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The Deaf History Reader

John Vickrey Van Cleve, Editor

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Read chapter one.
Read reviews: Choice, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, The Sign Language Translator and Interpreter.

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From The Sign Language Translator and Interpreter, cont’d.

       The article on the Academic integration of Deaf Children pays far less attention to the role of individuals. In this essay, Van Cleve explores the development of ‘mainstreaming’, i.e. the integration of Deaf pupils in regular schools during the discussed era. Highlighting how the popularity of this mainstreaming ideology dates back in time, Van Cleve’s account is poignant given that at least in western nations mainstreaming has been fast advancing in the past 30 years. Although this is not expressed explicitly and Van Cleve challenges the reader to take into account much deeper and broader issues, one cannot help noticing the shadow of Milan 1880 casting itself across the thinking of the educational administrators and parents of the time. The author here reminds us of the revolutionary prospect of hearing children joining deaf children in schools where sign language is the dominant means of instruction, which was first advocated by David Bartlett in the mid 19th century.

       David Bartlett’s Family School, reported on by Van Cleve, does not remain the only discussed instance of an attempt to advance new thinking based on historical records; another example is the discussion of the influence of genetic patterning in the chapter Origins of the American Deaf-World. Lane, Pillard and French use a variety of resources (such as local newspapers, genealogies, notebooks and censuses) to develop the hypothesis that a Deaf ‘class (or group) consciousness’ has developed in those whose genetic make-up is determined by the possession of the ‘dominant’ deaf gene, whereas those who hold the ‘recessive’ deaf gene tend to be more inclined towards assimilation with hearing societies. This is, arguably, a controversial as well as bold argument, for it has implications for wider genetic issues. Their hypothesis — unwittingly or not — risks advancing the cause of biological reductionism, i.e. arguing that our social conditions and circumstances are largely genetic in nature. The writers are, however, cautious to allude to social factors that may have influenced the rise of class consciousness (such as language and marriage practices). They are also careful to suggest that genetic patterning may be just one of many factors that leads to class consciousness. Lane et al. have written a thought-provoking essay, meticulously researched, and in the process they make the reader further reflect on wider issues in the development of the Deaf world, particularly economic, political and social factors.

       Other articles attempt to encourage us to reflect on the diverse nature of the community, particularly in terms of gender and class lines. In the final chapter in the book, The Chicago Mission for the Deaf, Olney, for example, suggests that this Deaf institution “transcended limitations of geography, denominational affiliation, ethnicity, and even gender roles in its success” (p. 175). Providing an antidote to this liberal example of Deaf culture, in his chapter Genesis of a Community Lang reminds us that there have been Deaf colonizers, such as those who descended on Martha’s Vineyard and Massachusetts in the 1600’s, and that it is even reported of one Deaf master of a slave ship, Jonathan Lambert (p. 5). Further problems in Deaf history are revealed by Hendricks Porco in her research on the life of Life of Walworth Booth, the wife of the well-known Deaf man, Edward Booth. It is highly instructive that there are large gaps in her writings during times when her husband was at home; Hendricks Porco points out that Mary Ann Walworth Booth created most of her writing in the absence of her husband, suggesting that she was expected to fulfill other duties when her husband was home. This is a reminder to us that those who may well he makers of history are all too often absent in history books, even within excellent publications such as this: particularly the working poor and members of ethnic minority populations.

Many of the articles in the book are heavy on facts and detail, presumably aimed at the historical specialist, or anyone with an interest in this particular historical period. Therefore not all articles might appeal to every reader, as one needs to care enough about the subject or the discussed individuals to read through the detail. The articles cover a wide range of areas and themes, though, and even a reader without a specific background or interest in Deaf history is likely to find aspects of interest in the book that they might not have considered previously or find the book useful for referencing purposes. As a researcher with a current interest in genetics myself, I was first drawn to the chapters that cover this field. Later, however, it was particularly the detail and information of other chapters that I might not have been aware of otherwise that challenged some of my previous assumptions and that fascinated me.

       Similarly, there is very little of this book that will be of immediate relevance to sign language interpreters, other than a selection of interesting snippets. The chapter on Mary Ann Walworth Booth by Hendricks Porco, for example, illustrates how her eldest son would act as her interpreter when she needed to communicate with hearing people in her local vicinity, in order to run the family business and farm in the village where she lived. The book would mainly be of interest to those translators/interpreters who wish to broaden their understanding of Deaf history, particularly the period during the 18th to early 20th century in the USA. More, generally, however, this collection of essays would certainly he useful and helpful for translators/interpreters to increase their knowledge and understanding, not least as it highlights the ways in which Deaf people interacted with those who could not communicate using signed language in a period well before the professional interpreter became established.

       Overall, the collection of articles is held together by being centered on a specific historical period, although there is a vast diversity in the topics covered. After reading the detailed accounts of Deaf history, the reader is rewarded with a breadth of knowledge in issues that are as relevant to the Deaf world today as they were over 100 years ago.

John Vickrey Van Cleve is Professor Emeritus of History at Gallaudet University.

Print Edition: ISBN 978-1-56368-359-6, 6 x 9 paperback, 226 pages, 3 tables, 4 figures, 11 photographs


E-Book: ISBN 978-1-56368-403-6


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