Oxford University Press has published a landmark global study of disability history, “The Oxford Handbook of Disability History.”
The book collects 29 authors with a range of expertise in disability studies to chronicle the complicated nature of disability in society. “Disability has a generally unacknowledged, or even enthusiastically denied, universality,” said Dr. Kim Nielsen, co-editor of the handbook and professor of Disability Studies at The University of Toledo, in a release. “The book is the first volume to represent the global scale of this history, from ancient Greece to British West Africa and post-World War II Hungary and contemporary Japan.”
The work aims to be a benchmark for disability history, a field that emerged along with disability studies in 1980’s not long after the disability-rights movement started to gain momentum in the United States. Disability studies, like the communities that spawned it, has often been a loose, somewhat ill-defined collection of researchers and academics. Recent books like Nielsen’s “A Disability History of the United States (2012)” and Michael Rembis’ and Susan Birch’s “Disability Histories (2014)” have done much to create a foundation for disability history, but having the Oxford University Press publish a collection of this scope is a milestone for the field. “By its very nature, an Oxford Handbook offers legitimacy to disability history, an indication of the field’s growing import,” write the editors in the book’s introduction.
For collaborators, disability history isn’t just about the past, but rather a means of understanding and shaping our current conversations about disability and society. “A disability analysis does not simply mean discerning whether or not historical subjects have a disability, just as a gender or racial analysis does not simply mean discerning the race or sex of historical subjects,” writes Nielsen. “A disability approach analyzes the role of ableism — built structures and social systems that favor the nondisabled — in shaping relationships, systems of power, ideals, disparagements, and the multiple ways of being in the world.”
The Oxford Handbook of Disability History is a hefty tome, with a hefty price tag of $150, but it should provide a solid base of knowledge for our community to understand how we got to where we are, and hopefully, how to move forward.