Teaching Engaged Anthropology: Disability History at UNC-CH

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 12.41.52 PMThis spring, I am very excited to be working with medical anthropologist Dr. Lauren Fordyce, instructor of the Anthropology of Disability course at UNC-CH, and Dr. Neel Ahuja, instructor for the Disability Studies course housed in the English department, to launch an applied undergraduate course project that seeks to contribute to a sense of disability history at UNC-CH. While the UNC-CH library system houses many excellent archives documenting the histories of various oppressed groups coming into visibility on the campus, there as of yet is not a disability history collection. By working with undergraduate students and networks of disability allies and advocates on campus and in the broader community, we have dreamed up a project that will gather oral histories relating to activism and access on the UNC-CH campus.

This local project will eventually link up with the national ADA Legacy Project, which I learned about at the 2013 Society for Disability Studies meeting. The 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act is on July 26, 2015; The ADA Legacy Project is a national effort that is working to preserve the history of the disability rights movement; celebrate its milestones; and educate the public and future generations of disability advocates.

This project furthers the tradition that Dr. William Lachicotte (creator of the UNC-CH Anthropology of Disability course) and CCDJ launched a few years back, that the undergraduate students in the Anthropology of Disability at UNC-CH conduct an applied project.

As the Graduate Research Consultant for the ADA Legacy Project at UNC-CH, I worked with Dr. Fordyce to plan and develop the research design for the project. I have been busily working the networks, reaching out to folks across campus to recruit people to be interviewed. With the participant list in place, I am working with Dr. Fordyce and Dr. Ahuja to train and support undergraduate students to conduct oral history interviews (often for the first time), to analyze their interviews and draft blogpost oral history narratives that meet the approval of their interviewees, and to create and publicize a digital archive for these interviews. With Stevie Larson, I’ve also been posting sample topical and archival blogposts on UNC-CH disability history issues, and helping students to craft and revise their own informational posts.

I couldn’t be more excited about the work the students have done so far, and the amazing narratives that the interviewees are contributing. As always, this is a learning process for all of us, and we can only just begin to now peek over the horizon to imagine what knowledge this work will produce.

Stay tuned for an announcement of the official launch party for the ADA Legacy Project blog when student oral histories will be posted, and in the meantime, follow the project on Twitter!

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