The Gallaudet University Library Deaf Collections and Archives (the Archives) recently announced the purchase of two historic and rare items of significance to the deaf community. The first is a book published in 1579 entitled, Thesaurus artificosae memoria (A Glossary of Signs), and contains illustrations of a hand, or signed, alphabet. The second is a photo album from the 1850s containing 32 photographs of deaf people, including a photograph of Laurent Clerc, co-founder of the first permanent school for the deaf in the United States, the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Conn.

Established in 1864, Gallaudet University is the world’s only liberal arts university for deaf and hard of hearing students. The Gallaudet University Library Deaf Collections and Archives were established in 1967 and is responsible for preservation of the University’s institutional memory as well as the memory of the global deaf community.

Thesaurus artificosae memoria (A Glossary of Signs) was written by Cosmos Rosselius, a Dominican friar in Italy. The book contains pictures of a hand demonstrating the signs for letters of the alphabet. Many of the 19 Latin letters show three different variations of the same letter. The illustrations do not include signs for the letters J, K, R, U ,W, Y and Z.

The second acquisition was acquired through an estate sale and is believed to have been owned by an alumnus of the American School for the Deaf. The individuals featured in the album most likely lived in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Laurent Clerc (1785-1869) is credited with introducing sign language to the American deaf community and co-founded the American School for the Deaf with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, for which Gallaudet University is named. The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, which serves elementary and secondary programs for the deaf throughout the U.S., is also located on the Gallaudet University campus. Prior to this acquisition, Gallaudet University Archives had only one photograph of Clerc.

“The importance of preserving deaf history cannot be overemphasized,” said Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz. “These historical documents are a testament to the struggle and evolution of deaf education throughout modern human history. It’s a reminder of just how far we have come and that there are no limits to what deaf people can achieve.”

“These artifacts are vital pieces of deaf history,” said Ulf Hedberg, Director of the Gallaudet University Deaf Library Collections and Archives. “Through Thesaurus artificosae memoria (A Glossary of Signs) and the photo album, we can better understand the daily lives of our deaf ancestors. We are thrilled to display these items to the Gallaudet community and the general public.”

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.

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