American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



This dissertation examines the presentation of disability at three of the most popular sites for the consumption of public history in the United States including the U.S. Capitol, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. I de-construct the cultural and historical narratives and discourses of disability circulating at these sites and offer a visual culture analysis of the images, artifacts, and statuary found at each of them. My study is informed principally by the theories and methods of queer disability studies, visual culture studies, and cultural studies critiques of neoliberalism. I consider how questions of identity, inequality, and power raised by the Disability Rights Movement interact with modes of representation and practices of public history to produce cultural and historical knowledge about physical and cognitive difference. I contend that heteronormative notions of gender and sexuality have structured both the history of people with disabilities and the contemporary presentation of that history for public audiences. Accordingly, I argue that the history of disability in the United States should not be conceptualized or represented solely in terms of political efforts to achieve equal rights and inclusion for those with disabilities. Nor, I contend, should we understand the movement for disability rights in America primarily as a social struggle that has transformed architectural and "attitudinal" barriers. Rather, I propose that the history of people with disabilities in the U.S. must also be understood, explored, and presented, as a history of resistance to, and struggle against, the able-bodied, raced, classed, gendered, and sexed terms of disabled people's inclusion in, and exclusion from, American society. Interpreting U.S. disability history in this way not only permits us to expose and challenge the normative cultural construction and deployment of disability in American life, but also, allows to develop histories of disability not grounded in nondisabled standards, norms, and expectations, of disability and not dependent on the able-bodied status of audiences.

Project Sponsors

The Bilinski Educational Foundation, The Smithsonian Institution, The University of New Mexico Office of Graduate Studies




disability, public, history, visual, culture, queer, studies

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Advisor

Schreiber, Rebecca, PhD.

First Committee Member (Chair)

Brandzel, Amy L., PhD.

Second Committee Member

Goldstein, Alyosha, PhD.

Third Committee Member

Serlin, David H., PhD.