Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture

Article excerpt

Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture, by R. A. R. Edwards (New York: New York University Press, 2012, 263 pp., ISBN 978-0-8147-2243

In recent years, the history of Deaf culture and the Deaf community has animated scholars. Fascinating and detailed accounts have emerged, particularly those of Susan Burch, Douglas Baynton, and Harlan Lane, which focus specifically on deafness, and of Robert Osgood, which presents a more general, special-education stance. A recent text by R. A. R. Edwards, Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture, adds to this mix. However, this is not a book for those who are encountering a text on the development of the Deaf community for the first time. Throughout the book, the authors references to events and actors demand a substantial prior knowledge of the field.

Edwards presents her main arguments and discussion within a restricted time dimension. Essentially, she focuses on the Deaf community and a Deaf culture bonded by sign language in the first half of the nineteenth century. She starts with the founding institution at Hartford and finishes with the discussions in Boston about the founding of the Clarke School, which was, in reality, the first determined onslaught on sign language from the so-called oralists.

Edwards introduces the reader to the American Asylum at Hartford and details the pervasive influences ofThomas Hopkins Gallaudet and especially Laurent Clerc. She examines the pedagogical and communicative battle in this early period, which was not to withstand the oral imposition but whether to adopt natural or methodological signs for instruction and recreation. These arguments regarding communication mode are reiterated throughout the text.

In addition to her discussions on sign language, Edwards offers fascinating insights into actors, both deaf and hearing. Perhaps none is more interesting than the rather strange and sad J. …

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