Areas of Study


The Cultural Studies Concentration challenges students to develop methods of inquiry, research, and critique that explore historically-created social institutions and cultural processes which shape the world and deaf ways-of-being. Students will gain a breadth of knowledge through multi-disciplinary perspectives while also gaining a depth of inquiry through an extended project in which they will pursue an area of interest through an academic thesis, a creative project, or applied advocacy project. This concentration prepares students for advanced studies towards a doctoral or another terminal degree. Students in this Concentration are required to be on campus.

Admissions Procedures and Requirements

Applicants for the M.A. in Deaf Studies must complete the application procedures and meet the requirements for graduate study at Gallaudet University. Visit the Graduate Admissions web site for more information and a checklist of application requirements.

First Date for Consideration of Application: February 15

Program Specific Requirements:

  • Three letters of reference
  • ASL Essay: Personal Statement. In video format, submit a personal statement of interest in the program. This essay will be used for 2 purposes. It will give help us understand your personal interest in our program and will also be used to determine your proficiency in ASL. Why are you applying for this degree? What do you hope to gain from the degree? What are your professional interests after you graduate?
  • Transcripts
  • ASLPI 3 or above (suspended for 2021 admissions cycle)
  • GPA 3.0 or above.

Recommended Prior Coursework:

  • Introduction to Deaf Culture
  • Introduction to ASL Structure

Courses & Requirements

Summary of Requirements

All students admitted to the program must complete the following core courses with grades of B or higher.

Semester I (Fall)

This course will introduce students to the most commonly-used research methods in Deaf Studies, particularly textual analysis, and ethnographic interviews. Students will be guided by the instructor in the processes of developing research questions, methodologies, data collection and analysis.

The course serves as an introduction to graduate study in Deaf Studies. Students are guided in reflecting on the past, present, and future of Deaf Studies scholarship. Exploring the historical trends and debates in Deaf Studies, we seek out foundational questions about deaf lives and communities, including identities, power, culture, and framing from interdisciplinary perspectives. Leading with stories and lived experiences, students connect theory with practice in preparation for subsequent courses within the Deaf Studies Master's Program. The course also aims to develop critical reading and writing skills important to graduate level scholarship.

This course begins by exploring key issues faced by minority language communities, with special emphasis on the world's linguistic diversity, language endangerment, and revitalization. After gaining a broad understanding of the dynamic intersections of language, culture and power, students will examine the historical role of language ideologies relating to signed languages, beginning with classical thought and continuing through the formation of deaf education in the 18th century and the medicalization of deaf bodies in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the end, students should be able to identify and explain intersections of philosophical, linguistic, educational, medical, scientific, and anthropological discourses which influenced the vitality of sign languages and deaf communities in the 21st century. Developing awareness of this phonocentric heritage helps to equip students in developing strategies for linguistic and cultural revitalization of sign languages and deaf communities.

A seminar course for graduate students on global themes in Deaf Studies. This course offers an examination of interdisciplinary attempts to construct deaf lives. Using a thematic approach, this course pulls together the themes of race, disability, citizenship, and empire. The course explores the notion of the Other to better understand various dynamics of structural power that meets at the intersection of deaf lives. How does race, disability, and other forms of Otherness interface with deaf ways of being? We interrogate the challenges of the archive in excavating knowledges about other deaf lives. Students will discuss scholarship in critical race theory, colonialism, orientalism, and indigeneity. This course aims to animate questions and new modes of critique.

Semester II (Spring)

This three credit course is designed as a guided research course to support students' progress with their individual thesis research topics and methodologies within the field of Deaf Studies. This course is the second of two courses that provide students with experience in preparing their thesis proposals. Students will select their methodology, conduct a literature review, gather preliminary data if applicable, and complete the necessary steps to gain approval for their data collection procedures, such as IRB approval and CITI certification. Students will be introduced to ethical conduct in research, the Institutional Review Board procedures, and grant writing. They will complete and defend their thesis proposals at the end of this course.

This course is designed as a thorough exploration of the literary practices influenced by cultural traditions in the deaf community. Attention will be given to the unique face-to-face nature of signed literature and its numerous traditional forms as well different types of cultural productions, including online media. Students will become versed in the stylistics, poetics, and cultural contexts of signed literature in its live as well as video-text formats.

This class will explore the historical, medical, social, political, philosophical, and cultural influences that have constructed the categories of ''normalcy'', ''disability'' and ''deafness''. Building on the writing of Michel Foucault and critical work in the field of disability studies, this course will inquire into the institutions that have enforced standards of normalcy, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the present. Primary attention will be paid to the rise of medical authority in the West, the history of eugenics, and contemporary bioethical issues confronting disability and deaf communities.

This course links theory with debates and issues central to contemporary deaf lived experiences situated in locations throughout the world. This course draws from foundational texts in the social sciences and humanities, as well as more recent theoretical directions and avenues of inquiry in Deaf Studies. Throughout this course, we will consider major theoretical perspectives as they have been applied in Deaf Studies. These perspectives will be discussed in terms of their historical precedents and their applicability to contemporary deaf lived experiences. Our aim is to understand the ways in which Deaf Studies scholars use specific concepts, their paths of inquiry and methodology, as well as contemplate future directions for scholarship in Deaf Studies. We will keep returning to the same question: where is-or could be-Deaf Studies today and how does-or could it-work as critique? In short, we will be critiquing Deaf Studies and thinking of it as critique in itself.

Semester III (Fall)

This course investigates the role of vision and the senses, sensory practices and sensory politics in the deaf community through its visual-tactile nature. By drawing on new theoretical approaches in the study of the senses, this course will explore representations and visual culture, the theory and the politics of sensory perceptions; and the cultural practices of architecture, museums, memorials, film, video, sign literature and resistance art. Through discussions, projects, and presentations, students will gain and articulate a critical understanding of the role of the senses in art and deaf space within a phonocentric world.

This course will provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the contemporary transnational Deaf public sphere. Students will study the origination and spread of international meetings among Deaf people and the concurrent formation of transnational Deaf networks. Students will study key concepts and review case studies in transnational studies which will then be used to interrogate the nature of interconnections between Deaf communities across the globe.

This course provides a multicultural perspective of community organizing for social change in parallel in understanding the deaf community's past and ongoing campaigns for equal rights from an advocacy perspective. Topics covered include organization structure, politics, ethics, inclusion, systematic challenges, and more.

The Deaf Studies Master's Project is a required, culminating project which demonstrates student's exemplary achievement as a Master's student. Under the supervision of Department faculty, students will develop projects that significantly advance knowledge in one of three concentrations: Cultural Studies, Language and Human Rights or Early Language Advocacy. Students may elect to produce a traditional Master's thesis, a creative project, or an applied advocacy project. During the first semester, students will develop and defend their project, including a demonstration of the project's significance, appropriate research methodologies and a detailed plan of action.

Semester IV (Spring)

This course allows the opportunity to offer courses on a variety of topics of concern to Deaf Cultural Studies.

The Deaf Studies' Masters Project II is a required, culminating project which demonstrates students' exemplary achievement as a Master's student. Under the supervision of Department faculty, students will develop projects that significantly advance knowledge in either Cultural Studies, Language and Human Rights and Early Language Advocacy. Students may elect to produce a traditional Master's thesis, a creative project, or an applied advocacy project. During the second semester, students will present and defend their project. All students take DST 781 for 3 credits. In the event students do not complete their thesis at the end need of DST 781, they enroll in 781 a second time as a one-credit course.


Choose one from the following:

This course focuses on the field of inquiry known as Critical Pedagogy, which examines the role that education plays in shaping and transmitting the ideology of those in power. This course also inquires into the use of education as a means of resistance and emancipation. Particular focus will be given to the disparate conditions relating to the education of those populations considered to be in the margins, i.e.,class, race, ethnicity, gender, and disability.

This course focuses on further analysis of relevant laws and policies when it comes to sign language rights, particularly for young Deaf children. Topics include legislative process, regulations writing, power of position statements/policy papers, analysis of federal and state laws. The benefits of mobilization and sociopolitics including the use of framing in media will also be discussed.

This course focuses on an analysis of relevant U.S. laws and policies when it comes to sign language rights, particularly for young deaf children. Topics include: legislative process, writing of state and federal regulations, power of position statements/policy papers, and an analysis of federal and state laws. Students will learn about community mobilization in the context of sociopolitical movements, with practical use of framing arguments for public consumption.

This course traces the development of the human rights of deaf people within the wider context of the emergence of the concept of universal human rights after WWII. The formation of international institutions such as the United Nations, and the growth of international nongovernmental organizations dedicated to human rights work has allowed non-state actors significant opportunities to develop and use human rights tools to protect particular minorities. The emergence of the concept of linguistic human rights has been applied to signing communities and the concept promoted in the Convention on the Human Rights of Peoples with Disabilities. The concept and the Convention will be examined in depth and applied to the linguistic human rights of contemporary Deaf communities.

This course provides students with a survey of the concept of linguistic human rights. First included as an international right in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, linguistic human rights has become an important concept for identifying and furthering the rights of peoples based on languages. Students will examine the historical and theoretical underpinnings to this concept as it emerged within human rights discourse and tools which have been developed from this concept to further human rights aspirations based on language. The course will look at how this concept has been - and continues to be - used with deaf communities.

Students will undertake an internship in a placement and role that is suited to their professional pursuits. These may include serving as Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants within the University or an off-site placement determined by the Department and student.

This course will introduce students to the history of the American Deaf community. While recent studies in social history have challenged our notions of race, class, and gender, historians have not yet fully addressed a fundamental component in our historical identity: physical ability and its underlying concept of normality. A close study of Deaf history offers one approach to this issue, and students will confront some of the specific issues facing this minority group. Particular attention will be paid to the ways in which deafness has been interpreted within the mainstream community, as well as how the Deaf people expressed and preserved their cultural identity. By studying the changes in this group and its relation to hearing society, this course also raises broader issues of cultural identity in the United States.

Program Outcomes

Will acquire knowledge and develop methods of critique and research relating to the historical, cultural, and linguistic dimensions of Deaf communities.

Graduates from the MA Program in Deaf Studies will produce graduate-level ASL and English texts that demonstrate knowledge of, and critical inquiry into, key concepts of Deaf studies.

Students in concentration studies will work toward individual, institutional and ideological change through leadership, advocacy, and dissemination of new perspectives on Deaf communities and signed languages.

Students in concentration studies will be prepared to undertake further work in research, teaching, or related scholarly and creative activities in higher education.


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M.A. in Deaf Studies: Cultural Studies

Erin Moriarty Harrelson

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