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National Deaf School: Portraits from the Nineteenth Century|
This book is a collection of biographical essays or “portraits” of nineteenth-century Spanish Deaf people and their educators, all of them connected in one way or another with the state-sponsored Madrid school, known first as the Royal School for Deaf-Mutes, then as the National School for Deaf-Mutes and the Blind. The result is a mosaic in which stories of individuals illuminate the larger experience of the nineteenth-century Spanish Deaf community. Exploration of these individuals’ lives and circumstances also sheds light on topics such as the nineteenth-century construction of deafness and the history of Spanish Sign Language.
The period of history described here spans virtually the entire nineteenth century. It begins in the spring of 1805, when Roberto Prádez first arrived at the newly created Royal School for Deaf-Mutes, and ends in December of 1899 with the death of its most famous student, Martín de Martín y Ruiz. The subjects of these chapters sometimes coincided during their years at the establishment, and the people and events described in some chapters are relevant to those in other chapters. Yet the intention is that each chapter should be able to stand on its own and be read independently.
In the larger scheme of things, this research invites us to consider questions like those posed by Catherine J. Kudlick in her insightful essay on disability history: “What does it mean to be human? How can we respond ethically to difference? What is the value of a human life? Who decides these questions, and what do the answers reveal?”1
Adapting these questions to the subject at hand, we might ask, what does it mean to be a deaf or non-deaf person? How do we respond ethically to deafness? What is the value of a deaf or non-deaf life? Who determines the answers to these questions, and what do the answers reveal? My hope is that, in addition to expanding our knowledge of Spanish Deaf history, this research will also deepen our understanding of these overarching issues and contribute both to scholarship and social change.
The decision to focus this investigation on the Madrid school was, in many ways, an obvious one. Residential schools were and continue to be the place where most deaf children first learn their language, history, and cultural traditions, and the Madrid school was Spain’s premier institution for such children. The 1800s would also see it become the hub of the Spanish Deaf community and a training ground for future educators of deaf girls and boys.