24 June 2003

New Directions in Historical Inquiry

Invisible Adjunct is surely not a "fuddy-duddy" for suggesting that a recent article in the American Historical Review advocating a "paradigm shift" towards disability history, was, um, a tad overdone. Catherine Kudlick claims in this article that "disability is so vast in its economic, social, political, cultural, religious, legal, philosophical, artistic, moral, and medical import that it can force historians to reconsider virtually every concept, every event, every 'given' we have taken for granted."

Now I am not saying that disability is unimportant, but I find it really difficult to believe that if I read a history of disability in early America it would completely change my historical outlook. Yes, I can see it now. I'll rename my dissertation and change its focus: "Religion, Race, and Disability in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake."

It's really sad that historians feel like they have to present every idea as the next new thing--the greatest contribution to history since last year's major paradigm shift. I think this is caused by the pressure to publish (and publish brilliantly and frequently). Thus what could have been an interesting article about the place of disability in history and a think piece on how we might reasonably use our understanding of it to shed light on social attitudes in the past became an overblown piece of hyperbole I just can't take seriously.

No wonder the general public doesn't read academic history.


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