University of Sussex
Kitzel,_Mary_E..pdf (37.58 MB)

Chasing ancestors: searching for the roots of American Sign Language in the Kentish Weald, 1620-1851

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:30 authored by Mary E Kitzel
Late twentieth-century discourses regarding deaf people and sign language provide the theoretical background for investigating early modern families with hereditary deafness within the Kentish Weald. The first of its kind, this thesis described the methods used to ascertain the presence of sufficient numbers of networked deaf people to maintain natural sign language. A source-driven work, it began with two data sources - a list generated by previous American genealogical research of the first known European-American deaf families originating from seventeenth-century Kent and the 1851 Census of Great Britain, a previously unexplored resource of the first attempt to fully enumerate deaf people in Britain. This thesis was based on an analysis of primary documentation and a critical reading of previous primary and secondary sources seeking to connect the two initial sources. Its framework was predicated on a stance that acknowledges and values deaf culture and its embodied performed manifestation, sign language. Examining the discourses surrounding deaf people throughout the period, it relied upon the concepts of representation, individual identity, and group identity to query the existence of a deaf group identity predating the labels used to describe it.


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