If you were lying awake last night thinking “You know what I need? I need to read a well-written, engaging book that deals with Deaf cultural history in the US, and that includes discussion of gender, race, and class distinctions. Gosh, if only I knew of such a book!”, I have exciting news: Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History, 1900-1942 is totally the perfect book for you!
Although the book is basically chronological, Burch divides the subject into overall themes and discusses them at length. She starts with the Oralism vs Sign Language in Schools issue, then discusses the growing Deaf community, Deaf-focused Associations and Clubs (including Deaf athletes competing in mainstream sports), barriers to Deaf people and working, and legal issues that Deaf people faced, including proposed bans on Deaf-Deaf marriages (think of the children!) and bans on Deaf people driving.
Throughout, Burch discusses intersectionality. While the chapters are primarily focused (due to sources) on white Gallaudet-educated men, she devotes time in every chapter to discussing how white women in the same situations were treated, and how Black Deaf people had almost entirely different experiences from white Deaf people, such as the segregated school system and racism within the Deaf community. I’m pretty certain this is Burch’s earliest work, and I know her later stuff focuses a lot more on these issues.
One thing I really liked about this book as well is that Burch puts a short sketch of the life of various Deaf people in every chapter. This gives us someone to “root” for, as well as someone to celebrate or make note of. It’s easy to look at a book like this, that talks about broad cultures, and forget that individuals were actually involved in it. I also like that, for the most part, these were people I hadn’t heard of. While Gallaudet and Clerc are discussed – they have to be, really, for any history of Deaf education in the US – the life sketches are of people like Alice Taylor Terry or Thomas Francis Fox.
I found the text very engaging, and not difficult to read. Like most people, I’ve groaned my way through dull prose that made me want to sleep rather than read, but Burch’s writing kept me wanting to stay up late reading.
I give this book 5/5 stars, and would totally recommend it to anyone. The only thing that makes me eager to put it aside is that I have some of Burch’s later books and edited anthologies in my To Be Read (TBR) pile.