The seminal study of the antecedents of Deaf culture is now back in print. Edited by renowned scholar Harlan Lane, The Deaf Experience: Classics in Language and Education presents a selection of the earliest essays written by members of the nascent French Deaf community at the time of the Enlightenment, a rich period of education for deaf people.
The fifth volume in the Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies series features works written from 1764 up to1840. Pierre Desloges offers a stirring paean to sign language in an excerpt from his book, the first ever published by a deaf person. Saboureux de Fontenay and Jean Massieu, two prominent leaders, relate their respective experiences in autobiographical accounts. In separate essays, Charles-Michel de l’Epée and Roch-Ambroise Sicard describe systems for teaching manual French, followed by a critique of these methods by Roch-Ambroise Bébian, a well-known hearing friend of Deaf people during that era. Ferdinand Berthier, a renowned Deaf teacher and writer in the 19th century, concludes with a history of Deaf people up to that time.
The Deaf Experience shows clearly how this extraordinary era of French deaf education influenced the adoption of the manual method by the first schools for deaf students in America, in sharp contrast to the oral movement that repressed sign-language-centered education for nearly a century afterward. Deaf studies scholars and students alike will welcome the return of this invaluable resource.
Harlan Lane is the Matthews Distinguished University Professor in the Psychology Department at Northeastern University, Boston, MA.