As we begin this blogging journey, I am looking forward to participating in new networks of thinkers, writers, and readers with my fellow Floaters here at the Floating Academy and other bloggers and commenters in the academic blogosphere. This formation of an online network among those who share common interests, and how that network contributes to the formation of new communities has many historical precursors, of course, but the resemblance I keep coming back to is one that is related to my research in Victorian Deaf and Disability Studies.

Over the second half of the nineteenth-century – in Britain and North America – an entire network of periodicals flourished in deaf communities. These newspapers were often issued monthly to subscribers by deaf organizations or deaf schools. In fact, an entire subgenre of these deaf periodicals – known as the Little Paper Family – were written and printed by deaf students at deaf schools. These periodicals reported news of deaf people and organizations, announced upcoming events, contained editorials and letters on political issues affecting deaf people, and published poetry and stories written by their deaf readers.

One of the most striking features of these periodicals is how thoroughly they reported news from other parts of the country and across the Atlantic. Many of the major deaf papers circulated their papers to each other and would acknowledge receipt of other deaf papers in a list on their editorial page (in something akin to a blogroll). They would comment on stories in these other papers — in a proto-link, I suppose – and then add their own commentary on the issue reported. (One American paper — the Silent Worker — had a news from elsewhere column titled “The Kinetoscope and Telephone” where the print news column stood in for the motion picture technology that so thrilled deaf audiences and the sound technology that was inaccessible to deaf people.)

The immense network of nineteenth-century deaf periodicals – and their importance to the formation of deaf identity and community – resulted from a variety of causes. First, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most American deaf schools had their own printshop where students were taught printing (which was a common occupation for American deaf men). Another explanation for the immense proliferation of nineteenth-century deaf periodicals lies in the communal allegiances of deaf communities in Britain, Canada, and the United States. Their shared mode of language, alongside their experiences facing audism and attacks against their use of signed languages, meant that deaf people often felt they had more in common with their deaf contemporaries in other countries than their fellow citizens. By linking to each other’s stories, by distributing their thoughts and news internationally, and by using writing as a tool of community, deaf communities in the nineteenth century formed important transnational networks.

Readers, I would really like to hear about your personal experiences with blogging and the formation of community. What kind of potential is there for blogs to contribute to academic community building and how far has that potential been realized? How are your blog-related networks different from your other professional networks? How are all the trappings of the blog — the links, blogrolls, immediacy of RSS feeds — related to the development of community building?

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4 thoughts on “Community-building through Victorian Deaf Periodicals (and Victorianist Blogs?)

  1. I think that Emily Faithfull employed a deaf woman in her press–I’d be interested to know more about the historical relationship between deafness and printing as an occupation.

    1. The fascinating nineteenth-century connection between deaf people and the occupation of printing has been attended to by some Disability Studies critics. Lennard Davis, for instance, writes: “Historically, the profession for which the deaf were prepared in residential schools was printing particularly typesetting, a profession for which they were believed to be particularly suited. Currently, computer programming is seen as a fit profession for the deaf. These are jobs in which signs can be produced without reference to the sense of hearing” (181).

      Perhaps this topic deserves a future post of its own?

      Davis, Lennard. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body. 1995.

  2. I am trying to find out more about the occupations the deaf in Victorian Britain had. Nearly all of the literature focuses on their education but not what happened later on in life. Do you have any references I can access?

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