Since the French Revolution in1789, Deaf French people have struggled to preserve their cultural heritage, to win full civil rights, and to gain access to society through their sign language. Anne T. Quartararo depicts this struggle in her new book Deaf Identity and Social Images in Nineteenth-Century France. In it, she portrays the genesis of the French Deaf community, examines its identity as a minority culture, and analyzes how deaf people developed their cultural heritage, a deaf patrimonie that has been historically connected to the preservation of French sign language.
Quartararo begins by describing how Abbé de l’Epée promoted the education of deaf students with sign language, an approach supported by the French revolutionary government, which formally established the Paris Deaf Institute in 1791. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the school’s hearing director, Roch-Ambroise-Auguste Bébian, advocated the use of sign language even while the institute’s physician Dr. Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard worked to discredit signing.
In this meticulous study, Quartararo details the many variations in deaf education from 1830 to1930. She describes the banquet movement in the 1830s led by Ferdinand Berthier, Alponse Lenoir, and Claudius Forestier, which celebrated sign language and fostered the deaf association known as the Société Centrale. Quartararo also recounts how hearing educators at the Milan Congress in 1880 universally adopted oralism as the way to defeat deafness, and prohibited sign language in deaf schools. French deaf people refused to submit to this attack upon their cultural heritage, however, and an explosion of social activity among deaf people between 1880 and 1900 created a host of active deaf groups in all corners of the country. Deaf Identity and Social Images paints a unique, rich tapestry of the resilience of French deaf people in defending their culture through the most trying century in their history.