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Gaillard in Deaf America: A Portrait of the Deaf Community, 1917

Henri Gaillard

Bob Buchanan, Editor

From the Introduction

Bob Buchanan

Our understanding of the culture, contributions, and history of this nation�s deaf community has grown greatly over the past thirty years. This is due in no small measure to an increasingly varied collection of popular as well as academic works in fiction and nonfiction. Many of these books have chronicled the origins and growth of the deaf community during the late nineteenth century or depicted contemporary issues in areas such as education, the arts, and public life. These efforts have enriched deaf studies, broadened the emerging field of disability history, and helped us better understand the distinctive and common experiences of this country�s diverse communities of citizens.[1]

Amid these academic and popular advances, however, works by deaf authors that have surveyed the deaf community and American society at large have been extremely uncommon. Gaillard in Deaf America is just such a welcomed exception. In it, Henri Gaillard, a French deaf activist and leader, offers an engaging account of his travels to the United States during the summer of 1917 that is certain to delight and inform readers interested in the deaf community and mainstream society.

An adroit writer with a sharp memory, a perceptive eye, and an engaging personality, Gaillard composed an insightful journal that recounts his visit with the American deaf community. For three months, Gaillard, accompanied by French colleagues Jean Olivier, Edmond Pilet, and Eugene Graff, traveled up and down the east coast and into the Midwest.[2] They visited schools and colleges, social clubs and conventions, private residences and workplaces, meeting both deaf leaders and ordinary adults. Beginning in Hartford, Gaillard and company traveled to metropolitan New York, Buffalo, Akron, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., where they were welcomed by their deaf colleagues.

Gaillard was more than an astute chronicler of the deaf community; he was also a perceptive student of American culture and life. Although he was most intent on conveying the ideas and institutions of the deaf community, his account also brims with engaging sketches of the wider world. The careful reader will not help but notice that some of his portrayals, while representative of the early twentieth century, are now understood to be inaccurate, and even troubling. His stereotypical representation of Jews as frugal business leaders comes to mind, as does his frequent depiction of Germans as �Huns.� Beyond these shortcomings, however, Gaillard also deftly draws the reader into the perils and delights of rural and urban life in the formative years of the past century. Whether worrying about the dangers of automobiles that careen about at the dizzying speed of sixty miles per hour, marveling at dazzling new skyscrapers, or decrying the decline of once pristine rivers now darkened by industrial soot, Gaillard remains an accomplished and inviting storyteller. This is his journal.