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EXPERIENCES OF THE DEAF IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 September 2003

EMILY COCKAYNE
Affiliation:
Magdalen College, Oxford

Abstract

Some recent studies have highlighted the importance of sounds for social interaction in the early modern period, yet the consequences for deaf members of society are rarely questioned. Those without the ability to hear lived in a world of sounds controlled by those who heard. This article explores the extent to which the deaf were socially integrated in English society between the mid-sixteenth and mid-eighteenth centuries. It also assesses the disadvantages suffered by those born deaf, or who lost their hearing. Crucial to the discussion is an understanding that experiences were not uniform, as the term deafness covered a wide spectrum of conditions, from temporary hearing loss to profound congenital deafness. Clearly some were more disabled than others, but their disadvantages were more to do with traditional social divisions of wealth and status, rather than the extent of their hearing impairment. Fundamentally, the most inhibiting factor was an inability to apprehend words.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2003 Cambridge University Press

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Footnotes

The modern Deaf community capitalize ‘Deaf’ to refer to people who share significant hearing loss and who feel that they belong to a community of people with cultural similarities. As existence of such a community is not apparent in the early modern period, it is unnecessary to use the capitalized form, and I will refer to those with hearing loss as ‘deaf’. Versions of this article were presented at ‘Sense and nonsense: a quizzical look at Aristotle's five senses in the early modern world’ at the Institute of Historical Research, and ‘Medicine and culture before 1700’, at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Oxford. I am grateful for all the participants' insightful questions.
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