Research & Scholarly Achievement
at Gallaudet University
Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center (SDDC)
The Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center (SDDC) educates students in the documentary arts and explores the lives of deaf people through research, documentation and dissemination.
Through the process of discovery and documentation, the center focuses on significant historical issues and endangered cultural knowledge specific to deaf peoples. Using film, photography, and narrative writing, the center disseminates stories of the deaf experience. Programs and products advance discourse on deaf lives, promoting a new level of awareness. The center also serves as a humanities-based resource for information on culturally and technically accessible documentary presentation.
SDDC adds to the public's knowledge of the humanities in four focused areas:1) Discovery — conducts research on deaf-specific topics through a variety of methods; 2) Documentation — engages in creation of film, photographs, and narrative writing; 3) Dissemination — organizes and hosts film screenings, lectures, and discussions in public and classroom settings, develops exhibitions, publishes articles, and produces multimedia website presentations and online bilingual (American Sign Language) publications; and 4) Education — trains students in the documentary process, including concept development and technical skills in film, photo, or text formats.
Gallaudet University's Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center seeks to enhance humanities scholarship through newly revealed perspectives on the meaning of deaf life, and by contrast, what it means to be hearing. Harnessing dispersed expertise the center takes an ambitious approach to building partnerships and offering courses, workshops, summer institutes, lectures, online and print publications, documentary films, exhibitions and web-based media that brings deaf history and contemporary life to the University and the public. A diverse team collaborates to discover, document, educate, and disseminate humanities content. Through fieldwork, the center identifies significant historical issues and endangered cultural knowledge.
Dr. Brian Greenwald, Director, SDDC
Jean Bergey, Associate Director, SDDC
A critical mass of Deaf people in urban settings forms a unique cultural linguistic environment. For example, hundreds of Deaf people, mostly Jewish and Italian first-generation Americans, lived within a one-mile radius of the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, New York, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. A designated bus to transport children to the nearest school for deaf students in Manhattan served the community. Deaf people lived in concentrated areas that were affordable, close to jobs, and offered an interwoven community. Very little documentation has been conducted on urban deaf life, with minimal "oral history" interviews on the mid-20th century city experience. Over eighty people have been identified as potential interviewees, and the SDDC has formed a team of advisors to guide research. Comparison and contrast with hearing communities is part of this humanities research that examines the way groups wrestle with linguistic, educational, and employment challenges.
Targeting America's Defectives: the Exclusion of Deaf People from State Sterilization Programs
Harry H. Laughlin, best known as the expert on sterilization in the United States, drafted a model sterilization law for states to consider adopting. Laughlin identified people with deafness as a target for sterilization. However, none of the states that adopted sterilization laws in the United States included the deaf on the list. What is the rationale for leaving deaf people out of state eugenic programs? Why was deafness, a condition typically a category eligible for sterilization, never actually in the law? This project seeks to explore the processes of excluding deaf people, and its rationale, as a target of sterilization.
US Navy/NASA Experiments on Deaf Men:
In the early 1960s, a joint research project hosted by the United States Navy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sought deaf men from Gallaudet College (now University) to participate in experiments on balance, motion sickness, and weightlessness. Eleven deaf men, aged 25 to 48, most of whom became deaf from meningitis, participated in the research which began before the NASA 1961 manned suborbital flights of Project Mercury and continued until 1969. Of the eleven Deaf men labeled “Labyrinthine Defective,” six are involved with this project. The SDDC has collected over 130 images showing the experiments and will conduct oral interviews and digitize footage. An exhibition, including life size cutouts of the men in body casts preparing for centrifuge spins and free-falling in aircraft, is being developed.
Bergey, Jean Lindquist; Greenwald, Brian; Kopp, Margaret (lead curator); Meredith Peruzzi (campus curatorial team); Gulak, Barron; Larson, Harry O.; Myers, David W.; Peterson, Donald O.; Zakutney, John Paul (Curatorial Advisors) (April 2017), Deaf Difference + Space Survival Exhibition, Weyerhauser Gallery, Gallaudet University.