Negotiating Normalcy: Deafness Cures in American History

Negotiating Normalcy: Deafness Cures in American History



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Jaipreet Virdi, PhD, presented the 14th annual Richard B. Davis, MD, PhD, History of Medicine Lecture on April 14, 2023.

During the late 19th century, entrepreneurs began to glut the direct-to-consumer medical market with a plethora of remedies they professed could miraculously cure deafness. They claimed their medicines and machines fostered a world of unbridled optimism for providing hope to deaf ears. Even as medical specialists denounced these cure-all treatments as quackery in its finest form, the messages of restoring hearing would transfer over to the hearing aid industry.

Focusing on the marketing of cures for deafness — hearing trumpets, electrotherapy apparatuses and hearing aids — this presentation unravels the many ways deaf people sought to restore or gain hearing. This history provides a broad context for understanding the lived experiences of deaf people and how cultural pressures of normalcy significantly stigmatized deafness.

Dr. Virdi is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Delaware. A historian of medicine, technology and disability, she has focused her research on the ways medicine and technology impact people with disability. She is author of “Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History” (University of Chicago Press, 2020), is co-editor of “Disability and the Victorians: Attitudes, Legacies, Interventions” (Manchester University Press, 2020) and has published articles on diagnostic technologies, audiometry and the medicalization of deafness.

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Negotiating Normalcy: Deafness Cures in American History