Globalizing Disability History: Contributions from Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia

AHA Session 31
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Susan Burch, Middlebury College
Holly Caldwell, Chestnut Hill College
Aparna Nair, University of Oklahoma
Sara Scalenghe, Loyola University Maryland
Wei Yu Wayne Tan, Hope College

Session Abstract

Disability history has come of age. The books and articles on U.S. and European disability history published each year are too many too count, and the breadth and depth of the topics they cover is simply impressive. This remarkably rich and vibrant field, however, has one major shortcoming: the paucity of histories of disability in world regions other than Western Europe, the United States, and Canada. Perhaps unavoidably, the result is the distinct Euro-American centrism of the field, which is especially problematic considering that an estimated 80 percent of the world’s disabled people do not live in Europe, the United States, or Canada. To be sure, there is a substantial body of scholarship on disability and the Global South (including an international interdisciplinary journal by that very name) from anthropological, development, health, Cultural Studies, and other contemporary approaches. But historical perspectives and historical context are all too often lacking.

This roundtable aims to build new bridges and start fresh conversations both among historians of disability and among historians of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In no more than ten minutes each, the four speakers will first succinctly present the main findings of their recent research, which includes blindness, deafness, and physical impairments from the early modern period to the twentieth century. Because the goal of this roundtable is to be to be interactive and collaborative, we will then promptly engage the audience so that we can collectively brainstorm similarities and differences in perceptions and experiences of disability across space and time. Some of the questions we will raise include: When did the word “disability” acquire meaning outside of Europe and the U.S.? How did local modernization projects, missionary and colonial encounters, the introduction of biomedicine and of new technologies for disabilities, industrialization, and the creation of nation-states affect the lives of people with different impairments? By the end of the session, we hope to have made some progress towards illuminating the specific ways in which globalizing disability history compels us to rethink or at least nuance our Euro-American centric narratives and to deepen our understanding of the category of disability itself.

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