Laurel Daen (William & Mary Ph.D. 2016) is the 2018–2020 NEH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Omohundro Institute. Her research focuses on disability, sickness, medicine, and health in the early Atlantic World. She has published articles in the Journal of the Early Republic and Early American Literature and received several fellowships, including long-term awards from the NEH, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the American Association of University Women, William & Mary’s Office of the Provost, and now the Omohundro Institute.
Laurel’s book manuscript, tentatively titled “The Constitution of Disability in the Early United States,” examines the intersections of disability and American nation-building. In the Early Republic, disability emerged as a governmental and institutional category of social welfare and exclusion. The project traces this nonlinear and often contested development, focusing on how individuals attempted to negotiate the meaning of disability to their advantage. Ultimately, disagreements about the definition of disability led state and community authorities to turn to physicians as expert evaluators of incapacity. This transformation not only strengthened, standardized, and medicalized the construct of disability; it also had important consequences for the growth of the American bureaucracy and economy, the professionalization of medicine, and the rights and opportunities of disabled people.
Laurel will spend her time at the Omohundro Institute revising her book manuscript and further developing its treatment of the colonial period.