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Disability History

The following primary source set, created using materials from the Library of Congress, contains a vast array of sources focused on Disability History in the United States. Disability has been interwoven into America’s history since the country’s inception through letters, images, newspapers, diaries and other primary sources. The set provides a comprehensive look into a wide range of Library of Congress resources.

Deformity and Disability in Ancient Greece

This lesson focuses on the study of deformities and disabilities in ancient Greece in relation to their societal norms. Students will compare the images of two Greek gods, Zeus and Hephaestus. They will read excerpts from three ancient Greek philosophers; Plato, Aristotle and Plutarch regarding people with disabilities as well as the myth explaining the birth of Hephaestus on Mount Olympus. Students will be able to analyze a variety of ancient sources to draw conclusions about society’s view of people with disabilities in ancient Greece.

New Primary Source Set! Eugenics: Preoccupation with Genetic Fitness and Threats of Difference & Disability

Published on Fri, 02/08/2019

The Eugenics movement in the early 20th century United States, a pseudo-scientific amalgamation of social Darwinist philosophy and animal breeding management, gained widespread approval across the country and influenced many internationally, most notably in the the Nazi racial policies of the era leading up to World War II. This primary source set includes newspaper articles, photographs, cartoons, notes on legal cases, a video interview with a man sterilized without consent when he was a boy, a radio report on non-conse

Injuries and Disability in 19th Century Industry

In this lesson students will learn that incurring a disability at work was a common occurrence of the Industrial Revolution.  This lesson integrates disability history content within a larger 14-day unit on the Industrial Revolution. The lesson plan provides a series of activities that highlight the importance of children and adults with disabilities in 19th century workplaces, and the ways primary source photographs provide information and inspire critical questions.

Nellie Bly 1887: Exposing Treatment of those with Mental Illness

In this lesson, students will explore several primary sources addressing the treatment of people with mental illness at Blackwell Island in New York in the mid to late 1800s.  After analyzing the sources, students will discuss our responsibility and the responsibility of government to people with mental illness and cognitive disability. Period film, photographs, maps, and a written account by pioneering investigative journalist Nellie Bly animate the lesson.

Reforming American Society with Dix and Mann

The instrumental role Dorothea Dix played in reforming prisons and mental institutions, and the actions of Horace Mann in his campaign for free public education are at the center of this lesson. How did improvements in conditions for people in the public charge, whether prisoners or people institutionalized because of disability, come about? How did the the idea of who gets to be educated change? By focusing attention on the strategies used by these social reformers, the lesson engages students in critical thinking about the methods of reformers as well as their goals.

Who Should Care for America’s Veterans?

Care for veterans is relevant to understanding war and the role of government, and is critical to disability history. In this lesson, students gather information through a variety of primary sources on the experiences of veterans from the War of Independence through today. They ask, ‘How has U.S. government care for veterans changed over time?’ Using their evidence, students develop a proposal to today’s Veterans Administration that outlines how veterans should be cared for. 

Ancient Rome’s Veterans with Disabilities: Roman Accounts and U.S. Veteran Comparisons

This lesson features both ancient texts referring to the lives of Roman soldiers after they were wounded in battle and images and recordings of American veterans. Students will compare how two societies separated by centuries think about and act toward veterans who live with a disability. The lesson includes activities that offer opportunities to move in the classroom, write, draw, collaborate, and learn from varied primary sources in written, visual, and audio media.

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