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I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture on how the role that disability played in shaping America by Kim E. Nielsen. People who were considered "disabled" had less access to power, lived in poverty, and had little access to education. In her lecture, Nielsen described how disability affected Americans during the industrial revolution. Many workers could not get to factories to work because of injuries or disability. If people were not able to work, then they were seen as less economically valuable to society. Those who worked in factories also faced the dangers of working with heavy machinery that could harm them on the job.

Another case where disability took away the value of human life was during the slave trade. Nielsen told a story of the cruelties towards the disabled on a French slave ship, Le Rodeur. During the voyage, a disease spread which took the sight away from many Africans and crew members. Because the slaves were not able to see, the French saw them as less valuable. The captain had the blind slaves thrown overboard so that their disease would not spread to the other slaves. From this cruel act, we can conclude that many individuals devalued the lives of disabled because they were dependent on others. Some whites even thought that slavery was kind to Africans because their bodies were so disabled. Doctors invented "diseases" such as drapetomania, the enslaved attempt to escape, to justify that the Africans needed to be in slavery.

Disability was not only confined to those who had physical disability or who were a different race, but many women were also considered to be disabled. Many men thought that women could not attend college because their minds wouldn't be able to handle it. This was their way of keeping women from receiving a higher education.

It was a common belief that many individuals who were physically disabled would never be able to support themselves, however, there were many who proved that their disability did not limit them. Nielsen told of a Jewish immigrant named Steinmetz, who was initially denied entrance to America because he was a hunchback. Although many thought he would not be able to support himself, Steimetz went on to be a very successful inventor and an engineer for General Electric. Steinmetz's story proves that disability does not mean that a person who is handicapped is incapable of success.

From this lecture, I learned more about the ideas of who deserved to have rights as a citizen. Although many people believe that rights were for white men, they do not take into account the individuals with disabilities. Nielsen effectively showed how people were denied basic human rights because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, and physique. This idea of who should have rights has been a part of American history since the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. Although "all men are created equal" sounds like it would include a lot of people, many people were not given these privileges. It is important to learn more about disability through the ages to know how it has shaped history today. Although it had taken a lot of fighting, today those who were considered disabled now have the rights of all citizens. Nielsen's lecture effectively showed the struggles of those who were disabled, and how they got where they are today.

In her lecture “Disability and the American Story,” Dr. Kim E. Nielsen brings to light the idea that history, particularly American history, is built on and around the lives of people with disabilities. Nielsen raises the idea that if the audience considers disability with an intersectional analysis of gender, race, religion, et cetera, it is notable that historical pattern reflect that disabilities lead to a lack of power and a statistically higher level of poverty for those considered “disabled,” as well as skewed social structures, ideologies and practices. Nielsen also makes the point that a disability is not clearly defined; it has cultural and historic differences, conveys different definitions and connotations among different groups, and changes over time due to technology, social/economic change, and a shift of power.

In the context of the course material studied thus far, the term disability relates primarily to the treatment and enslavement of African Americans. During her lecture Nielsen told the history of the ship La Rodeur that was involved in the slave trade in the early 19th century. While shipping slaves across the Atlantic, an illness overcame the ship’s passengers and enslaved persons causing a significant portion of them to lose seeing ability or go completely blind in one or both eyes. Under the belief that blind people could not be effective laborers and with the idea that the slave trade existed purely to make money, the slaves that went blind or lost some of their eyesight were thrown overboard where sharks following the ship would then find them. Further, the captain of the ship demanded that he be compensated for his “damaged cargo”. As discussed in this course, African Americans were treated harshly and poorly during their enslavement. They were beaten, abused, separated from their families, and sold from one owner to the next with no consideration for their wants or desires. They were discredited, and the belief surrounded them that they were subpar and unintelligent based solely on their skin color. Nielsen noted that the “devaluing and dehumanization of African Americans was omnipresent in the slave trade.”

The sole basis of the slave trade was the enslavement of someone considered disabled to do anything but manual labor because of their race. The use of slaves in America was in essence a “kick-start” to American history in terms of economics and even in terms of fighting during wars that gained independence. Without this use of a so-called “disabled” group, America’s history and, as a result, its present would in no way, shape, or form be the same, thus supporting Nielsen’s idea that history is built around those with disabilities.

Kim Nielsen, author of A Disability History of the United States, gave a lecture on Disability and the American Story. Nielson began by pointing out that the definition, like many other words, has changed throughout history. Many factors affect the definition of disability. As these factors changed with time, so did the definition of disability.

She was able to prove the effects of these factors with examples. Helen Keller, the first example, showed that disability did not hold her back, but the attitude toward disability at the time did. The next example, the story of the slave ship La Rodeur, proved that two people with the same disability could be treated differently just because of race. Her last example was one of an immigrant. He was not granted citizenship because of a disability. This disability was a petite physique. Everything from attitudes to appearances could constitute a disability.

The other point Nielsen emphasized was that disability was an integral part of history. A disabled slave was worth less because he/she could not do as much physical labor as a slave without a disability. Disability, before the industrial revolution, did not keep a person from making a living. The switch to factories, however, limited the ability of a disabled person to work. This pattern continues.

The final point Nielsen made was that disability is not the same as dependency. Only when society equates the two does disability hold a person back. Learning about the history of the United States, the class has covered everything from beginning of the colonies to all changes made within the country as the nation grew. We have focused on the differing points of view, but this is a new point of view to look at history through.

The Drish house, located at 2300 17th St., borders the city limits of Tuscaloosa. The building, built to be a plantation house, has had numerous identities throughout the years. The plantation house was just that for decades until being transformed into a public school. As the structure weakened, it was turned into a garage. The property, bought by a church, was then used as a meeting place until the church closed. Now, the building the property of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society.

The house stands alone in a circular plot of land. To view the house, the road simply goes around the house. The plantation house was the focal point of the area. It still is today. Buildings from the present, however, surround this building of the past, making the structure seem out of place.

The structure is simple. The base of the building, constructed from numerous squares, come together to create a symmetric building. In the front, there is a porch with columns. Windows are incorporated throughout the building on every side, which lets in the light. This architecture dates the plantation house to the past.

The Drish House is worth going to, in my opinion. The building stands alone as a structure from the past, but there are things to learn from it. I was able to envision the living situation of a plantation owner just by going to this simple plot of land.

Construction on the Jemison-Van de Graaf Mansion began in 1859. The architects, John Stewart and Samuel Sloan, designed Bryce Hospital too. Skilled slaves completed the majority of the construction, additionally most of the materials used came from plantations. The house consists of a foyer, a library, and not one, but two parlors. There is also a verandah. The Civil War, however, caused planned features for the house to remain incomplete.

The owner, Robert Jemison Junior, took part in a variety of occupations, owning as many as six plantations and more than five hundred slaves. Jemison became Senator Jemison for the state of Alabama. His opinion was not a secret. He was against the Union, but he served on the Confederate Senate. After the Civil War, with his money lost, he helped the effort to rebuild the University of Alabama.

The house was attained by the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society and the Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa. These organizations started renovations on the building, which continue today. This piece of history, located just inside Tuscaloosa, can be rented out for a variety of events.

Visiting the house was a blast from the past. The architecture is like nothing you would find today. That is just the beginning. The inside of the house, though renovated, resembles that of the 1800s. The information that I have learned in class allowed me to imagine the reality of the time while in the house.


The Jones Archaeological Museum

 Exhibit #1

The exhibit on the religion of the native people, housed in the adjacent room, stood out to me. This may have been because of the special lighting, but the information presented did not disappoint. The exhibit began with a summary of the beliefs and traditions of the people. According to the plaque, religion was at the center of the community. Religious ceremonies commemorated a variety of significant points of life. Life did not end with death. The people believed that the soul traveled to an after-life.

A structure was set up just inside the doorway. The structure, made of earth, was only one room. It was empty, except for a few things here and there. Historians determined that the structure was for important ceremonies, such as religious ceremonies. I found this hard to believe because of the simplicity. This, however, reminded me of the simplicity of the time.

Natives adopted the ability to use the resources around the area. Such resources were used to make clay vessels, in which different stories were depicted by engravings. A winged serpent appeared on a number of vessels in this exhibit. The animal was like nothing I have ever seen before, but the artistry conveyed the animal quite well. The plaque claimed that this animal appeared to people in spiritual visions. This form of art allows people today to envision how the natives viewed the celestial world.

I find the subject of religion to be thought-provoking, in any context, because religion is never the same for separate groups. This exhibit presented new information, allowing me to learn more about the people. This exhibit was, by far, my favorite aspect of the museum.


Exhibit #2

            Historians determined all the information in the museum through the artifacts found in the area. One part of the exhibit describes the different trades of the males in the community. Each of the descriptions came from a variety of tools found. I found this to be not only informative of the roles of males, but also informative of the needs of the community.

Descriptions included that of the elite. This included noble men, heirs to the throne, and especially the chief. Material objects, such as clothing, jewelry, and houses, set the elite apart from the others. All of the artifacts in the case looked better crafted. This status meant that the elites received special treatment. With this special treatment came special duties. The elite were to use the special treatment to better the community as a whole.

Another description was that of the community medicine man. The medicine man not only collected different herbs, but also mixed these natural ingredients in different ways to heal a variety of conditions. Everything used to mix these were included in the artifacts, such as clay dishes and tools made from rocks. I imagine that the medicine man was important in the community based on the amount of artifacts found relating to the trade.

This exhibit allowed me to better understand the roles of different people within the community. The information showed that each one of the trades contributed to the community in a different way. This, in turn, allowed the community to be successful.

Not long before July 2014, a generous donor has given $12.3 million to restore the Confederate General Robert E. Lee's home in Arlington, Virginia. This article gives a brief description of Lee's involvement in the Civil War, and the importance of the area in which his house resides.

Posted by Megan Coffin

This article addresses the national debate about whether or not Columbus Day should still be celebrated as a national holiday. On one hand, many feel that it should not be recognized because of Columbus's poor treatment of the indigenous people of Santo Domingo and the Spanish colonies. On the other hand, many Americans feel that Columbus Day is a celebration of Italian heritage and the discovery of America.

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In this article, the contents of Dudley Saltonstall's logbooks give insight into Connecticut's role in the transatlantic slave trade during the 18th century. The logbook has accounts of disease from slaves coming to America from Africa, Saltonstall's involvement in the Revolutionary War as a first Captain of the Continental Navy, and John Easton's trade for slaves in Africa.

Posted by Megan Coffin

            Slavery constitutes a significant thread in the fabric of American history, and the transatlantic slave trade was one of the most prevalent issues predating the establishment of the United States. Trade really began to increase in the early 1600’s, driven by increased demand for agricultural labor.[1] Africans were specifically targeted, primarily due to racial thinking and economics, but other forces played a role as well, including competition among political entities in Africa and competition to trade in the European market.[2] The slave trade was an extremely controversial topic throughout the European colonies, with supporters of the slave trade on one end of the spectrum and abolitionists on the other. These two sides of the spectrum can be seen in the poems The sorrows of slavery: a poem: containing a faithful statement of facts respecting the African slave trade by John Jamieson, and No abolition of slavery, or, The universal empire of love: a poem by John Boswell.

...continue reading "Slavery Through a Poet’s Eyes (Meghan Stough)"