Monday Series: “In the Guise of a Friend” III

Although most deaf people rejected oralism and other threads of Bell’s argument, they did not control the schools or the institutions imposed upon them, and thus were helpless to the paternalistic advances made upon them.[1] The deaf were taught integration and “social training” with oralism were socially desirable goods that paved the path towards normalization. As Owen Wrigley explains, through this view, not only was society protected from the “contaminant” of deafness, but the deaf were given “the “opportunity” to improve themselves” and render themselves as “normal.”[2] A large portion of the deaf community did not accept such measures passively. Writers furiously opposed Bell in periodicals and newspapers, and some even grossly took Bell’s arguments in Memoir out of context, quoting him as favouring legislation against deaf intermarriage when Bell admitted he raised the point to strike it down. Even the attempts of Edward A. Fay (1869-1952), professor of languages at the National College and editor of the American Annals of the Deaf, were futile in clarifying Bell’s views. Fay provided a running sign language translation of Bell’s arguments and published corrections of various misquotes; yet vestiges of the original misquote on Bell’s stance on marriage legislation persisted. Yet vestiges of the misquotes persisted for years. In 1889, Bell and Fay sought to solidify Bell’s arguments and statistics as laid out in Memoir, by compiling an extensive demographic and statistical study to be undertaken by Fay. With financial support from Bell’s Volta Bureau, Fay’s conclusions in An Inquiry Concerning the Results of Marriage of the Deaf in America (1895) agreed with Bell’s Memoir and supported the notion of hereditary deafness as a threat inflicting America. [3]

In 1891, Bell directly addressed the deaf community to correct misunderstood perceptions of his arguments. Speaking to the Literary Society of the National College of Deaf-Mutes in Washington, D.C., Bell’s response to the charge that he advocated legislative restrictions on deaf intermarriage was thus:  “my friends, it is not true…I want you to distinctly understand that I have no intention of interfering with your liberty or marriage. You can marry whom you choose, and I hope you will be happy. It is not for me to blame you for marrying to suit yourself; for you all know that I myself, the son of a deaf mother, have married a deaf wife.”[4] As in Memoir, Bell explains to his audience that the possibility of legislative interference with deaf intermarriages was raised only as a means for reducing the probabilities of the production of deaf offspring “to a minimum.” However, being a man of principles, Bbell recognized that such prohibitions would interfere with the constitutional right to happiness and would not cease sexual relations among deaf couples, leading only to an increase in illegitimate children. Instead, Bell proposed that in “order to justify the passage of such an act…the results of intermarriage…should be fully investigated than is possible at the present time on account of limited data.”[5] Only further research could shed light into the social consequences of deaf intermarriages.

While many perceived Bell’s arguments as a ruthless attack on deaf-deaf marriages, Greenwald asserts there were others who have interpreted Bell’s polemical document as the recognition of the right of deaf people to marry, for it clearly identifies factors that contributed and caused the growth of deaf culture.[6] I agree with Greenwald’s point, for Bell raises these factors in order to analyze the necessity for isolating the deaf from each other, and thus properly integrate them into society. Bell did not support the outright prohibition of intermarriage among deaf people, or any legislation attempting to reinforce it. Instead, recognizing the importance of education, Bell used his statistical studies in conjunction with Fay’s, to provide evidential proof for their counsel for the deaf against intermarriages; he wanted deaf couples to fully weight the data and recognize the implications of their decisions for society and urged them to consider deaf-hearing marriages as an alternative. What Bell really wanted to show was the option available for the deaf that could not otherwise been apparent from within the self-imposed isolation of the deaf community. Education, counsel and the need for further research were always Bell’s aim and he continuously declared his perspective throughout the Memoir:  “lead to the completion of the statistics;”[7] “publish fuller information;”[8] “segregation for the purposes of education;”[9] “coeducation with hearing children,”[10] and so forth.

Bell was inclined to argue that education was necessary for proper normalization, as it made aware to the resistant deaf community the severe implications of deaf intermarriages. Bell’s 1891 address was his last direct address to the deaf community. Controversy against his views on deaf intermarriage continued to follow him well into the twentieth century despite his insistence that his arguments were misunderstood. In a 1908 letter to J.L. Smith of The Volta Review, the periodical of Bell’s Volta Bureau, Bell writes of his frustration with the accusations against him, maintaining that he has “always deprecated legislative interference with the marriages of the deaf.”[11] Nevertheless, Bell’s work on hereditary deafness and eugenics continued as he examined his statistics through breeding experiments on sheep and white cats. As eugenicists relied on Bell’s Memoir as evidence of the hereditary threats imposing upon society, it is necessary to further examine Bell’s views on eugenics, as well as whether his views during the early twentieth century for implementing eugenics measures upon the deaf differed from those published in the Memoir.

 

NOTES


[1] D. Baynton, “‘A Silent Exile on this Earth:’ The Metaphorical Construction of Deafness in the Nineteenth Century,” American Quarterly 44.2 (June 1992): 216-243.

[2] Wrigley, The Politics of Deafness, p.140.

[3] Bell’s Volta Bureau was established with the funds he received from the French Alessandro Volta prize in recognition of his invention of the telephone.  The Volta Bureau served as the base for much of bell’s research on hereditary deafness, oralism, and later, eugenics. While Fay relied on Bell’s generosity for his own demographic study, he Fay was not in agreement with all of Bell’s views. As a hearing individual employed at a deaf institution, Fay supported the right of the deaf to be educated with sign language. J.V. Van Cleve and B.A. Crouch, A Place of their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America (Washington, D.C. Gallaudet University Press, 1989), p.73.

[4] A.G. Bell, “Marriage.” An address delivered to the Literary Society of Kendall Green, Washington D.C., March 6, 1891. Reprinted in Science 17.424 (Mar. 20, 1891): 160.

[5] Bell, Memoir, p.45.

[6] B.H. Greenwald, “The Real ‘Toll’ of A.G. Bell: Lessons about Eugenics,” in Genetics, Disability and Deafness, ed. John Vickery Van Cleve (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2004), p.36. Furthermore, Greenwald argues that the misguided belief that Bell advocated the sterilization of deaf people has generated outrange and distracted people from a far more threatening impact to the deaf community, that is, Bell’s staunch support of oralism. For Greenwald, Bell’s oralism was far more dangerous to the deaf community than mere ideas of the possibility of sterilization.

[7] Bell, Memoir, p.4.

[8] Bell, Memoir, p.18.

[9] Bell, Memoir, p.46.

[10] Bell, Memoir, p.46.

[11] Quoted in Lang, Silence of the Spheres, p.83.

 

Monday Series: “In the Guise of a Friend” II

“My friends, it is not true:” Isolation & Marriage Restrictions

For years Bell served as the recognized leader of those who opposed the use of sign language in teaching. While he acknowledged the aesthetical beauty of sign language, Bell argued it was the easiest means for communication among deaf children and made them too lazy to learn proper English.[1] Not only was sign language unsuited for integration, but it was a “prison intellectually as well as socially…because it was ideographic rather than phonetic, limited in precision, flexibility, subtlety, and power of abstraction.”[2] Bell writes:

The deaf-mutes think in the gesture language, and English is apt to remain a foreign tongue. They can communicate with hearing people by writing, but they often write in broken English, as a foreigner would speak. They think in gestures, and often translate into written English with the idioms of the sign language. The constant practice of the sign language interferes with the mastery of the English language, and it is to be feared that comparatively few of the congenitally deaf are able to read books understandingly unless couched in simple language…This is another element in forcing them into each other’s society.[3]

To teach the deaf the mastery of the English language and thus remove them from segregation, Bell modelled his work upon his father’s success with Visible Speech as a normalizing technique for the deaf.[4] Much of Bell’s educational endeavours at the American Asylum, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois Institutions yielded the conclusion that with Visible Speech, proper assimilation and social development in deaf children would not be accomplished unless they were also isolated from each other to prevent communication by sign language.[5]

The rising emergence of deaf culture and its isolation from society was an accidental result of what Davis calls “ideological apparatuses:” significant changes that propelled the further propagation of deaf culture through institutions, newspapers, language, and associations.[6] Bell argued these ideological apparatuses also propagated the rise of “a deaf variety” of the human race through a continuous selection of intermarriages between the deaf. In isolating themselves within the comfort of their own community, the deaf thus isolated themselves from the rest of society.  In Memoir, Bell gathered statistical data from his work on the United States Census Report of 1880 and his genealogical studies at Martha’s Vineyard to analyze the rate of intermarriages between the deaf in a variety of institutions for the deaf.[7] According to Bell, an examination of these records revealed that the percentage of deaf-deaf marriages rose steadily over the years: deaf-deaf marriages consisted of 56% of total marriages of the deaf in 1810, 81% in 1839, and 92% in 1860.[8] He conceded that“[f]or the last fifty years there has been some selective influence at work which has caused, and is still causing, the continuous selection of the deaf by the deaf in marriage”[9] and “the percentage of deaf-hearing marriages is entirely insignificant now.”[10] To reduce the preference of intermarriage among the deaf and reduce the likelihood of a “deaf variety”, Bell advocated four preventive measures: eliminate residential schools, suppress sign language, prohibit deaf teachers for the deaf, and outlaw deaf intermarriage.

Bell’s conceptualization of the deaf requiring preventive measures was tied to his belief that the public conception of the deaf as “disabled” and as “social ills” required tremendous shifting. These measures provided a faultless solution to integrate the deaf into hearing society and spare them the erroneous fallacies of “ignorant minds.”[11] While Foucauldian notions of disability construct the body as socially driven and propelled by economic and social factors, the perception of the “disabled body” can be seen as a part of larger and more general projects to control and regulate the body.[12] Controlling the body through regulation of the “disability of deafness” proved to be difficult, since deafness is a cultural construction whose meaning changes consistently. As its meaning changes, so does its context for normalization.[13] While the deaf community disparaged the stigma of being born deaf, as well as the construction of deafness as a medical condition requiring “correction,” hearing men of influential positions saw the “helpless nature” of the deaf requiring social intervention. Bell was no exception to this view, as he believed that not only was deaf community’s self-imposed isolation a threat for the human race, but also that the deaf could essentially improve themselves by normalizing themselves. In order to normalize, Bell urge the deaf to forgo the attractiveness of deaf culture and integrate themselves into hearing society; by isolating themselves from each other, Bell assured the deaf their social status would considerably improve.

For Bell, the two forms of isolation justified his advances for normalization, which could equally be achieved through oralism and the propagation of deaf-hearing marriages. Unsurprisingly, Bell’s conclusions antagonized the deaf community by implying they were forerunners of an inferior species and implying that the “deaf variety” was a direct result of the deaf community’s self-imposed isolation. Teachers of the deaf doubted the validity of Bell’s statistics, arguing that they were atrociously exaggerated.[14] Members of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) also fiercely rallied against Bell’s paternalistic conclusions, especially the last of his preventive measures. Bruce claims that Bell doubtless aimed to dramatize “a dangerous trend by projecting it to extremity, but instead came near reducing it to absurdity.”[15] The deaf community saw nothing wrong with being deaf and having deaf children and they also resented Bell’s construction of deafness as a “defect” in an otherwise normal individual. Despite Bell’s well-founded intentions, his conclusions constructed the deaf as second-class citizens.[16]

 

NOTES


[1] Bruce, Bell, p.383.

[2] H. Lane, “A Chronology of the Repression of Sign Language in France and the United States,” in Recent Perspectives on American Sign Language, eds. H. Lane and F. Grosjean (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989), p.149.

[3] Bell, Memoir, p.42.

[4] As outlined in Alexander Melville Bell’s Visible Speech: The Science of Universal Alphabetics (London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co., 1867), Visible Speech is a phonetic system composed of symbols that represent movements of the throat, tongue and lips to produce the natural sounds of the English language. It was eventually popularized in residential deaf institutions and is the evolutionary forbearer of Alexander Graham Bell’s system of oralism which merged Visible Speech and lip-reading to teach the deaf how to speak.

[5] O. Wrigley, The Politics of Deafness (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1996), p.30.

[6] Davis, Enforcing Normalcy, p.81. Davis also diligently observes that Bell’s advice for restricting the influence of these ideological apparatuses “are reminiscent of the measures frequently implemented by colonial powers seeking to dismantle the culture of a nonnational or indigenous people” (p.81).

[7] The Massachusetts State Board of Health employed Bell in 1878 to gather statistics on inherited defects in order to understand the laws of heredity. Bell’s report provided the scientific base for Memoir. W.D. Stansfield, “The Bell Family Legacies,” Journal of Heredity 96.1 (2005): 1.

[8] Bell, Memoir, p.20. Nora Ellen Groce provides a fantastic analysis of Bell’s research and intentions at Martha’s Vineyard in her book, Everyone here spoke sign language: hereditary deafness at Martha’s Vineyard (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985). She argues that Bell’s demographic sample for his statistics was probably skewed, as Bell worked from within the deaf community and had less contact with deaf people in other parts of America who were not part of a recognized deaf community or deaf culture, or who were not confined in (residential) institutions for the deaf. Groce also explains that since the laws of Mendelian heredity had not yet been popularized, Bell was puzzled about the 1-in-4 incidence of deafness in families at Martha’s Vineyard; though Bell could not explain the aberration, he recognized that heredity played some role.

[9] Bell, Memoir, p.4.

[10] Bell, Memoir, p.21.

[11] Bell, Memoir, p.45. Bell also describes the story of a deaf-mute who was shot dead in Alabama in 1857 by a man who was alarmed by his gestures to demonstrate how such fallacies of the deaf need to be seriously revised. He published much of his suggestions for correcting common erroneous perceptions of the deaf in “Fallacies Concerning the Deaf,” American Annals of the Deaf 29 (January 1884): 32-60.

[12] Davis, Enforcing Normalcy, p.3

[13] J. Branson and D. Miller, Damned for their Difference: The Cultural Construction of Deaf People as Disabled (Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2002), p.216.

[14] Haller, Eugenics, p.32.

[15] Bruce, Bell, p.410.

[16] Sue H. Mitchell, “The Haunting Influence of Alexander Graham Bell,” American Annals of the Deaf 116 (June 1971): 356.

 

Monday Series: “In the guise of a friend:” The Eugenics Gaze of “Alexander the Aggressor”

Welcome, to a new Monday Series! I wrote this paper for Dr. Mark Solovey (IHPST) for his class on the History of Social Science (April 2009). In this paper, I focus on Alexander Graham Bell as an example for examining the complexities and conflicts within the eugenics movement in the United States during the early 19th century. Bell was opposed to legal measures for negative eugenics aimed at the deaf, yet at the same time he supported “voluntary” checks on marriage and procreation–i.e. positive eugenics. In particular, I examine in this paper how Bell sought to separate the deaf from other groups considered to be “defective.”

Enjoy, Dear Reader! And as always, I welcome your thoughts.

“In the guise of a friend:” The Eugenics Gaze of “Alexander the Aggressor”

Alexander Graham Bell (1849-1922) speaking into a prototype model of the telephone, 1876

 

“The whole subject of eugenics has been too much associated in the public mind with fantastical and improbable schemes for restricting marriage and preventing the propagation of indesirable characteristics, so that the very name “Eugenics” suggests, to the average mind, insanity, feeble-mindedness &c and an attempt to interfere with the liberty of the individual in his pursuit of happiness in marriage. If we make the promotion of desirable marriages our chief aim, and regulate interference with marriage to a subordinate position, the public will gain a truer conception of the aims and purposes of the persons engaged in eugenical work.”

-Letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Charles Benedict Davenport, Dec. 27, 1912.

“Behold, then, the crowning achievement of Alexander the Aggressor, in the invention of the telephone! This is a performance for which with the hearing world he no doubt deserves credit. But the previous and later history of the dealings with the Children of Silence makes us almost believe it was prompted, not by scientific ambition, not by any desire to serve his fellows, but by a pure deviltry which found delight in inventing something which none of the deaf might use!…As a contrivance for making the deaf man feel small, the telephone beats the world!”

C.R. Barns at the 11th Convention of the National Association of the Deaf, 1916.

In a paper presented to the National Academy of Sciences on November 13, 1883, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) provided statistical evidence to support the claim that if the laws of heredity hold suit, then “the intermarriage of congenital deaf-mutes through a number of successive generations should result in the formation of a deaf variety of the human race.”[1] By examining records of institutions for the deaf across America, Bell found deaf intermarriages “to be not the exception but the rule,” and insisted proper remedial measures were needed to “lessen or check this tendency.”[2] Published as Memoir upon the Foundation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race (1884), Bell’s paper became the exemplar of hereditary statistics for American eugenicists in the Progressive Era.

Bell’s Memoir was published at a time of rising interest in the study of human heredity. At the same year, Francis Galton (1822-1911) applied heredity and selective breeding to humans, publishing his monograph on “eugenics” in Inquiries into human faculty and its development. Defining “eugenics” as “the science which deals with all the influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race,”[3] Galton argued the quality of the human race could be improved by encouraging reproduction amongst the “good stock,” and discouraging reproduction from the “bad stock.” While eugenics attracted moderate attention in Galton’s Britain during the nineteenth century, it saw a surge of popularity and scientific application once it crossed the Atlantic at the turn of the century. With the zealous participation of Charles Benedict Davenport (1866-1944), eugenics found an intellectual home for ideologies of biological determinism during the first thirty years of the twentieth century. Heralded with the idea of an ideologically purified America “purged of past sins and guarded against future menace,” the American eugenics movement reflected much of the nativist, reform-oriented liberalism and racism of the Progressives.[4] As a social philosophy, eugenics was conceived as a scientifically grounded reform approach and a benign application of science to humanitarianism that called for social problems to be measured and quantified. It is important to note that the movement was not a single phenomenon propagating complex ideas about heredity, social welfare and public policy. Rather, as historians Mark Haller and Daniel Kevles have argued, the movement was a series of stages that served as a sort of secular religion for scientists dreaming of a vigorous and healthy society.[5] Based on ideas of normalcy and anxieties about the degeneracy of the nation resulting from immigration, eugenics was an extremely nimble ideology that influenced decisions on sterilization policy, education curriculum and created to what Lennard Davis calls “the eugenics gaze:” a commitment to the importance and manipulation of heredity as a means for achieving racial and national improvement.[6] It was through heredity Bell found scientific support for his arguments on a “deaf variety.”

Tying Bell’s work on eugenics and oralism is therefore significant for understanding not only Bell’s personal views on eugenical measures, but also the intertwining of ideas about hereditary deafness and eugenics in twentieth century America. Bell felt a natural sympathy for the isolation of the deaf. Inspired by the success of oralism—the use of speech and lip-reading over sign language as primary communication—in his mother and wife, Bell years striving to significantly transform the public perception of the deaf in America. While scholars of deaf history have long recognized the influence of eugenics in Bell’s thoughts, to a large extent, the literature on Bell in general (or “mainstream”) history and deaf history has been kept separate, without much overlapping in arguments or uses of sources.[7] Despite his eugenical work and prominent positions in the American Breeders’ Association Committee on Eugenics and the Eugenics Record Office, Bell’s role has been significantly undermined in the history of the American eugenics movement. Brian Greenwald’s dissertation is the most comprehensive discourse on the dual image of Bell as an educator of the deaf and as an eugenicist. Greenwald argues that while Bell’s views on eugenics and his alliance with various eugenicists were in conflict with his personal familiarity with the basic humanity of deaf people, Bell nonetheless served as an “effective buffer” between the scientific and deaf communities.[8] In doing so, Bell protected the deaf community from the full force of harsh eugenics measures, including legislation restricting marriage, and sterilization, even while weakening the community through his advocacy of oralism. In Memoir, Bell explains his paternalistic stance: “[m]any people have the idea that [the deaf] are dangerous, morse, [sic] ill-tempered, &c. Then again people do not understand the mental condition of a person who cannot speak and who thinks in gestures. He is sometimes looked upon as a sort of monstrosity to be stared at and avoided” (Bell’s emphasis).[9] Normalization through oralism could spare the deaf from further mistreatment from the hearing society.

The two chief interests of Bell’s life, education and eugenics, merged together over the issue of deaf intermarriage. While the eugenics movement’s main aim was to translate science into public policy, Bell turned to eugenics to enforce and further his educational approaches for the deaf. In this paper I argue that oralism served two of Bell’s agendas for integrating the deaf into hearing society and reducing the likelihood for a “deaf variety.” First, by subscribing to ideas of heredity of his time, Bell saw in oralism an opportunity to “normalize” the deaf by removing them from their isolation from society as well as from the “instinctive prejudices” of hearing society.[10] As Robert Bruce explains, this “needless isolation of the deaf touched [Bell’s] compassion and sense of justice,” and thus Bell turned to eugenics as a means for breaking down that isolation.[11] Secondly, through his eugenics gaze, Bell’s research aimed to reinforce a certain conceptualization of deaf people, one which relied on what Harlan Lane refers as “technologies of normalization:” procedures and technologies that reify socially rejected differences as a treatable biological condition.[12] In Bell’s case, oralism and eugenics both served this purpose, by removing from the deaf barriers to their integration—sign language, residential schools, associations, and the like—and replacing with guises of “normal” behaviour, such as speech and lip-reading, thus rendering the deaf different from other “undesirables” categorized by eugenicists. Bell thus relied on oralism as an alternative to sterilization and restrictive legislation measures championed by negatives eugenicists in the likes of Harry Hamilton Laughlin (1880-1945). Therefore, for Bell, oralism would allow for the “healthy integration” of the deaf into society and the decline of the “deaf variety” of the human race.

NOTES


[1] A.G. Bell, Memoir upon the formation of a Deaf variety of the Human race (1884), p.4.

[2] Bell, Memoir, p.45.

[3] F. Galton, “Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope, and Aims,” The American Journal of Sociology 10 (1904): 1.

[4] N. Ordover, American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), p.7.

[5] M. Haller, Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought (New York: Rutgers University Press, 1963; D.J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (London & Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995). Haller describes the movement in three stages: the “Preparation Period” from 1870 to 1905, the “Influential Period,” from 1905 to 1930, and the “Downhill Period,” which occurred after the 1930s with the emergence of the Nazi association with eugenics. Besides a few other books on the general history of American eugenics, there have been some articles and books meticulously examining specific issues that arose from the movement. Kenneth Ludmerer’s Genetics and American Society (John  Hopkins University Press, 1972)  also acknowledges both internal (e.g. revival of Mendelism) and external (e.g. economic unrest) influences contributed to attitudes towards eugenics and the growth of the movement. Steve Selden’s Inheriting Shame: The Story of Eugenics and Racism and America (New York & London: Teachers College Press, 1999) and Nancy Ordover’s American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy and the Science of Nationalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003) explore how perceptions of race influenced the direction of America eugenicists. Gerald Allen has also persuasively argued that the fundamental ideas of eugenics were not the product of either the rediscovery of Mendel’s Laws or the Progressive “social movement.” Instead, he presents the eugenics movement within the complexities of moods and tensions of economic and social reform that followed labor and social unrest resulting from periods of economic depression. G. Allen, “Eugenics and American Social History, 1880-1959,” Genome 31 (1989):885-889.

[6] L.J. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body (London & New York: Verso, 1995), p.46.

[7] In Silence of the Spheres: The Deaf Experience in the History of Science (Bergin & Garvey, 1994), Harry Lang acknowledges that Bell was a man of scientific inclination whose view of the world was influenced by Darin, while Douglas Banyton criticizes Bell’s Social Darinism, arguing that Bell’s findings were unfounded and based on a faulty understanding of genetics (“‘A Silent Exile on this Earth:’ The Metaphorical Construction of Deafness in the Nineteenth Century,” American Quarterly 44.2 (June 1992): 216-243). In the history of eugenics, on the other hand, Bell is cast to the background of the movement, placed in the shadows of more prominent figures such as Davenport, Laughlin, and David Starr Jordan, though there are a few exceptions. In his meticulously researched War of the Weak (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), Edwin Black discusses Bell’s uneasiness with the Eugenics Record Office’s constant focus on negative traits, but Black only glosses over the story and fails to tie Bell’s work as an eugenicist with that of his oralism. Haller has characterized Bell as a respected participant in the movement, but he implies Bell was in favour of legislation interference with deaf intermarriages in evidence for the contrary. Likewise, Charles Rosenberg has also argued Bell was more interested in the science of heredity than the racial ideology associated with eugenics (No Other Gods: on Science and American Social Thought (John Hopkins University Press, 1997)).

[8] B.H. Greenwald, “Alexander Graham Bell through the Lens of Eugenics, 1883-1922,” PhD Dissertation, George Washington University, 2006. There is a long list of literature among scholars of Deaf studies and Deaf history over the proper distinction between “deaf” and “Deaf.” While “deaf” commonly refers to any individual with a degree of hearing loss, the use of capital-D has come to signify individuals who have forged with the deaf community and identify themselves with sign-language and are thus culturally distinct from the rest of society (what scholars of deaf history call “mainstream” society). However, the recognition—and acceptance—of a separate and distinct deaf culture that became Deaf culture did not arise until the 1960s and 1970s with the acceptance and integration of American Sign Language. Thus, in keeping with proper historical terminology, unless otherwise directly quoted from sources, I will be using “deaf”  or “deaf-mutes” to refer to all aspects of deaf community, culture, and individuals, whether or not they identified themselves as a separate cultural group.

[9] Bell, Memoir, p.45.

[10] Bell, Memoir, p.43.

[11] R.V. Bruce, Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest for Solitude (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1973), p.379.

[12] H. Lane, “Do Deaf People have a Disability?” in Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking. Eds. H-Dirksen L. Bauman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p.287.



For the Maker of the Stars: The Cultural Reception of Print

Accept then, most clement Prince, this gentle glory reserved by the stars for you. May you long enjoy those blessing which are sent to you not so much from the stars as from God, their Maker and their Governor.

Your Highness’s most devoted servant, Galileo Galilei. Padua, Mach 12, 1610

-Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius (Venice, 1610); Dedication letter to Cosimo II de’Medici

Prosper Marchand’s frontpiece on Histoire de l’origine et des primiers progrès de l’imprimerie (1740) shows the spirit of Print descending from the heavens under the aegis of Minerva and Mercury, towards representations of the “true” originator of the printing press: Gutenberg, Fust, and (a blank) Schoeffer for Germany; Koster in the hands of Holland, Caxton for England, Manutius for Italy, and Estienne for France.[1] The painting captures both the problem of crediting the “true” inventor, and the argument for a culture of reception for the transmission of scientific knowledge. From the “age of incunabula” to the arrival of the printing press, print revolutionized, and “altered both the inception and dissemination of knowledge.”[2] For the historian, the relationship between print and knowledge contains a complex history of the social construction of a medium towards the transmission of knowledge (Thony C. also recently discussed the relationship between artistic representation and scientific illustration within developments made in print technologies).Print’s most relevant contribution to the transmission is through its apparent “standardization,”[3] a notion captured by Elizabeth Eisenstein’s term “fixity,” referring to the duplicative powers of print and its preservation;[4] by “fixity,” the validity of the text could be guaranteed, and scholars “were freed from spending their lives eradicating scribal mistakes.”[5] Yet “fixity” only goes a long way capturing the history of print, since it is not an inherent quality, but a transitive one,  comprehended only within the social construction it embodies,[6] among elements such as openness, patronage, credit and trust.

Authorship on ancient distinctions of techne and praxis, were openly written without strict requirements for secrecy,[7] until the fourth century’s subordinate classification of technical arts by Xenophon and Aristotle’s separation of techne and praxis. Yet these views were not widespread, especially with the Macedonian expansion, which brought new military technology, and corresponded to new authorship on military arts.[8] Ptolemy I Stoeris, even founded the Alexandrian Museum and Library dedicated to the Muses, the nine patrons of the arts[9], and included technical arts within the Library.[10] The culture of reception is evident in the differences between Greek and Roman authorship; though both Greeks and Romans emphasized openness in writing, for Rome, agriculture was the highly regarded topic for authorship,[11] whereas the Greeks emphasized technical crafts. Printing then, should be viewed within other aspects of “social, cultural, and economic context[s] in which it operated.”[12]

With the rise of status of the artes mechanicae, fifteenth-century writing on mechanical arts expanded, especially in Italy and Germany, and elevated due to a changing political culture in “which the legitimacy of rulership was increasingly supported by the construction arts.”[13] This brought about a new alliance of techne and praxis, and the production of the mechanical arts significantly influenced the culture of knowledge through highly illustrated and textual treatises, many dedicated to patrons.[14] During the “last scribal age,”[15] Latin manuscripts on machines and devices embodied a highly illustrative style, with little evidence of secrecy within them. Fifteenth-century German writings on gunpowder artillery and machines were also lavishly illustrated, with a wealth of technical information and emphasis on the transmission of the technical aspects of the treatises.[16] While Latin manuscripts were written for the reader with a technical background, German technical texts demonstrate a shift in readership, towards elite collectors and a culture of reception far from “low-born.”[17] It is interesting to note that the highly technical treatises were not highly guarded state secrets, especially the Latin manuscripts, especially since many of them contained extensive technical details that encouraged reproduction.

One argument could be that the culture of reception played a key role in the use and interpretation of those technical treatises; the reader, who picks up a copy and understands it, is often a reader with a technical background. As Adrian Johns argues, the texts do not arrive with build-in interpretations, and while it cannot compel readers to react in certain ways, “they must be interpreted in cultural spaces the character of which helps to decide what counts as a proper reading.”[18] The possibility of secrecy is inherent in manuscripts and oral traditions, a reflective of the social structure and the need for a secure transmission of ideas.[19]Another argument is that secrecy was somewhat prevalent, if only through the guarding of certain aspects of knowledge, to control the means of interpretation. The Pythagorean code of secrecy, for instance, tried to maintain a valuable source of knowledge within the restricted circle, to prevent a misuse of a type of knowledge that required rigorous discipline.[20] There was something about possessing a type of knowledge that was restricted to an elite group, to control the means of interpretation. Paracelsus, for example, wanted to restrict his readership to the “common people,”[21] while others, like Biringuccio, scorned pseudonymous authorship, and derided craft secrecy to prevent fraudulent use and suggestive expertise that did not exist.[22] Others still, added encryptions or cryptographs in their texts, though they were used more so for the author’s own interests than secrecy. Furthermore, manufacture crafts still maintained elements of secrecy, as the secrets of their craft was beneficial for economical implications; such is the case of the Venetian glassmakers, who highly guarded the secrets of the trade, and maintained to keep the trade restricted to the city.

A new shift towards interpretation arrived with the printing press and the commercialization of knowledge, as patronage authorship and court culture allowed for a new kind of authority over knowledge, especially scientific knowledge.[23] Tycho Brahe, famously known for personifying the role of print and rendering natural knowledge universal,[24] isolated his works in the print house at Uraniborg, and this isolation meant that he could produce whenever, for whomever, and on whatever he desired.[25] Yet, some of his texts, such as the Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica (1598) were distributed as gifts to patrons at courts and universities, for a readership that “undertakes a distinctive system of practice and ideas.”[26] As Johns explains, “the giving and receiving of such gifts was an important part of court culture, enmeshed in conventions of status recognition, reciprocation and reward.”[27] This recognition is not prevalent only with the advent of the printing press. Keyser’s Bellifortis, for example, was written as a prince’s book, dedicated to the emperor Ruprecht.[28] Yet patronage did not guarantee proper reception of idea, or allowed scientific aims to be achieved. Such is the case of Galileo, who angled to enter the court of Cosimo II de’Medici, where court patronage only provided reasonable criteria to be adopted for authorship. As Johns explains, there was no “Galileo, scientist,” outside this cultural realm, manipulating the mechanics of nature,[29] but only a scientist depending the high esteem of the court and his ideas to be interpreted as he wished.  The last of Galileo’s work, his Dialogo, depended heavily on the smooth transitive skills of his ally Ciampoli, whose later fall from grace could not prevent a misrepresentation of the text. Pope Urban, already under fire from Spanish interests, did not read the Dialogo within the context Galileo desired, and “what might otherwise have been appreciated as witty dialogue sallies came to be read very differently.”[30] Demonstrated by the cases of Tycho Brahe and Galileo, there is no evidence for uniformity, or “fixity” within a culture of reception.

As one of the earliest nations for the commercialization and adoption of “intellectual property,” England faced many hostile conflicts about propriety and credit rights, especially within context of the legal debates between the Stationers’ Company and advocates of royal patents. Booksellers and printers were often perceived as manufacturers of credit,[31] but they could not always guarantee credibility of textual evidence. Galileo’s commercial printing of Sidereus Nuncius immediately released unauthorized copies (Frankfurt, 1610), including hastily reproduced images of his detailed drawings of the moon. English courtly life, in addition, did not portray the absolutism over knowledge as presented in Germany or Italy,[32] and “secure” transmission of knowledge was dependent on the Stationers’ Company, as well as those ordained by royal patents. With bookmaking established as a craft,”[ k]nowledge itself, inasmuch as it could be embodied, preserved and communicated in printing materials, depended on Stationer’s labours,”[33] and control of the trade intensified through the notion of propriety. The Register Book of Copies (the Stationers’ “Hall Book”) was one way of ensuring propriety disputes, but problems still rose through “blocking entrance” strategies, most notoriously by Peter Cole.[34] Yet conflicts still ensured, especially in cases over claims over inventions not registered, or registered but not yet produced, and especially in a highly tensioned atmosphere filled with charges of plagiarism, most prominent within the experimental philosophers of the Royal Society of London,[35] and their aggressive approaches to print.

How was one to “trust the print,” especially for its propagation of scientific knowledge? It is apparent this trust is largely dependent on its culture of reception, especially in solving problems of piracy, forgery, and “usurpation.” The validity of the text’s trustworthiness was probably not solved until the establishment of copyright laws in the eighteenth century, and though the meaning of ‘print culture,’ is no easy task for the historian, it at least encompasses a great source of cultural transmission of scientific and technical knowledge over hundreds of years through numerous national borders.


[1] Adrian Johns presents an interesting argument, by looking at the problem of finding the “true” inventor of the printing press. For Johns, this identification is an important topic in defending local, national and personal identities within the conflicts, and he even argues that the history of print, and the credibility of the text could not be fully established until the inventor was crystallized (The Nature of the Book (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, 375).

[2] L. Pyenson and S. Sheets-Pyenson, Servants of Nature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), 212.

[3] Eisenstein describes the arrival of “standardization” with the invention of the printing press, which was able to allow a steady production of “standard” editions, and demonstrate a “new capacity to locate textual errors with precision and to transmit information simultaneously to scattered readers of knowledge (The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 51). However, Eisenstein points out medieval scribes were incapable of committing a “standardized error,” in which a compositor’s error would be widely spread by mass production. Such an example is the so-called “wicked Bible” of 1631, where the word “not” was dropped from the Seventh Commandment (Thou shalt not commit adultery).

[4] E. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 113.

[5] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 10

[6] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 19.

[7] P. Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001), 17.

[8] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 24-25.

[9] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 25.

[10] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 25.

[11] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 35-37.

[12] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 175.

[13] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 102.

[14] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 103.

[15] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 115.

[16] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 117.

[17] It is also worthy to note that oftentimes credit was given to those other than “low-born,” not simply by virtue of their status, but also because of the marketability of creating a grand myth. The story of the credit of the Greensleeves composition to King Henry VIII comes to mind, a myth that stood through many years. Eisenstein also speaks of this propensity, as does Johns in his narrative of Dr. Faustus. E. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 30-31, and Johns, The Nature of the Book, 333.

[18] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 20.

[19] Long, for instance, mentions that secrecy was prevalent in crafts that contained magical implications, or those manufacture crafts that were beneficial for economic gains. However, she is careful to warns us that the “issue of craft secrecy in the ancient world is best approached with caution: lack of evidence does not mean that it did not exist. Yet the assumption that widespread craft secrecy prevailed is not justified” (Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 74).

[20] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 57.

[21] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 165.

[22] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 180.

[23] Febvre and Martin, for instance, argue that the introduction of printing was only a “road to our present society of mass consumption and standardization,” though the print’s revolutionary implications did not have a radical transformation on the culture of reception’s immediate acceptance of it (L. Febvre & H.J. Martin, The Coming of The Book (London: Verso, 1997), 260.

[24] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 10.

[25] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 14.

[26] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 14-15.

[27] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 15.

[28] Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 106.

[29] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 24.

[30] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 27.

[31] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 33. In addition, booksellers also were concerned with financial issues, particularly turning a profit. Not only did they seek out those that would gather the largest possible numbers of interests, but their store strategies also employed marketing approaches. See Johns` The Nature of the Book 108-126, and Febvre & Martin`s The Coming of the Book, 258-261, especially in relation to scientific treatises,

[32] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 48.

[33] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 68.

[34] Johns, The Nature of the Book, 218.

[35] Johns lists a few examples: William Harvey (accused by Walter Warner), Isaac Newton (by Robert Hooke), Robert Hooke (by John Flamsteed), Robert Boyle (by George Sinclair and John Aubrey), Edmond Halley (by Flamsteed and before the Royal Society, by Hooke), James Harrington (by anonymous antagonists), Thomas Hobbes (by John Wilkins), John Woodward (by John Arbuthnot), and John Wallis (by almost everyone [!]) (Johns, The Nature of the Book, 461). How could anyone be taken seriously if there were charges of plagiarism being thrown from every which direction?