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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Signs and Voices: Deaf Culture, Identity, Language, and Arts

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In the logbooks from the Smithsonian posting, there was relatively little mention of the controversial issues facing the community, such as cochlear implants, but there was some discussion of culture and cochlear implants in the logbooks from a posting at a nearby residential school: “It was wonderful. But I don’t like cochlear implants because it is not part of deaf. Deaf Power!”[66] Similar comments throughout this logbook from Hartford, Connecticut, the site of the American School for the Deaf, echoed the same sentiment. However, there was one writer who noted, “Cochlear implant is a good technology! It is better than hearing aid! I’m getting C.I. in TWO WEEKS!!”[67] Interestingly enough, in contrast with the debate and dialogue in the Smithsonian logbooks on deaf education and “options” or “choices,” especially in regard to technology, there was no extended or nuanced discussion of cochlear implants other than comments that they are “good” or “bad” and that they do not fit with the current model of Deaf sociolinguistic identity. Only time will tell whether these cochlear-implanted children will grow up to learn ASL and to integrate a Deaf, hearing, or bicultural identity; this may explain the lack of extended discussion. Generally speaking, however, those deaf or hard of hearing people who saw themselves as somehow marginalized through oral education, cochlear implantation, or lack of fluency in sign language tended to write themselves into the exhibit with long, autobiographical narratives, none of which are published here since they are structured more like narratives; thus they are not easily quoted in short excerpts.

What’s striking about these logbook entries by Deaf visitors, in contrast to the letters to the Smithsonian, was the relative lack of protonarratives; many did not seem to feel a compelling need to narrate themselves as individuals within the larger context of competing discourses. Instead, these visitors often positioned themselves solidly within a Deaf cultural community identity. Perhaps this shift away from the particulars of an individual autobiography outwards to a kind of dialogue had to do with the perceived audience, the reader of English, someone, anyone, who would be reading in English. As one young writer from a deaf school wrote, “Hello anyone. . . . It is cool. I’m deaf. . . . Thank you.”[68]

By addressing a generalized, presumably not Deaf, but allied, reader, it seemed that many felt compelled to record what they found most touching: their own presence within history, on storyboards, within a public building, and in printed English (“Wow, because I am Deaf person, too!” [This] “make me feel like good because I’m Deaf,” and “I think it’s interesting because we’re learning all their things about yourselves that you didn’t know”).[69] Registering one’s presence within a heretofore opaque discourse, that of American (hearing) history, was the subtext of many comments.

Some writers, particularly children, young teens, and young adults, chose to use pictograms or drawings to inscribe ASL sign glosses or to convey a sense of what a Deaf life, as lived, could look like, and how it could be represented on the page, on the storyboards, as living the life of “the people of the eye.” In figures 4, 5, and 6, people chose to draw “ILU” hands, or hands waving in the sign for applause, or as in the last example, pictograms: a heart shape with the word fun enclosed, and then an eye.[70], [71], [72]

However, the competing narratives of self and community, one within a sociological community that insists upon a visual subjectivity and the other within a pathologizing discourse that denies agency and subjectivity, were everywhere present. Juxtaposed below (see figures 7 and 8) are, first, a beautiful line drawing of an eye, with the word, thanks,[73] and second, a line drawing of a girl with her hands behind her back (her hands cannot be seen) and her face scrawled over. Above this figure is the word grazie!, Italian for “thanks,” in the same ink used to draw the faceless, armless figure.[74]


66. Excerpt, Hartford, Conn., Logbook. 2001. Gallaudet University Archives.

67. Excerpt, Hartford, Conn., Logbook. 2001. Gallaudet University Archives.

68. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

69. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

70. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

71. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

72. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

73. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.

74. Excerpt, Smithsonian Logbook. 2002. Gallaudet University Archives.


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