Tuesday, August 10, 2010

RIP: Paul Longmore (1946-2010)

"The truth is that the major obstacles we must overcome are pervasive social prejudice, systematic segregation, and institutionalized discrimination."

--Paul Longmore, "Why I Burned my Book"

Sad news today. Paul Longmore, professor of history and director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, has died suddenly. There will surely be many, many remembrances and obituaries; Stephen Drake's was the first I saw, at the Not Dead Yet blog. And Wesley J. Smith has something up (mostly the press release from Californians Against Assisted Suicide) at Secondhand Smoke.

Paul's facebook page is becoming an impromptu wall of condolences and memories. Here's what scattered items I'll add.

*When historians of disability submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the Garrett case in 2000, Paul was the one who invited the signatures of over 100 scholars, because he knew exactly who to tap.

*I've been co-editing H-Disability since it launched in March 2001. But I had nothing to do with its founding--that's credited to Paul Longmore and the summer institute where the idea was hatched, long before my involvement.

*I'm president of the Disability History Association right now--but in many ways, the organization exists and thrives because Paul Longmore was very, very persistent when he saw an opportunity to support scholarship on disability.

*And when Paul organized a conference for disability historians in summer 2008, you know it was seriously accessible, not only to the participants but to our families.

Paul Longmore was a historian, with a PhD in history from Claremont Graduate School. It was important to him to know what your degree was in, and he worried about non-historians doing disability history without proper training or rigor. Now, none of my degrees are in history, even if I do historical projects. So it was a real and happy surprise to get a brief email from Paul, one day in 2004, just saying "I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your essay in the volume edited by Noll and Trent. It's really good history. Thank you." I kept that email window open for a very long time on my desktop. Thank you, Paul.


Mike Dorn said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences with Paul. I know he was a supporter of all you've done Penny including our blog. I am grateful that as a fellow 'non-historian' stranded in the East, I have enjoyed occasional opportunities to chat with him.

Even more than these brief conversations, I have enjoyed following his work through the wonders of online streaming and feature film. Many of you will remember the scenes of him teaching Jean Stewart's _The Body's Memory_ to Disability Studies students in Billy Golfus and David E. Simpson's 1995film "When Billy Broke His Head ... and Other Tales of Wonder." Priceless.

Penny L. Richards said...

Also check out episode 8 of the Making History Podcast, where Jana Remy interviews Paul Longmore (it's still on my iPod):

Bess said...

Thanks, Penny (and thanks for replying to my email in the middle of it all). I wrote a post to remember him too, here.

J. Pearce said...

Dr Longmore's work is so important to me, and it's made such a difference in my scholarship, I cannot believe he's dead.

Anonymous said...

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.

-David Goldberger