Until the 1850s, “deafness” was an umbrella term that encompassed a wide spectrum of aural conditions, including temporary hearing loss, pre-lingual deafness, and congenital deafness. As the auditory basis of deaf persons varied, so too did their lives and experiences, and the extent to which they selected amongst and/or experimented with medical therapeutics and technological “cures” for hearing loss.  Since medical options for bodily afflictions have long been intertwined with our understanding and governance of health and illness, my research examines how the history of deafness cures can reflect particular cultural expectations of “normalcy.” I focus on how the invisible feature of deafness can help us to think about the commercialization of medical goods for hearing loss and how consumerism can provide a window for investigating the cultural constructions of deafness during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

My first book, Hearing Happiness: Fakes, Frauds, and Fads in Deafness Cures, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. This book rethinks how therapeutic negotiation and the influence of pseudo-medicine shaped what it meant to be a “normal” deaf citizen in American history. Examining how deaf/deafened individuals attempted to amplify their hearing through various types of surgical, proprietary, and/or technological “deafness cures,” the book charts the dissemination of ideas about hearing loss from beyond medical elites to popular culture and the popular imagination.

I am also working on three other projects. Objects of Disability is an online resource database of historical artefacts used by, and/or crafted by, Canadians with disabilities, with the site scheduled to launch by the end of 2018. My second book project, From Prevention to Conservation: American Research on Hearing Impairment, 1910-1960 focuses on the network of specialists and services that aimed to improve the hearing of American citizens. By analyzing how various factions aimed to normalize hearing impairment through military rehabilitation efforts, social organizations, and advanced otological techniques, this project historicizes how deafness became construed as an urgent public health matter. Additionally, I am collaborating with Dr. Coreen McGuire on a project tracing the historical roots of clinical audiology in Britain and the role of women scientists. This project, Instrumental Injustices: Women Scientists and the Politics of Deafness in Interwar Britain especially focuses on how scientific instruments were used by women to demonstrate the value of their research against criticism and assert control over (deaf) bodies.


Upcoming Events 

May 16, 2019: Robert Hudson Lecture in the History of Disease, Department of the History and Philosophy of Medicine, Kansas University Medical Center
“‘I am invisibly crippled:’ Meditations of Deafness in Dorothy Brett’s Life & Art”

May 4, 2019: VOICE for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Children 27th Annual Conference
“Hearing Happiness”

February 19, 2019: History Department Workshop, University of Delaware
“Objects of Disability”

January 16, 2019: The Hannah History of Medicine and Medical Humanities Speaker Series, McMaster University
“Prosthetics and Personhood: Object Histories at the Intersection of Medicine and Disability.”

January 3, 2019: STS Colloquium, Department of History, University of British Columbia
“Therapeutic Gadgetry: Curing Deafness with Electricity.”

October 19, 2018: HSTM Colloquium, University of Minnesota
“Mechanical Quackery: Electrical Cures for Deafness in the United States, 1880-1930.”

May 28, 2018: Canadian Society for the History of Medicine Annual Meeting, University of Regina
“Capitalizing Hearing Loss: ‘Deafness Fighters’ in the Hearing Aid Industry, 1910-1980.”

May 28, 2018: Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science Annual Meeting, University of Regina
“Teaching Disability Through Materiality”

March 22, 2018: Brownbag Workshop, Hagley Museum and Library
“Capitalizing Hearing Loss: ‘Deafness Fighters’ in the Hearing Aid Industry, 1910-1980.”

March 15, 2018: New York Academy of Medicine’s History of Medicine Night
“‘Living Sound:’ The Hearing Aid Industry’s Madison Avenue Approach to Public Health, 1940s-1960s.”


Recent Publications

Finger Surgery for Deafness: Rethinking Quackery in Medical History,” Canadian Medical Association Journal 191.7 (19 February 2019): 192-194.

Phyllis M. Tookey Kerridge and the Science of Audiometric Standardization in Britain,” co-authored with Coreen McGuire, British Journal for the History of Science 51.1 (March 2018): 123-146.

Prevention & Conservation: Historicizing the Stigma of Hearing Loss, 1910-1940,” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 45.4 (2017): 531-544.

“Between Cure and Prosthetic: ‘Good Fit’ in Artificial Eardrums,” in Claire L. Jones (Ed.), Rethinking Modern Prostheses in Anglo-American Commodity Cultures, 1820-1939 (Manchester University Press), 48-69.

“The Hearing Aid’s Pursuit of Invisibility,” The Atlantic (August 4, 2016) 

“Dialogues on Disability: Social Media as Platforms for Scholarship,” Medical History 58.4 (2014): 628-630.

“Priority, Piracy, and Printed Directions: James Yearsley’s Patenting of the Artificial Tympanum,” Technology & Innovation: Proceedings of the National Academy of Inventors 16.2 (2014): 145-154.

“Curtis’s Cephaloscope: Deafness and the Making of Surgical Authority in London, 1815-1845,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 87.3 (2013): 349-379.

“‘Not to become a breeding ground for medical experimentation:’ Examining the Tensions between Aurists and Educators for the Deaf, 1815-1830,” British Deaf History Society Journal 15.4 (2013): 8-13.


PhD Dissertation

“From the Hands of Quacks:” Aural Surgery, Deafness, and the Making of a Surgical Specialty in Nineteenth-Century London. University of Toronto, 2014

Tracing the efforts of a particular group of London-based aural practitioners (“aurists”) and their visions of a specialist identity, From the Hands of Quacks explores how medical legitimacy was founded within a field constantly battling professional and social accusations of charlatanry. Historical accounts of aural surgery suggest its early practitioners were all quacks and frauds. This perspective is challenged by demonstrating that between 1810 and 1860, aurists struggled to claim the legitimacy of their specialty by counteracting against claims of medicine’s ineffectiveness to cure deafness. Analyzing the nature of specialty-building, this dissertation looks at various challenges these practitioners (called “aurists”) faced in their quest for surgical authority: from educators for the deaf who resisted surgical and medical intervention for pupils; intra-professional strife and rivalries; accusations of quackery from the broader medical market; and the general difficulty of observing and diagnosing ear diseases. A primary analysis concentrates on technologies as an integral to the formation of surgical authority and identity. As aurists fiercely competed with each other for positions, status, and patients, accusations of quackery weakened their attempts to forge authority as skilled surgical experts. Bringing into light new materials, I examine the concept of quackery and professional legitimacy in aural surgery, addressing how “quack” was a highly ambiguous term generally used to disqualify an adversary or competitor, or to dismiss a particular medical procedure or technology.

Research support was generously provided for by: a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canadian Graduate Scholarship; Pre-Doctoral Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science; University of Toronto School of Graduate Studies Conference Grants; Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology Stillman Drake Travel Grants; and several society awards and grants.