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


  • Sari Altschuler




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


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.




How to Cite

Altschuler, S. (2011). "He that Hath an Ear to Hear": Deaf America and the Second Great Awakening. Disability Studies Quarterly, 31(1). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v31i1.1368