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.

 

Upcoming Events 

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.”

March 22, 2018: Brownbag Workshop, Hagley Museum and Library

“Capitalizing Hearing Loss: ‘Deafness Fighters’ in the Hearing Aid Industry, 1910-1980.”

April 12, 2018: Disability Studies Working Group, University of Pennsylvania

“Capitalizing Hearing Loss: ‘Deafness Fighters’ in the Hearing Aid Industry, 1910-1980.”

 

Recent Publications

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

“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.

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