Despite its prominence as a world cultural center and a locus of research on deaf culture, history, education, and language for more than 150 years, Gallaudet University has only infrequently been the focal point of historical study. Eminent historians Brian H. Greenwald and John Vickrey Van Cleve have remedied this scarcity with A Fair Chance in the Race of Life: The Role of Gallaudet University in Deaf History. In this collection, a remarkable cast of scholars examine the university and its various roles through time, many conducting new research in the Gallaudet University Archives, an unsurpassed repository of primary sources of deaf history.
Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson sets the stage in his essay “A Fair Chance in the Race of Life,” President Abraham Lincoln’s statement when he chartered the first college for deaf students. The papers that follow scrutinize Gallaudet’s long domination by hearing presidents, its struggle to find a place within higher education, its easy acquiescence to racism, its relationship with the federal government, and its role in creating, shaping, and nurturing the deaf community.
These studies do more than simply illuminate the university, however. They also confront broad issues that deal with the struggles of social conformity versus cultural distinctiveness, minority cohesiveness, and gender discrimination. “Deaf” themes, such as the role of English in deaf education, audism, and the paternalism of hearing educators receive analysis as well.