I have been at Gallaudet since 2005 and am passionate about U.S. history because everyone’s identity and politics, whether or not they realize it, is based on their interpretation of the past. Because our perception of history is so important, it is vital that we think critically and deliberately about the past. It is because of this that I enjoy teaching a wide variety of history courses, including disability history, urban history, immigration history, colonial history, African American history, research methods and historiography, and both halves of the U.S. history survey.
Disability history has become my passion. Since I began to focus on disability in 2008, one year after completing my dissertation, I have gained a new sense of purpose for my scholarship. Disability studies, which approaches the topic as a social and cultural phenomenon rather than as a medical condition, has tremendous potential to improve our society, politics, culture, and scholarship. While the field has already made a significant impact, there is still much more to be done. I have never felt as passionate about research and scholarship as I have since joining this field.
My first project in disability studies focuses on John Howard Griffin, author of the 1961 book Black Like Me. By reexamining a work that most think of only in terms of racial issues, I show how scholars can benefit by considering disability alongside (and intersecting with) race, gender, sexuality, and class. When we analyze the role of disability and how it affected race and other issues, this book and the life of its author become much more useful. Griffin’s story and the reception of his work also illustrates how disability remains embedded in our lives, literature, and public discourse, despite efforts to pass over the issue.
From that project on Griffin I saw the need for a broader examination of disability and passing so I edited a book on the topic with historian Dan Wilson titled Disability and Passing: Blurring the Lines of Identity, published by Temple University Press (http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/2251_reg.html, http://amzn.com/1439909806). Although the term usually refers to the way people conceal social markers of impairment to avoid the stigma of disability and pass as “normal,” disability passing also applies to the other ways people manage their identities, which can include exaggerating a condition to get some type of benefit or care. Going further, disability passing encompasses the ways that others impose a specific disability or nondisability identity on someone. As I argue in my essay, it even provides a framework for understanding how the topic of disability is ignored in texts and conversations. The topic of disability passing reveals the dynamic nature of disability and identity and provides insight into what is at stake when it comes to disability and nondisability identification.
Those who are interested in knowing my relationship with disability and what I have learned about myself from my work on disability, identity, and passing can read a blog I wrote for my publisher: http://templepress.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/passing-and-the-liminal-disability-identity/
Now I am working on my next book project which is a monograph, Disability Stigma and American Political Culture, which is under contract with Cambridge University Press. It examines how government disability programs heightened fears of malingering (fear of people faking or exaggerating a disability), affected the treatment of disabled people, and increased the stigma of disability. I argue that this trend, ironically, has only worsened as disability policy has shifted toward civil rights during the past forty years.
For this book I have received two major fellowships. The first was a three-year (2010-2013) Priority Grant from the Gallaudet Research Institute. For 2011-2012 I received a residential fellowship at Syracuse University’s Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies to allow me to focus on research and interact with scholars there.
Before coming to Gallaudet I spent fifteen years in the West where I received my B.A. at Colorado College and my M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Washington in Seattle. I spent one semester teaching at the University of Puget Sound and one year as a visiting instructor at Colorado College, in addition to the teaching I did at the University of Washington.
In my spare time I enjoy backpacking, jogging, working out, following politics obsessively, and spending lots of time with my dog, Levitas. In addition to the outdoors, I also appreciate urban life and do my best to take advantage of all that D.C. has to offer. I like learning about this fascinating city and becoming part of the communities at Gallaudet and in Capitol Hill, where I live.