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American Annals of the Deaf

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Edmund Booth
Deaf Pioneer

Harry G. Lang

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Read reviews: SIGNews, History: Reviews of New Books.

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From History: Reviews of New Books

Harry G. Lang, a professor in the Department of Research at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York, traces Edmund Booth’s life (1810–1905) in twelve chapters. Working from an extensive collection of the Booth family’s primary documents, Lang paints a portrait of a charismatic adventurer, devoted family man, and human rights advocate. Hagiographic hazards abound in compiling a biography by invitation of the subject’s descendants, but Lang presents the life of a mortal—an extraordinary mortal—in a well-told, well-researched account.

The first chapter takes readers from the birth of Edmund Booth in Massachusetts to his young adulthood; subsequent chapters trace his public and private life as a young man on the Iowa frontier (chapters 2 and 3) and in the California gold rush (chapters 4–7). Chapter 8 narrates Booth’s return to Iowa and his acquisition of the Anamosa Eureka newspaper. Chapters 9–11 continue the account of Booth’s life through the Civil War and beyond, highlighting his views on women’s suffrage and slavery. Chapter 11, “The Deaf Community,” chronicles Booth’s interactions with deaf people, which is especially interesting because Booth used both signed and voiced language. Chapter 12, “The Sound of Trumpets,” follows the last two decades of Booth’s life, which ended in 1905. Lang’s brief afterword raises the most intriguing questions of the book by noting three absences: the lack of mention of any ill treatment or discrimination in Booth’s writing; the silence around Booth’s son, Frank Booth, a strong advocate of oralism; and the near invisibility of the fact that, in addition to being deaf, Booth was blind in one eye.

This book, the first account of Edmund Booth’s life except for Booth’s autobiographical notes, is similar in style and approach to Lang’s 1994 Silence of the Spheres, which catalogues deaf scientists. Historical analysis is not deep in either work; Lang is not trained as a historian, nor does he claim to write history. In this way, Lang’s work contrasts with true historical inquiries such as Douglas Baynton’s groundbreaking Forbidden Signs or Susan Burch’s impressive Signs of Resistance. As an account of a deaf newspaper professional, the work is reminiscent of Henry Kisor’s autobiographical What’s That Pig Outdoors?; as an illumination of a historical period through a personal account, the work brings to mind Lennard Davis’s Shall I Say a Kiss?

Gallaudet University Press produces beautiful books, and this clearly written volume is no exception, with plentiful crisp illustrations and tasteful organizational markers. It is accessible to a general audience, and would be useful as supplementary reading in a college-level U.S. history course or deaf history course.

Harry G. Lang is Professor in the Department of Research at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, NY.

Print Edition

ISBN 978-1-56368-273-5, 6 x 9 paperback, 216 pages, photographs, references



ISBN 978-l-56368-278-0


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