job of recognizing the way race, class, and gender impacted disability, or even defined disability, at various points in history, and discussed intersectionality not just among those groups ...more
Chelsea Sue
Don’t misread my 3 stars— this book is important and critical reading. I’d recommend this book based solely on how well the author incorporated intersectionality into disability history (race, sex/gender, class all affected how a person’s disability was perceived). Still, it was a surface level introduction (which, I know, is the point of the book) and wished it went on a little longer. Also, it abruptly ended on the passage of the 1990 passage of the ADA. This book was written in 2012 and I wis ...more
Kaylee Bolton
Dec 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Though I believe Nielsen has a good background in the topic, it just seemed like a lot of the claims in this book were reaching. For example, in the first chapter, there was example after example of indigenous tribes “finding a place for disabled people”, without thorough detail. In addition, this book would have been much more successful in educating the reader if it were more specific. I began the book assuming, incorrectly, that it would cover a history of intellectual disabilities in the U.S ...more
Dusty Roether
Feb 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, disability
As a deaf and blind person, I recently realized how little I actually knew about the history of disability in the United States, and to no surprise, this book featured prominently in my searches. I definitely learned a lot here despite the breadth of time covered in the span of just 200 pages. While I certainly don't feel like I've learned all there is to know--I will move on from this to delve deeper with other books--I feel like this survey has given me a good foundational understanding of whe ...more
Apr 05, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: disability-crit
I read most of this for a class, then figured I might as well finish it. It was an okay introductory disability history, but it often elided over the historical and thematic nuances of what disability means and how individuals interact with wider notions of disability community. It often felt too universalizing, using ultra-localized examples to stand in for national trends without really exploring how some disabled individuals didn't fit into or actively resisted those trends. And it definitely ...more
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting, well-written primer of disability history. The best parts of the book explore ableism as a lens through which sexism and racism were reinforced (e.g. labeling slaves as disabled, or “physically and mentally inferior,” provided a rationale for their exploitation). It also made good points about industrialization’s influence on the construction of disability. However, due to its brevity, the book glosses over quite a bit, and some of the examples Nielsen uses seem cherry-p ...more
Carrie Mills
This is a solid introductory read for those seeking to learn more about the history of sickness and disability in the United States. Nielsen takes care to expand the narrative to include the experiences of Native Americans, enslaved Africans, African Americans, Asian immigrants, and Asian Americans. The book is about 185 pages of content and it's a lot to fit in, so most sections stay at a cursory level. Still, Nielsen takes the time to present short vignettes in each section about the lived exp ...more
Kass James
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Starting with Pre-Western imperialism and finishing with 1990's ADA legislation, this book gives a good overview of the evolution of disability rights and social status within the United States. While I do feel like the more recent legal and social changes could have been expanded into something more useful, the book is a good summary of rights and advocacy over the past 600 years.
I would consider this to be primary reading material for any introduction into disability rights in America.
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read for Book Riot Read Harder Challenge - alternate history. A little dry at the beginning but really good as it goes and does a good job of being intersectional, highlighting experience of indigenous communities and perspectives on disability and talking about the movements to challenge ableism. I wish it went more into what happened in the 70s-90s, especially the work that spurred the passage of the ADA. But definitely an important read!
Tory Cross
Apr 25, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: owned, bad, covidreading
I'm really bummed because I'm disabled and was really looking forward to reading this but it is. Not good. I gave up after the first chapter - specifically because the author talks about the impact on Indigenous people during the European conquest of disease and how that influenced disability, but did not even mention the genocide perpetuated by the European colonists and how much that contributed to death and disability for Indigenous people. DNFd. ...more
Christina Zable
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Four stars for being good, scholarly historical work; the fifth star for being interesting, thought-provoking material that broadened my mind and worldview. Be aware that some of the material in here is kind of harsh (eugenics, forced sterilization, murder and abuse of enslaved people, decimation of the Native population).
Chester Blackwell
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that makes you cry because it inspires you. As a disabled person, this book reminds me of all the people who fought and died for my rights, knowing that they themselves would never get those rights.

One turn off is that the author is abled, but generally it's a very good brief history and I definitely recommend it.
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book uses select incidents from our nation's history to illustrate the changing attitudes toward disability and the fight for disability rights. Nielsen's approach is intersectional, constantly reminding us how the treatment of people with disabilities is entwined with race, gender, sexuality, wealth, and class. It's a great primer on disability history in the U.S. ...more
Helen L Goodman
Nov 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Important Read

This book provided a lot of information and context around the history of disability in America. The disabled, as a group, often get left out of discussions on civil rights so having this history was very enlightening and yet also painful to read about the cruelty that some have had to endure.
Jan 08, 2017 rated it liked it
The writing is a bit academic when I expected a lot more passion about the history of disability. One thing that hit me with shocking clarity was that historically, the fight included a demand for the right to work and be treated like anyone else.

It is ironic given that automation and outsourcing and globalization are removing jobs from our country at such a clip the future of the availability of work is in question leading to a strong argument for universal basic income.

I am disabled so I can
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Ever since I was a kid exploring my community's old Carnegie library, I had loved biography! Now I'm professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Studying history means I get to read biography and consider it work. My most recent book is Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller (Bea ...more

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ReVisioning American History (5 books)
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