In Our Own Hands

Essays in Deaf History, 1780–1970

Edited by Brian H. Greenwald & Joseph J. Murray

Categories: Deaf History, Deaf Studies
Imprint: Gallaudet University Press
Paperback : 9781563686603, 288 pages, May 2016
Ebook : 9781563686610, 288 pages, May 2016
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Examines the development of deaf people’s autonomy and citizenship discourses as they sought access to full civil rights in local and national settings.



This collection of new research examines the development of deaf people’s autonomy and citizenship discourses as they sought access to full citizenship rights in local and national settings. Covering the period of 1780–1970, the essays in this collection explore deaf peoples’ claims to autonomy in their personal, religious, social, and organizational lives and make the case that deaf Americans sought to engage, claim, and protect deaf autonomy and citizenship in the face of rising nativism and eugenic currents of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
       These essays reveal how deaf people used their agency to engage in vigorous debates about issues that constantly tested the values of deaf people as Americans. The debates overlapped with social trends and spilled out into particular physical and social spaces such as clubs and churches, as well as within families. These previously unexplored areas in Deaf history intersect with important subthemes in American history, such as Southern history, religious history, and Western history.
       The contributors demonstrate that as deaf people pushed for their rights as citizens, they met with resistance from hearing people, and the results of their efforts were decidedly mixed. These works reinforce the Deaf community’s longstanding desire to be part of the nation. In Our Own Hands contributes to an increased understanding of the struggle for citizenship and expands our current understanding of race, gender, religion, and other trends in Deaf history.


Brian H. Greenwald is a professor of history in the Department of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Sociology at Gallaudet University.

Joseph J. Murray is an associate professor in the Department of ASL and Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University.



This is an invaluable, pioneering volume of scholarship on Deaf history and culture...The result is a profound, foundational understanding that is certain to help deaf citizens, scholars, and advocates to continue the legacies of those who’ve gone before them.

— Foreword Reviews

These writings on autonomy and agency are rich in detail and provide new information not found in previously published resources, and, as a collection, they present a solid foundation on which scholars and advocates can build to further our understanding of such issues as authorization and constraint and how we are socially embedded in a process of transformation.

— Harry G. Lang, author of "Fighting in the Shadows: The Untold Story of Deaf People in the Civil War", reviewed in the Deaf History International Newsletter

Several essays offer refreshing approaches to common subjects, challenging dominant representations of monolithic deaf cultural worlds.


This is an interesting and informative book that adds to our understanding of Deaf people’s campaigns for greater autonomy...there is plenty here to attract anyone interested in Deaf history or indeed the history of oppressed minority groups.

— H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online)

Makes an important contribution to the growing scholarship in both disability studies and deaf history, especially the struggles of deaf people to participate in regional and local institutions.

— Disability Studies Quarterly

Advance Praise

This exciting collection enlightens our understanding of Deaf people and the contexts in which they have framed their lives. Refreshingly diverse viewpoints, anchored in primary research by a new generation of scholars, examine the key role of self-empowerment in Deaf History and make essential reading.

— John Vickrey Van Cleve, co-author of "A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America"

Greenwald and Murray’s book aims to connect the dots among significant themes in Deaf history. Readers are presented with new, fresh perspectives on how Deaf people during the 18th through 20th centuries used agency to engage in debates and activism about issues that impacted autonomy in their personal, educational, and social lives. A lesson we learn for the present and future is that preserving Deaf autonomy requires ongoing vigilance. I applaud the authors on this valuable contribution to Deaf history.

— Glenn B. Anderson, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Greenwald and Murray have collected a trove of dazzling new work in Deaf Studies. With contributions from luminaries in the field, as well as bright new scholars, and essays that cast fresh light on enduring questions alongside others that blaze new trails, In Our Own Hands is a testament to the splendid vitality of the field.

— Douglas C. Baynton, University of Iowa