People with disabilities now represent the largest minority in the world. In the United States, more than 54 million people (approximately 19% of the population) have identifiable disabilities. The World Health Organization estimates that between 650 million and 1 billion people the world over are living with disabilities. In recent decades, scholars have begun to critique the rich and complicated meaning of disability. The proliferation of disability studies programs in higher education throughout the world reflects the centrality of disability and disabled people in our lives and in our research. Scholars in various fields within the humanities have drawn attention to disability as an innovative category of analysis. The field of disability history, a cornerstone discipline within disability studies, has evolved significantly in the past decade. Inventive methodologies, interpretations, and borders—temporal and geographic—distinguish this new generation of scholarship. Incorporating, expanding, and sometimes challenging traditional historical models of interpretation, disability history scholars examine the meaning of such fundamental concepts as identity, community, citizenship, and “normalcy” and recover the lives, places, and stories of individuals, groups and organizations that have long been marginalized, silenced, and actively oppressed throughout the world. Growing inclusion of disability topics in general history classes, and greater attention to the importance of disability history necessitates a panel that brings together the best scholars in disability history to discuss its many strengths, to point out areas of collaboration and possibilities for interdisciplinary research, and highlight the areas that need to be explored in greater detail.
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