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Dear DHA Members,

This Spring 2008 issue contains a message from the President, information about various upcoming events of interest to historians of disability, news of recent scholarship, and profiles of two DHA members, one from Germany and the other from India.

As always, please feel free to contact Cathy Kudlick with information or suggestions for articles for future newsletters: In the Fall Newsletter look for my interview with A History of Disability author Henri-Jacques Stiker.

From the President

If I had time to write blogs and you had time to read them, you would have known that I spent the first two months of 2008 traveling to various blind school archives in Paris and along the east coast of the United States. It was an exhilarating, but also sobering trip. I thoroughly enjoyed going to places where nobody expressed concern or puzzlement that I was interested in those people. I also appreciated not having to explain my access needs, how I do things, why I need to pull out every book and hold it close to see what’s inside, while armed with magnifier and digital camera. And nobody gives better directions for getting places than people at blind schools! Finally, I benefited from amazing hospitality, lodging on the school grounds for almost nothing, eating in various cafeterias, eavesdropping on staff, teachers, and students.

Even though I was lonely and sometimes wondered if the places I stayed were haunted, I considered myself one of the lucky last visitors to a vanishing world. There was something innocent about these places that would take in a stranger, give her shelter and food for both mind and body. Of course I came credentialed, with my PhD and job and privilege. And I had zero nostalgia for such places as I fought off the vague nausea that comes with breathing the air of paternalism. (Was it my place to launch into a philosophical debate with the blind guide in his early sixties who led me and a Girl Scout troop on a blind-folded tour of the museum?) Still, it felt genuine, not corporate or polished, not manicured and manipulated or hip. Not since my first days as a grad student in the French National Archives did I feel as connected to the history I was studying. With the increasingly posh, computerized, catalogued, regulated, differentiated, stratified, packaged research facilities taking over, there’s seldom the sensation that the nineteenth-century eccentric who wrote the letter you’re reading is standing over your shoulder egging you on. All of this was possible because time has forgotten the blind schools and especially the blind school archives.

But for this same reason the archives are in great danger. At one place that had been one of the most important institutions of blind history, I was shown an attic so filthy and neglected that pages crumbled simply because I opened the door. They didn’t have money for an archivist, so an overworked teacher who happened to love history was coping as best he could. At another place—this one extremely well cataloged and neat—late nineteenth-century newsclippings turned to dust in my fingers. In the best places the poor librarian/archivist had so many other responsibilities that materials piled up, queries went unanswered, and budgets were cut and cut again. It isn’t hard to imagine a siege mentality in which space, time, and humanity have been so compressed that the air has been sucked out. Very few understand the problem. The vast majority of people in the modern world think that history is useless and irrelevant. And fewer still give one iota about the blind. So the history of blind people seems like a Venn diagram that pinpoints the epitome of insignificance.

And yet, as president of our emerging DHA, I carried you and your fellow members with me. I took comfort in being able to hold my head high, knowing that a group of people finds this work not simply interesting but also important. It was so empowering to tell archivists, directors, scholars, kids at blind schools, and even complete strangers at bus stops that I represented the beginning of something new, that there are scores of us around the world undertaking this work. As we all struggle to find time and money to do what we do, take heart that we are finding one another and are making history in the very act of writing it.

And there is much work to do. In addition to convincing the greater world that this history has value, we need to embark on a campaign to preserve the documents and support places where they might reside. We must lobby at the local and state level, work with communities and individuals, as well as with national and international organizations. We must keep abreast of deaths, institutional relocations and closings, and any other events that might yield documents and artifacts. And we must begin the complex task of cataloguing what exists so that others may benefit from these documents.

Our past is our future. Together we will make it happen.


The American Historical Association has at last made the formal appointment of a Task Force to deal with disability issues. The Professional Division will provide three members and DHA two: yours truly, and DHA Board Member Professor Paul Longmore of San Francisco State University. The Task Force will meet for the next three years to hammer out a set of policies and best-practices for the AHA to follow in order to advance disability history as a scholarly field and to create a more welcoming profession. As I have said on more than one occasion, the AHA has considerable clout to influence policies at all levels of the history profession, from K-12 teaching content to tenure and promotion practices at our universities.

We need your feedback about anything you would like to have DHA bring to the table. Please feel free to contact me: or Paul: with any suggestions, comments, hopes, fears, cautions, jokes, etc.

DHA & Upcoming Conferences

  1. The Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, Minneapolis, MN, June 12-15, 2008 ( Come to the DHA reception on Friday, June 13 from 6:00-7:30 at the Minnesota Room in the McNamara Alumni Center (where the main reception for the conference will be held). For panels and papers of interest to disability historians, Board Member Penny Richards has provided the following list: Disability History at the Berks.
  2. Society for Disability Studies, New York City, USA, June 18-21, 2008 ( For panels and papers of interest to disability historians, DHA Board Member Penny Richards has provided the following list: Disability History at SDS.
  3. Disability History: Theory and Practice, San Francisco State University, July 31-August 3, 2008. San Francisco State University's Institute on Disability, the Disability History Association, and the Disability History Group of the United Kingdom will jointly host Disability History: Theory and Practice, a conference at San Francisco State University, 31 July-3 August 2008. View the complete conference announcement.

DHA Finally Has PayPal!

It is now possible for people to join and renew their DHA membership using PayPal. Instructions for using PayPal to pay memberships fees are posted on our membership page:

News from the UK and Canada

Recent Work in Disability History

Simon Hayhoe of the UK has just published God, Money, and Politics: English Attitudes to Blindness and Touch, from Enlightenment to Integration (Information Age Publishing):

Pieter Verstraete of Belgium sends news of completing his dissertation at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, “Disability History: A Foucauldian Perspective.” To read more, click here.

Greg Carrier, a budding medievalist and blogger in Canada, reports that there is enough “critical mass” to form a Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages. To read more, click here.

Member Stories

Susanne Pohl-Zucker (Germany) and Jagdish (Jags) Chander (India) offer reflections on their work from their respective countries. What makes someone take up research on a subject that constantly needs to be justified and explained? How do they use and stretch existing institutional frameworks to accept not just scholarship but a paradigm that is new and sometimes threatening? And how do they blend scholarship and activism? Together they suggest our international scope and the vastly divergent roads that lead to doing this work.

Susanne Pohl-Zucker

Jagdish Chander

© The Disability History Association, 2008

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