"He that Hath an Ear to Hear": Deaf America and the Second Great Awakening

Sari Altschuler


This essay explores the American Deaf community as a revealing limit-case for constructions of nineteenth-century national identity — specifically, how the religious boom during the Second Great Awakening rhetorically, structurally, and conceptually clashed with the Deaf community it spawned. The argument has three parts. The first part is a prehistory that explores the relationship between early nineteenth-century evangelism and construction of the first American Deaf community. The second part probes the hearing-based rhetoric and practice of evangelical preachers and the problems that deaf people the posed to emerging Protestant-American identity. The last section focuses on the actual battleground — language — arguing that oralism/manualism conflicts grew impassioned because they both located issues that deaf people raised with regard to oral transmission and became a lightning rod for less articulable threats to national unity. Finally, I suggest that many significant contributions Deaf studies has to offer American history and historiography have yet to be explored.


Deaf people; the Deaf community; deafness; Second Great Awakening; sign language; Thomas Gallaudet; Hartford; the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb; religion; national identity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v31i1.1368

Copyright (c) 2011 Sari Altschuler

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