Areas of Study

Members of the campus community shared their ideas on the creation of a new Gallaudet research center at a November 12 open forum hosted by the Office of the Provost. The proposed Center on Deaf Life and Documentary Studies would take an interdisciplinary approach to studying the lives of deaf people through a humanities lens.

Provost Stephen Weiner defined how the center would complement existing research programs and support Goal E of the Strategic Plan to establish Gallaudet as the epicenter of research, development, and outreach leading to advancements in knowledge and practice for deaf and hard of hearing people and all humanity.“Documentary research empowers students and develops the types of 21st century skills needed to compete in today’s world,” said Dr. Weiner. “By its very nature, documentary work requires original research, collaborative work, and insightful interpretation. This is a long overdue step forward in supporting research on deaf life.”

The proposed research center would provide unprecedented opportunities for collaboration, as well as enhance student learning through interdisciplinary studies supporting the center’s objectives of discovery, documentation, education, and dissemination. Harnessing dispersed expertise, the center would take an ambitious approach to building partnerships and offering increased access to primary and secondary sources. Courses, workshops, summer institutes, lectures, online and print publications, documentary films, exhibitions, and new media are among the avenues the center would use to bring deaf history and contemporary life to the public.

Educational, linguistic, and even physical deaf experience is adapting to new pressures, technologies, and attitudes. Through fieldwork and documentation, the center would identify significant historical and contemporary issues in a rapidly changing world. Historical expertise– both center-based and provided by visiting scholars-would form the beginnings of an infrastructure that supports the discovery of knowledge.

“Our increasingly mobile and technologically connected world presents both possibilities and challenges for deaf historical research,” said Dr. Brian Greenwald, associate professor of history and leader of the open forum discussion. Gallaudet is well positioned for a research center of this nature, he added. Not only does the Gallaudet Archives have the world’s largest collection of material related to the lives of deaf people and the deaf community, the University boasts a faculty that is unmatched in its expertise related to these subjects. “Gallaudet holds the world’s most extensive collection of deaf history, and we also are a very diverse cultural community,” said Greenwald. “We have significant work to do researching the deaf experience in all its complexity.”

Creation of documentary products would allow the center to share new perspectives with the widest possible audience and capitalize on today’s digital era. Through products such as film and other media, interpretations of the complex deaf experience would be presented in ways that are compelling beyond national borders. Media outreach would promote documentary work by emerging and established scholars, filmmakers, writers, and photographers.

This outreach by the center would inform the campus and the public of the history of deaf people as individuals, as a community, and as a significant part of the world population. A growing portfolio of films, books, and online material would challenge traditional interpretations of what it means to be deaf. Internal and external conversations and products would advance discourse on deaf life, promoting a new level of awareness. Each product would remind the audience to consider who is not included in the story as presented, and to document their own histories. In this way, the center can serve as a model for methods of historical documentation and presentation that can raise public awareness of the value of deaf history and intangible cultural heritage.

A packed room and a steady flow of people taking to the stage to propose departmental connections and ideas for research demonstrated strong interest from the Gallaudet community. “This is an excellent start,” said Weiner. “Our next steps will be continued discussion with students, faculty, and staff, exploration of funding options, and detailed examination of opportunities for collaboration with academic units and research centers. Clearly there is a lot of enthusiasm. Gallaudet has the historic resources and the expertise–we are uniquely positioned to create a research center that documents the lives of deaf people.”
–By Jean Bergey

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