Early American Disability
Panel organizers: Cristobal Silva, Columbia University email@example.com
Sari Altschuler, CUNY Graduate Center/University of South Florida as of August 2012 firstname.lastname@example.org
Disability studies scholars call disability the “master trope of human disqualification,” emphasizing its ubiquitousness across space and time as well as its sweeping relevance for all people in all places; most of us will be disabled at some point in our lives, these scholars rightly point out, and we can all expect to become permanently impaired if we live long enough. Literary critics in the field have insisted on disability’s centrality to plot—with some arguing for narrative’s dependence on disability. These claims are politically and intellectually useful—if not necessary—but they are also largely ahistorical. Though Americanists studying later periods have been central shapers of the field of disability studies, early Americanists have been largely absent from the conversation. Why? This panel considers the contributions that early American scholars can make to discussions of disability. How might historically nuanced perspectives—and early American perspectives in particular—alter our perceptions of particular impairments and/or broader categories of exclusion? Likewise, how does sustained attention to disability change our understanding of early America? What defines disability in the early era, and how are its modes of visibility (or invisibility) constituted? What rhetorics and representational practices of disability were particular to an early American or Atlantic-world context? What issues are particular to the early American study of disability? What role did disability play in early American communities? In their poetry, prose, or art? We seek to generate a broad discussion in an under-explored area of inquiry. We invite abstracts from historians, literary critics, art historians, musicologists, and other early American scholars and are interested in submissions that treat particular topics in early American disability as well as submissions that theorize disability in early America.