August 13, 2010
By Debbie Ann Doyle
Paul Longmore, a member of the AHA Task Force on Disability, passed away on August 9, 2010. Longmore was professor of history and director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. He specialized in early American history and the history of people with disabilities.
His first book, based on his dissertation at Claremont Graduate School, was The Invention of George Washington (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). An activist as well as a scholar, he famously burned a copy of the book to protest Social Security and Medicaid policies that created work disincentives for people with disabilities. His collection of writings on the history of disability and the disability rights movement, Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability (Temple University Press, 2003), has become a classic in the field. Dedicated to bringing rigorous historical scholarship to disability studies, Longmore argued that disability, like race, class, and gender, was an important frame for understanding the history of power, politics, and culture. At the time of his death, he was completing a project on the cultural history of telethons.
In addition to his scholarship, Longmore was a passionate activist and public intellectual whom the media frequently consulted on disability issues. In 2005, he received the Henry B. Betts Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). His speech on the history of the disability rights movement at the San Francisco celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26 offers a glimpse of his blend of activism and scholarship. He represented the Disability History Association, an AHA affiliate, on the Task Force on Disability, which is charged with ensuring that the AHA addresses the concerns of historians with disabilities.
Moving tributes to his life by fellow scholars, students, and activists are proliferating on the web, including remembrances by National Public Radio, Penny L. Richards of the disability studies program at Temple University, and blogger and activist Stephen Drake, who is linking to other posts celebrating his life.
Paul Longmore was generous with his time and advice, a valued mentor to students and scholars all over the country whose kindness and sense of humor will be sorely missed.
Debbie Ann Doyle is the AHA’s Public History Coordinator and staffs the Task Force on Disability.