J. Pearce's Reviews > Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900 to World War II

Signs of Resistance by Susan Burch
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's review
Aug 13, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: thesis, disability-history

If you are seeking a good introductory text to US Deaf Cultural History, this is an excellent book to start with.

Burch divides the topic into five sections: Deaf Residential Schools (and the fight against the Oralist movement), The Preservation of Sign Language, Deaf Associations (which included Deaf sports stars), Deaf people in the working world, and Legal Challenges, which focuses both on eugenics and Deaf people's rights to citizenship.

Burch manages to lay out discussions of citizenship, Americanization, and cultural conflict in a way that I found engaging as an historian familiar with the literature, and that I think the average reader of US history will also find easy to follow and interesting.

One of the things I really like about what Burch has done here is that she draws primarily on sources written by Deaf people, such as the Deaf press (primarily The Silent Worker and The Frat) and annual reports from Deaf societies, rather than the work of hearing educators.

Burch also makes a point of highlighting fractures in the Deaf community. She brings up issues of sexism, racism, and class conflict between university educated "elites" and "working men". She also discusses the divide between people who became deaf later in life, and people who were either born deaf or became deaf quiet young. These are all especially highlighted during her discussion of eugenics, as deaf elites approved of "discouraging" congenitally deaf couples from marrying and having children, since this was less likely to affect members of their own group, who were primarily deafened later in childhood.

Overall, I really liked this book. Part of Burch's conclusion left me irritated - I would like to move to the world where every Deaf university student actually *gets* a 'terp rather than having to wait forever, even with the ADA - but other than that I think her research is spot-on, her prose is very engaging, and her work is awesome. I recommend this to everyone.


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