Dr. Jaipreet Virdi
is an award-winning historian whose research focuses on the ways medicine and technology impact the lived experiences of disabled people. Her first book, Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History (University of Chicago Press, 2020) raises pivotal questions about deafness in American society and the endless quest for a cure. She has published articles on diagnostic technologies, audiometry, hearing aids, and the medicalization of deafness and has published essays in The Atlantic, Slate/Future Tense, Aeon+Psyche, and the New Internationalist.
As an educator, Virdi has taught at Ryerson University, the University of Toronto, and Brock University. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the Department of History at the University of Delaware where she teaches courses on disability histories, the history of medicine, and health activism. She also serves as Co-Director of the Hagley Program in the History of Capitalism, Technology, and Culture.
Born in Kuwait to Sikh parents, Virdi lost her hearing at age four to bacterial meningitis. By age six, her working-class family immigrated to Toronto, Ontario where she would later attend a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. A product of “mainstreamed” education, Virdi learned to lip-read and rely on her hearing aids. She attended public high schools, then received her Bachelors’ degree in the philosophy of science from York University. After graduation, she she worked in marketing and fashion merchandising before deciding to return to school. She received first her masters, then her doctorate, from the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, focusing on the history of medicine and technology. Her PhD dissertation is titled “From the Hands of Quacks:” Aural Surgery, Deafness, and the Making of a Specialty in Nineteenth-Century London.
Virdi is currently working on two books. Her second book, Medicalizing Deafness: Aural Surgery in Nineteenth Century Britain (McGill-Queen’s University Press, under contract) traces the efforts of British aurists (ear specialists), examining how their attempts to define a professional identity depended on dismantling cultural perceptions about the incurability of deafness. She is co-writing Setting Standards: Phyllis M. Tookey Kerridge and the Science of Disability in Interwar Britain (Johns Hopkins University Press, under contract) with Dr. Coreen McGuire on a study of the historical roots of scientific research on disabilities–such as deafness and breathlessness–and the role of women scientists. Focusing on Phyllis Kerridge’s work, this book examines how scientific instruments were used by women to demonstrate the value of their research against criticism and to assert control over disabled subjects.
In addition, Virdi is working on a new research project historicizing how disabled people tinkered with their prostheses and perceived their devices to be prosthetic extensions of themselves that were crucial for their self-crafting of normalcy. Through case studies of users adopting what Virdi refers to as “the disabled gaze,” this project forces us to confront how disabled people challenged medicalized assumptions about their bodies, and claimed their own spaces to craft their identity.
Prolific on Twitter, Virdi uses her platform to raise awareness of medical inequities, social injustice, and disability rights. Occasionally she also shares unique images and stories in the history of medicine, expanding her teaching to a more public and accessible area. She lives in Newark, Delaware with her spouse Geoff Bil, a historian of science, her hearing service dog Lizzie, and her one-eyed, deaf rescue dog Benny.