Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In Memoriam: Famed Disability Studies scholar Paul Longmore dies

By BA Haller
Media dis&dat
(Photo by Suzanne Levine)

The academic Disability Studies community and the disability rights community are stunned by the news August 10 that the ground-breaking Disability Studies scholar Paul Longmore, a professor at San Francisco State University, died August 9.

I knew Paul since the early 1990s, when I began attending Society for Disability Studies meetings. He was one of the few scholars in the early days of Disability Studies who investigated media and disability topics.

Four of his particularly important early media and disability articles were:

-- "Screening Stereotypes: Images of Disabled People in Television and Motion Pictures." Social Policy 16 (Summer 1985): 31‑37.

-- "The Cultural Framing of Disability: Telethons as a Case Study," in A Conference on Disability Studies and the University," PMLA 120, no. 2 (March 2005): 1-13.

-- "A Note on Language and the Social Identity of Disabled People." American Behavioral Scientist 28 (January/February 1985): 419‑423.

-- "The Glorious Rage of Christy Brown," film review disseminated to disability community agencies and publications in a publicity packet, (Summer 1989).

All of these articles were collected his 2003 book, Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability (Philadelphia: Temple University Press).

I saw Paul often at conferences and attended the 2008 conference he hosted at SFSU on disability history. But my fondest memory of him was a casual lunch we shared during the summer of 1997, when I was in N. California working at the San Jose Mercury News. I remember the energy and passion he had when we chatted about Disability Studies research. I shared that passion, and his seminal articles informed my own research.

If you would like to share your memories of Paul, send them to me at bah621@gmail.com and I will post them. Here are a few:

-- Dr. Leslie Roman, Department of Educational Studies, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada: "I am very moved by the loss of Paul Longmore, whose work and life has set the course for a global equality for the disability movement. As an educator, political activist and consummate scholar, he is irreplaceable and forever appreciated. I have for years assigned his work and thought how much his influence has meant to many of us. It is so important for all of us to carry on in his name and vision working for social justice and the recognition of our rights."

-- Devva Kasnitz, Ph.D., President, Society for Disability Studies, http://www.disstudies.org/; Fellow, Society for Applied Anthropology Committee on Minority Affairs, American Anthropological Association; Director, Disability Studies, NAPA-OT Field School, Antigua, Guatemala: "Dear Friends, I'm sitting here in Guatemala at Transiciones, the only true CIL in Guatemala crying. I could tell you about Paul as a scholar, Paul as a friend, Paul as an activist. But you know that already. I am so happy to be here with my peers. May you all have the support I have right now. I'm thinking of you all now. We will celebrate Paul's life when next we all meet."

-- Assoc. Professor Helen Meekosha, School of Social Sciences and International Studies, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia: "Paul’s sudden death is a tragedy for the disability movement worldwide. As a friend I would like to acknowledge his influence on my work and on my life. I am sure I speak for those in the movement in Australia who either had met Paul, heard him speak or knew his work, when I say that we are all the poorer for his death. We need his passion and his clarity of thought, but he has gone and we must continue with the struggles. All strength to those in SF who work and live closely with Paul. Paul was a gentle and supportive person, a man of courage, of vision, of wit."\

-- Dr. Julie Anderson, Chair of the Disability History Group, UK and Europe; Senior Lecturer History of Modern Medicine, School of History, Rutherford College, University of Kent, UK: "On behalf of the Disability History Group, I would like to express our shock and sadness at Paul Longmore’s passing. His passion for disability rights and his dedication to the practice of disability history were an inspiration to us all. Paul spoke at two of our conferences in Britain, and we were always struck by his intellectual rigour, his commitment to the highest standards of scholarship and his wonderful dry sense of humour. (He told us at one conference in Manchester that he needed Dramamine after I wielded the camera during his question and answer session.) Paul used his incredible drive and energy to help others – he was generous with compliments and his comments were always constructively critical and thought provoking. He was always keen to discuss and debate issues surrounding disability and engage the wider community. RIP Paul – you will be missed by scholars and friends around the world."

-- David Goldberger: "Back in the early 1990s I was a graduate student in history at Stanford, struggling to find a good topic for a research paper– and, as graduate students do, struggling to find my way. Paul, a visiting professor at the time, shared a newspaper article with me — an interview with a young woman in the mid-1930s, in which she described her sit-ins at WPA headquarters. What followed was a close collaboration with Paul that lasted long after my time in graduate school, as we researched and wrote an article on the League of the Physically Handicapped — this incredible group of men and women who, finding themselves labeled “unemployable” by 1930s employment agencies, challenged the discriminatory policies and predominant societal views of disability in their day. Paul was an exceptional teacher and friend. He provided me a crash course in disability studies — suggesting readings and sharing his own personal experiences with the patience, generosity and eloquence that he seemed to bring to all of his encounters. He was fearless, engaging and unequivocating — all the while maintaining a good historian’s sense of balance and proportion. Balance and proportion — but only where balance and proportion was due. But forget all of that for a minute… What I *most* remember about Paul — more than the history, or politics, or teaching — is how incredibly quick witted and downright hilarious he could be. No discussion was complete without a clever pun, a self-deprecating aside, or a bawdy joke. Paul was the real deal — and really, *really* fun to be around. He was a crack-up, and I’ll miss him."

-- Steve Rosenbaum, Staff Attorney, Disability Rights California; Lecturer,
UC Berkeley School of Law: "Paul Longmore was the embodiment of the disability scholar/ activist. I once heard him introduced as the 'James Dean of Disability Studies.' That title captured as much the intellectual as the rebel and the down-to-earth man he was."

-- Maggie Dee, KUSF Disability and Senior News Report: "Interviewing Paul Longmore several time on KUSF 90.3 FM "Disability and Senior News Report" left me feeling like I had just talked with a man whose sense of humor was unparalleled, the consummate professor at S.F. State U. and God knows among the strongest voices objecting to Physician Assisted Suicide. I bumped into Paul at the Abilities Expo a few years ago. He was just beaming with joy moments after he purchased a mini-van. Ahead of him was to equipped the modifications with a computer system which allowed Paul to drive. He said that he thoroughly researched the modifications which would allow him to drive his van. He was cautiously ecstatic about his purchase...and oh that smile! Paul lit up the room! He will be sorely missed...but remembered for his work, love and respect for our community."

-- Pamela Block, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Occupational Therapy, School of Health Technology & Management, SUNY-Stony Brook, NY: "Paul Longmore was there when I gave my first presentation to a disability studies audience after getting my Ph.D. He was so encouraging and even suggested a journal whose editor he knew as a venue for publication. I strive to be the kind of mentor Paul was."

Stephen Drake of Not Dead Yet has an excellent post about Paul here, which includes a video of Paul speaking about the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Here's a remembrance of Paul from law office of Lainey Feingold, Disability Rights Legal Advocacy.

The Disability Studies blog at Temple University remembers Paul here.

Here's the NPR obituary of Paul by Joseph Shapiro.

Paul Longmore spoke about the emerging field of disability history on this podcast in 2008.

For more information about Paul Longmore, you can visit his website at the Institute on Disability at SFSU. Here's his biography from that site:

Paul K. Longmore, Professor of History and Director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, specializes in Early American history and the history of people with disabilities. He earned his Ph.D. at the Claremont Graduate School and his B.A. and M.A. at Occidental College.

Longmore's book The Invention of George Washington (University of California Press, 1988; paper University Press of Virginia, 1998) is a study of Washington as a political actor and conscious shaper of his public image. Longmore has also written articles in scholarly journals and newspapers on themes related to Early American history and to the history of people with disabilities and their contemporary civil rights struggle. With Lauri Umansky, he co-edited The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York University Press, 2001), an anthology of essays, and is co-editing a book series, The History of Disability, for NYU Press. A collection of his writings entitled Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability was published by Temple University Press in 2003.

He has taught at Stanford University, the University of Southern California, and the California Polytechnic University at Pomona.

San Francisco State University's Institute on Disability is a pioneering multidisciplinary research, curriculum-development, and community-service program. From 1983 to 1986, Longmore served as the administrator of the Program in Disability and Society at the University of Southern California, one of the first disability studies projects in the United States.

Longmore was featured in the historical documentary film “George Washington: The Man Who Wouldn't Be King” on the PBS series The American Experience. He has been interviewed regarding disability-related issues on ABC's Nightline, ABC's World News Tonight, NBC's Today, and National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, as well as in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, McCall's, and TV Guide.

He has obtained grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct a Summer Institute on Disability Studies, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association for research on George Washington, the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research to examine the impact of disability studies curricula, and the U.S. Department of Education to direct a mentoring project to facilitate the transition of students with disabilities from college to careers. He has also received an Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Humanities at Stanford University, a Huntington Library Research Fellowship, and an H. B Earhart Foundation Research Fellowship.

In March 2005, he received the Henry B. Betts Award, given annually by the American Association of Persons with Disabilities and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to “honor an individual whose work and scope of influence have significantly improved the quality of life for people with disabilities in the past, and will be a force for change in the future.” The award carries with it an unencumbered grant of $50,000.