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Case Studies / D/deaf / Disability History

History Through Deaf Eyes

 There is a number of Museums dedicated to some aspects of Deaf history and culture in the in the United States

A seminal exhibition about Deaf history in America

We have been called deaf-mutes, mutes, objects of charity, deaf and dumb, semi-mutes, dummy, and now, hearing impaired. We have been described as ‘the most misunderstood among the sons of man.’ Some of us are deaf and some of us are Deaf. Some of us use American Sign Language and some of us do not. This exhibition is our untold and largely unknown history. It is American history…Through Deaf Eyes.”

-Jack R. Gannon Curator, 2001

  This traveling exhibit that welcomed over 450,000 visitors between 2001 and 2006, presents the story of Deaf life in America – a story of conflicts, prejudice and affirmation that reaches the heart of what it means to be human. Developed by Gallaudet University, History Through Deaf Eyes is a traveling social history exhibition aligning nearly 200 years of United States history with the experiences of deaf people. Using objects and images collected by individuals, organizations, and schools for deaf children, this exhibition illustrates the shared experiences of family life, education, and work – as well as the divergent ways deaf people see themselves, communicate, employ and adapt technology, and determine their own futures. The History Through Deaf Eyes exhibition can be viewed online. The full exhibition required 2,500 sq ft to install and included objects attached to panels and offered from the local Deaf community. This web-based presentation cannot display the incredible local additions, and some of the photographs are removed due to rights issues. Exhibition Goals include:

  • To present the deaf population in a context to which many people can relate, aligning deaf experiences with U.S. history.
  • To explore the ways that a segment of the deaf population – the cultural linguistic community of Deaf people – formed and maintains connections to each other, their common experiences, language use, and struggles.
  • To identify turning points in the history of deaf experience in the United States, and the forces creating change.
  • To foster respect for plurality and diversity through greater understanding of a community.
  • To encourage students and visitors to examine the historic struggles of deaf people as individuals and as a Deaf community and to view events both with empathy of the time and from a contemporary perspective.

Examples of Deaf Artists in the Collections of US Museums

John Brewster, Jr. (1766 – 1854) was a prolific, deaf itinerant painter who created many portraits of New England families.

James Castle (1899-1977) Deaf artist who communicated through his art using ordinary materials rather than expensive art supplies.  The linked video below demonstrates how his work was an inspiration for an elementary school classroom, showing students how they can express themselves through art.

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