- Additional Programs
- American Studies
Susan Burch is a professor of American Studies. Before joining the Middlebury faculty in 2009, she taught at Gallaudet University, King’s College (University of Aberdeen, Scotland), and the Ohio State University. Professor Burch also has worked as a research associate at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. She earned her BA degree in history and Soviet Studies from Colorado College and her MA and PhD in American and Soviet history from Georgetown University.
Her research and teaching interests focus on histories of deaf, disability, Mad, race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, and gender and sexuality. Material culture, oral history, and inclusive design play an important role in her courses. Burch is the author of Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to 1942 (2002) and a coauthor, with Hannah Joyner, of Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson (2007). She has coedited anthologies including Women and Deafness: Double Visions (2006), Deaf and Disability Studies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2010), and Disability Histories (2014), and also served as editor-in-chief of The Encyclopedia of American Disability History (2009). Burch has received numerous grants and awards for her work, including an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, National Archives regional residency fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities and Mellon Foundation grants, and a Fulbright Scholars award. Her latest book, which has recently received the National Women’s Studies Association Alison Piepmeier Book Prize, and the Disability History Association’s Outstanding Book of 2022, Committed: Native Families, Institutionalization, and Remembering (University of North Carolina Press, 2021) centers on peoples’ lived experiences inside and outside the Canton Asylum, a federal psychiatric institution created specifically to detain American Indians.
American Disability Studies: History, Meanings, and Cultures
In this course we will examine the history, meanings, and realities of disability in the United States. We will analyze the social, political, economic, environmental, and material factors that shape the meanings of "disability," examining changes and continuities over time. Students will draw critical attention to the connections between disability, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and age in American and transnational contexts. Diverse sources, including films and television shows, music, advertising, fiction, memoirs, and material objects, encourage inter and multi-disciplinary approaches to disability. Central themes we consider include language, privilege, community, citizenship, education, medicine and technology, and representation.
Madness in America
It's a mad, mad course. In this course we will focus on representations of madness from colonial to late 20th century America, emphasizing the links between popular and material culture, science, medicine, and institutions. We will consider how ideas about madness (and normalcy) reflect broader (and shifting) notions of identity. Thus, issues of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, community, class, and region will play significant roles in our discussions and critiques. To complement foundational readings, this course will draw on American literature, documentary and entertainment films, music, and materials from the college's special collections.
Love, Sex, Race, and Disability
In this course we will explore the connections between gender and sexuality, race, and disability. Culture and representation, understandings of diversity and difference, and contexts (political, social, and historical) will provide central areas of study. Comparing and integrating topics and perspectives, we will critically analyze the constructions and politics of identity (and multiple identities) and historical perspectives on gender and sexuality, race, and disability. We also will consider the impact of education and activism, as well as the meanings of intimate relationships across and between genders and sexualities, races, and disabilities. Our work will foster a fundamental reexamination of American life and history through its study of bodies and minds, identities, languages, cultures, citizenship and rights, power and authority, what is a "natural" and "unnatural." This course will draw on diverse sources, including documentary and Hollywood films, poetry and short fiction, academic texts, such as Freakery, Gendering Disability and Disability and the Teaching of Writing, and memoirs, such as Eli Clare's Exile and Pride.
Issues in Critical Disability Studies: U.S. and the World
Disability as a category and as lived experience plays an important but often overlooked role in national, transnational, and global contexts. In this course we will explore disability’s changing meanings in the United States and around the World. Comparative and transnational approaches will draw our attention to disability’s many meanings across wide-ranging historical, cultural, and geographical settings. Foundational concepts and principles, including ableism and Universal Design, shape our critical inquiry. Key themes frame the course: access, language, power, violence, normalcy, identity, community, institutions, and rights and justice. We will engage with diverse primary sources, from memoirs and documentary films to advertisements, material objects, and oral histories. 3 hrs. lect.
Disability in Film and Television
In this course we will investigate film and television representations of disability and disabled people to gain an understanding of how these reflect prominent cultural ideas across twentieth and twenty-first century US history. Specifically, we will trace changes and continuities in the various functions of disability in film and TV, and how disabled people have used these media to express their own lived experiences. Key themes to be covered include access, stereotype, spectacle, community, and activism. Our intersectional study will involve disability, deaf, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and age. Through readings, screenings, and engaged discussions students will gain insights into ways film and television reflect and shape the understandings of disability in American history and culture. This class includes regular screenings. 3 hrs. lect.
U.S. Disability Rights & Hist
“Nothing about us without us”—the 20th century banner of American and global disability rights movements—insists that disabled people fully participate in all aspects of life. In this course we will trace the lineage from U.S. disability rights through disability justice across the 20th - 21st centuries. We will consider how ableism interlocks with settler colonialism, capitalism, misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia. Through focused readings and project-based work, we will unpack work around policy, service provisions, and mutual aid, and engage with themes such as access, self-determination, education, community living, institutionalization and imprisonment, employment, reproduction, and interdependence and collective care. This course draws on multi-modal sources, including scholarly articles, oral interviews, documentaries, memoirs, material artifacts, artwork, and blogs.
Select project advisor prior to registration.
For students who have completed AMST 0705, and qualify to write two-credit interdisciplinary honors thesis. on some aspect of American culture. The thesis may be completed on a fall/winter schedule or a fall/spring schedule. (Select a thesis advisor prior to registration)
American Deaf Culture and History
In this course we will explore America’s “DEAF-WORLD” from the early 19th century through the present day. Creative, community-based, and scholarly readings, as well as memoirs, TV shows, films, and material objects will illustrate diverse traditions of “deaf,” including religious, biomedical, and social-cultural forms. Central themes will guide our work: language and communication, community and identity, cultural values and practices, education, artistic and popular representations, technology and bioethics, and activism. Through these themes we will learn about audism and ableism—foundational concepts in deaf studies—as they relate to other systems of power and privilege. Intersecting social identities within deaf cultural worlds also will draw sustained attention. We will engage in a highly collaborative learning process. Small group research projects and interactive class discussions will contribute to deeper learning about continuity and change, and varying perspectives in and about America’s “DEAF-WORLD.” This course does not require knowledge of American Sign Language.
Senior Thesis: Critical Writing
Individual guidance and seminar (discussions, workshops, tutorials) for those undertaking one-term projects in literary criticism or analysis. All critical thesis writers also take the Senior Thesis Workshop (ENAM 700Z) in either Fall or Spring Term.
Senior Thesis: Critical Writing
Individual guidance and seminar (discussions, workshops, tutorials) for those undertaking one-term projects in literary criticism or analysis. All critical thesis writers also take the Senior Thesis Workshop (ENAM 700Z) in either Fall or Spring Term. (Formerly ENAM 0700)
Disability, Difference, and Society
In this course we explore the varied and evolving meanings of disability—as category, lived experience, and way of interpreting the world, as well as the contexts that shape these meanings. As a First Year Seminar, primary attention centers on critical reading, thinking, writing, and collaborative skills. Course materials and assignments offer different disciplinary approaches and writing styles, fostering both individual and collective work. Films, on-line exhibits, music, advertising, popular media, and the material world reflect the wide range of sources on which this course draws. Dominant issues, including representation, education, employment, bioethics, institutions, community, policies, access, and justice serve as touchstones for research, analysis, and learning. Sustained attention to interlocking identities, including disability, race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, socioeconomic class, gender, sexual orientation and identification, and age define the field of disability studies and this course. While the United States is highlighted in this class, transnational and global components figure into our work as well. 3 hrs. sem.
Ph.D. with Distinction in American and Soviet history, Georgetown University (1999)
Dissertation: “Biding the Time: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II.”
M.A., History, Georgetown University (1995)
B.A., History/Soviet Studies, Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Colorado College (1993)
Select publications: Books
Committed: Remembering Native Kinship in and beyond Institutions, University of North Carolina Press, Critical Indigeneities series, 2021. (Winner of the 2021 Alison Piepmeier Prize, National Women’s Studies Association; Winner of the Disability History Association’s Outstanding Book of 2022)
Disability Histories, Co-edited with Michael Rembis, University of Illinois Press, 2014.
Deaf and Disability Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches, Co-edited with Alison Kafer, Gallaudet University Press, 2010.
The Encyclopedia of American Disability History, Editor-in-chief, Facts on File, 2009.
(Winner of the Booklist/RBB Editors’ Choice Reference Sources, 2010)
Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson. Co-authored with Hannah Joyner, University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
Women and Deafness: Double Visions. Co-edited with Brenda Brueggemann, Gallaudet University Press, 2006.
Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900–World War II, New York University Press, 2002. (Awarded Outstanding Academic Title, 2003, Choice)
Select Other Publications
“Introduction,” co-authored with Ella Callow and Juliet Larkin-Gilmore, Disability Studies Quarterly: Special Issue on Indigeneity and Disability 41, no. 4 (December 2021): forthcoming.
“Committed,” invited blog post, June 15, 2021, <https://uncpressblog.com/tag/susan-burch/>.
“Access as Practice: Disability, Accessible Design, and History,” Reviews in American History 48 (2020): 618-24.
“A History of the Disability History Association,” Disability History Association News (Spring 2020):2-5.
“Methodology,” Co-authored with Penny Richards. Solicited chapter for Oxford University Press Handbook for Disability History, edited by Michael Rembis, Kim Nielsen, and Catherine Kudlick. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
“Disability History,” Co-authored with Kim Nielsen. Republished in Beginning with Disability: A Primer, Lennard Davis, ed. New York University Press, 2017.
“Dreamscapes for Public Disability History: How (and Why, and Where, and With Whom) We Collaborate,” Co-authored with Penny Richards. Invited and peer-reviewed post to Disability Public History, http://www.public-disabilityhistory.org/2016/12/dreamscapes-for-public-disability.html, December 7, 2016.
“Disorderly Pasts: Kinship, Diagnoses, and Remembering in American Indian-US Histories,” Journal of Social History 50, no. 2 (Winter 2016): 362-385.
“History,” Co-authored with Kim Nielsen. Solicited chapter for Keywords in Disability Studies, Benjamin Reiss, David Serlin, and Rachel Adams, eds. New York University Press, 2015.
“The Disremembered Past,” Co-authored with Hannah Joyner. Solicited chapter for Civil Disabilities: Citizenship, Membership, Belonging, Nancy J. Hirschmann and Beth Linker, eds. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015, 95-98.
“Re-membering the past: reflections on disability histories,” Co-authored with Michael Rembis, In Disability Histories, edited by Susan Burch and Michael Rembis. University of Illinois Press, 2014.
“’Dislocated Histories’: The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians.” Women, Gender, and Families of Color 2, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 141-162.
“Not Just Any Body: Disability, Gender, and History,” Co-authored with Lindsey Patterson, Journal of Women’s History 25, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 122-137.
“(Extraordinary) Bodies of Knowledge: Resources in American Disability History,” OAH Magazine 23, no. 3 (July 2009): 29-34.
“Making Presentations Accessible,” Invited essay for the Supplement to the 122 Annual Meeting, American Historical Association (2008). Available online at http://www.historians.org/annual/2008/AMSupplement/2008amsup15.cfm.
“Who’s Not Here?: Lessons in American Disability Studies,” Co-authored with Ian Sutherland, Radical History Review 94 (Winter 2006): 127-147.
“‘Beautiful, Though Deaf’: The Deaf American Beauty Pageant,” In Double Visions: Multiple Approaches to Women and Deafness, Gallaudet University Press, 2006.
“Disability History: Suggested Readings, An Annotated Bibliography,” The Public Historian 27, no. 2 (Spring 2005): 63-74.
The Public Historian: Special Issue on Disability History (Spring 2005), Contributing editor with Katherine Ott.
“Double Jeopardy: Women, Deafness, and Deaf Education,” In Literacy and Deaf People: Contextual and Cultural Approaches, Brenda Brueggemann, ed. Gallaudet University Press, 2004.
Sign Language Studies: Special Issue on NAD film series and ASL Preservation, 4, no. 3 (Spring 2004). Contributing editor.
“Capturing a Movement: Sign Language Preservation,” Sign Language Studies 4, no. 3 (Spring 2004): 293–304.
“Reading Between the Signs: Defending Deaf Culture in Early Twentieth Century America,” In The New Disability History. New York University Press, 2001.
“In a Different Voice: Sign Language Preservation and America’s Deaf Community,” Bilingual Research Journal 24, no. 4 (Fall 2001): 443–67.
“Transcending Revolutions: The Tsars, the Soviets and Deaf History,” Journal of Social History 34, no. 2 (December 2000): 393–402.
Review of Brianna Theobald’s Reproduction on the Reservation: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Colonialism in the Long Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019. H-AmIndian (October 2021)
Review of Jaipreet Virdi, Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. Journal of Social History of Medicine 34, no. 2 (May 2021): 695–697, https://doi.org/10.1093/shm/hkaa102.
Review of Stephen James Minton, Ed., Residential Schools and Indigenous Peoples: From Genocide Via Education to the Possibilities for Processes of Truth, Restitution, Reconciliation, and Reclamation. New York: Routledge, 2020. Nais 7, No. 2 (2020).
Review of Molly Ladd-Taylor, Fixing the Poor: Eugenic Sterilization and Child Welfare in the Twentieth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017. Choice 55, no.11 (2018): 1386.
Review of Mara Mills and Rebecca Sanchez, eds., Pauline Leader’s And No Birds Sing. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2016. H-Disability (Spring 2017).
Review of Paul Longmore, Telethons: Spectacle, Disability, and the Business of Charity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. American Historical Review (June 2017).
Review of Brian H. Greenwald and Joseph J. Murray, eds. In Our Hands: Essays in Deaf History, 1780-1970. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2016. Choice (2016)
Review of Mat Savelli and Sarah Marks, eds. Psychiatry in Communist Europe. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015. H-Disability (January 2016)
Review of Estelle B. Freedman’s Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation. Choice (January 2014)
Review of Jack Gannon’s Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America. Choice (2012).
Review of Beth Linker’s War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America. H-Disability (2011).
Review of David F. Armstrong’s Show of Hands: A Natural History of Sign Language. Choice (2011).
Review of Carol Poore, Disability in Twentieth-Century German Culture. Choice 45, no. 11 (July 2008): 2014.
Review of Steven L. Piott, American Reformers, 1870-1920: Progressives in Word and Deed. Choice 44, no. 6 (Feb. 2006): 1040.
Review of Laura Polich, The Emergence of the Deaf Community in Nicaragua: “With Sign Language You Can Learn So Much.” Choice 43, no. 8 (April 2006): 1443.
Review of Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture. Choice 43, no. 2 (Oct. 2005): 377.
Review of Lennard Davis, Bending Over Backwards. H-Disability (Spring 2004).
Review of Victoria Brown’s The Education of Jane Addams. Choice 41, no. 9 (May 2004): 1722.
“Disability History: A Review of the Literature,” The Public Historian 27, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 63–74.